“We are constantly learning”

The selection for the four Kickstart Accelerator Verticals in Zurich is in full swing. We talked to programme manager Patricia Schlenter about the feedback from participants in the first programme, improvements and international interest in the accelerator.

For the four Kickstart Accelerator Verticals in Zurich, 1,500 start-ups applied this year, almost twice as many as last year. From which countries do the applicants come?
Patricia Schlenter: Many projects come from the US, the UK, Germany, the BRIC countries and also China and Africa. The applicant field has become much broader in origin.

What about the quality of the applications?
The quality level has clearly increased.

How are the start-ups selected?
In the first step, we sort out the applicants that do not fulfil the formal requirements or do not fit thematically into the verticals. The selection committee, consisting of corporate partners, mentors, experts and investors, is currently nominating 50 candidates per vertical. The best 20 in each division will be invited to Zurich. Finally, 10 fintech, eight smart city, six food and six robotics start-ups will take part in our 11-week programme.

As a digitalswitzerland programme, you offer start-ups a close collaboration with corporates. Last year, this proximity led to six Proof of Concepts (PoCs), some of which were implemented with a start-up and several corporate partners. How have the PoCs developed?
It is still too early to say anything specific about the results, as all the projects are still running. But it certainly has been a success.

What did the start-ups at the accelerator appreciate in addition to the contacts with the big companies?
Of the participants, 90% are still in close contact with their programme mentors. I think this speaks for our selection of mentors with entrepreneurial experience.

One of the goals was to motivate start-ups to open a branch office in Switzerland or even to move here. What are the results?
There have been some interesting developments. Dalou and Project Rosie are two start-ups that have come to Switzerland. I also know of companies where individual team members are learning German. However, what is most interesting is that 40% of last year’s participants have recruited employees here and are therefore connected with Switzerland.

The results are more than visible through the collaboration with large companies and mentors, and access to new employees. What can be improved?
We are constantly learning. We had little time during the first implementation; now we are better able to address some issues. We want to connect more start-ups; this concerns, for example, start-up contact with each other. We have created a new role for community building among participants. And since recruitment has proved to be an important issue, we want to provide targeted support.

Investor partners can now be found on the Kickstart Accelerator website. Is this a sign of more intensive contact?
We want closer collaboration between start-ups and investors; for example, funders will be able to give masterclasses. Investor partners include Business Angels Schweiz, SICTIC and Swiss Startup Invest, classic VCs, such as Creathor and Emerald, and corporate VCs, such as Ringier Digital Ventures

The concept of Kickstart Accelerator is so special – for example, there is no equity investment and the programme offers start-ups the opportunity to enter into PoCs with large companies. Is the programme internationally respected?
Absolutely. There is a worldwide trend towards accelerators supported by several large companies, and we are a pioneer. We also have a number of particularly strong companies as partners. Interest in the accelerator is correspondingly large.

Switzerland is not otherwise a pioneer in start-up trends. How is this case different?
The interest in strengthening the Swiss innovation scene is enormous. Thus, more and more initiatives specifically promote the exchange between large companies, organisations and start-ups. This has created a strong network, which in turn has become an ideal breeding ground for Kickstart Accelerator. In addition, there was also an urgent need for a programme such as ours.

More information on the website of Kickstart Accelerator.