This was one piece of advice to would be entrepreneurs at the Innovation Forum at EPFL in Lausanne last night.
“Innovation” that increasingly over-used and tired word is one much bandied around by those who observe from behind the safety of their corporate desks, academic podia and political soap boxes. Last night the word won back its true energy and meaning at the launch at EPFL of the Innovation Forum’s Lausanne branch – the first in Switzerland.
This global network of researchers and entrepreneurs was started last year in a pub in Cambridge, Europe’s leading innovation hub, to build bridges between academia, policy-makers and business. Allegedly fuelled by Guinness, the disconcertingly young founders have set about establishing an active network of branches around the world that so far includes Oxford, Copenhagen, Tokyo and New York.
The launch event was packed to bursting point, due in no small part to the slate of top speakers. Entrepreneurs, grant-makers, investors, big business, academic researchers and start-up experts all spoke with enthusiasm about the harsh realities and practicalities of commercial innovation. The over-powering message was that innovation will only truly flourish where there is critical mass of global proportions. And Lausanne’s vested interests are clearly making all the right decisions to retain and develop the city’s capacity to foster innovation.
Myths were laid bare: The return on investment earned by venture capitalists is about 4%; less than 1% of start-ups are financed by venture capitalists; and Uganda has the highest percentage of entrepreneurs in the world. And the advice to would be entrepreneurs flowed: it is never appropriate to claim that a new product has no competitors; never trust the advice of friends and family; and make certain to ask the right questions.
Meaningless platitudes were in short supply. Switzerland’s, and particularly Lausanne’s reputation, as a global prime centre for innovation was highlighted with the speakers collectively explaining that there are few places in the world capable of attracting, developing and launching the sorts of technological start-ups that disrupt markets. And if hard evidence was needed, Yann Cotte, a physics graduate from the State University of New York and holder of a PhD in Holographic Microscopy from EPFL as well as CEO of the weirdly named company, Nanolive (it has nothing to do with olives but rather with lives) is in the throes of marketing a radically new microscope that costs less than a family saloon and which is capable of looking into living cells. “So what?” you may think. Well think fast, cheap, ubiquitous diagnosis of, and research into, very serious illnesses. Plus at this low price access to live science innovation will be much easier, spurring a second round of innovation. Also think “Damn. He’s fully funded.”
Bios of the event’s speakers (Innovation Forum Lausanne)
By Jeremy McTeague
Jeremy is a communications expert specialising in entrepreneurship