“We now want to achieve behavioural change”


Digitalswitzerland has been active for five years. We spoke to managing director Nicolas Bürer about the achievements, the challenging partnerships between start-ups and corporates, and the plans for 2020.


Originally, digitalswitzerland was launched as Digital Zurich 2025. Five years of the targeted decade have passed – what has it achieved during this time?Nicolas Bürer: We have achieved a great deal, particularly in terms of awareness of the topic. Five years ago, hardly anyone talked about digitalisation; today, the term is on everybody’s lips. Our projects have reached 50% of the Swiss population and half a million Swiss have heard of our lifelong learning campaign. This is certainly important, but surely it is only a first step.Of course. That’s why digitalswitzerland is now focusing on activation and behavioural change. In terms of continuous education, the goal is for adults to attend more of our partners’ training courses. And we want to ensure that all children have computational thinking courses at school; we need to catch up with the Scandinavian countries. What about start-ups – what is going on here?Awareness of the importance of start-ups has certainly improved significantly and a lot is happening. The framework conditions are increasingly a central theme. The international visibility is improving. The availability of growth capital is beginning to develop but not fast enough. Now we have to make a breakthrough on these issues. What about collaboration between large companies and start-ups? Although things are happening, one does not get the impression that Switzerland is setting standards.One problem is that large Swiss companies are still not buying enough transverse technology. If a large company takes over a start-up, it is because it offers an addition to the corporate’s portfolio. Start-ups with ground-breaking technology are acquired mainly by foreign companies. The relationship between Swiss start-ups and Swiss corporations does not appear to be easy, with few really fruitful partnerships. Why is that?Corporates often believe that the challenges of digitalisation can be mastered alone. On the other hand, start-ups often can not decide whether they want to attack the established players with a disruptive business model, or whether they see themselves as suppliers and potential acquisition targets. In addition, Swiss start-ups are still not selling well enough. Finally, we need the right mindset: if a start-up team is convinced that it is superior to the corporate’s employees, cooperation on an equal footing will not happen. What is digitalswitzerland doing specifically to change this?Basically, our maxim for 2020 is ‘fewer projects – more impact’. Nevertheless, we have a lot in the pipeline for start-ups, such as expansion of the boot camps. These will be extended by several days and will offer more match-making opportunities for start-ups and corporates. Matching corporates and start-ups is considered boring, but is still necessary. Startup DAYs in June, the Top 100 event in September and the first Swiss Noah Conference also in September will of course offer good opportunities for this. We also want to raise awareness among corporates when it comes to the acquisition of technology start-ups. Digitalswitzerland not only carries out its own projects, but also participates in other programmes, including in particular the #SwissTech campaign intended to increase the visibility abroad of Switzerland as a technology location. How has #SwissTech developed over the past year?SwissTech is indeed a good example of collaboration. National organisations, such as Presence Suisse, S-GE, Innosuisse, swissnex and digitalswitzerland work together with corporates, academic partners and start-ups, and the results are impressive. Switzerland was represented at Slush with one of the largest stands and was more visible than significantly larger countries, such as France and Germany. The SwissTech stand was also one of the most striking at CES Las Vegas a few weeks ago. The campaign is expected to be expanded this year. Incidentally, SwissTech will have a stand at Vivatech, BIO 2020, CES Asia, Dubai Expo, Web Summit, CEATEC and Slush this year. Has interest in Switzerland increased abroad?Absolutely. We’ve noticed this not only at events, but also in the large number of foreign delegations that come to Switzerland. In addition, foreign technology groups are showing increasing interest in becoming members of digitalswitzerland. How many members does the initiative currently have?About 170 – we’re moving towards 200. Although digitalswitzerland is perceived as a corporate initiative, given the high number, other organisations must also be members.Most are still corporates, however cantons, non-profit organisations, scientific institutes and SMEs make up about 40%. (Stefan Kyora)