Establishing a new business in Switzerland is fairly expensive, with it’s formalities and high legal costs. Yet, once underway, Swiss businesses benefit from a coherent and uncomplicated operating environment. Many new businesses are also eligible for a range of subsidies and incentives that are offered at national, cantonal and even communal level.
Last week, a handful of early stage businesses were recognised at the award ceremony of the 13e Concours PERL (le Prix Entreprendre Région Lausanne) – a unique prize for start-ups funded by the Lausanne Region. In addition to the credibility and the network it brings, the first prize is Fr 50,000, second is Fr 20,000 and third is Fr 10,000 which are significant amounts for start-ups in their early stages.
Since the start of this prize in 2003, the region has paid Fr1.2m in awards to over 50 promising ventures. This year there were 47 submissions for the trophy. Each candidate’s business plan was reviewed and appraised by a jury of 10 distinguished experts. In keeping with the tradition, last year’s winner Déborah Heintze (co-founder of Lunaphore) also had a seat on the jury.
The first prize this year went to KB Medical SA, which has designed and developed AQrate, a robotic solution which stabilises the movement and precision of surgeons, especially those performing delicate surgery on the spinal cord.
Second prize went to Flyability SA, which has developed and is commercialising flying robots just bigger than a football, that are intelligent enough to avoid collisions, and use their protective framework and a gyroscope to right themselves whenever they do bump up against an obstacle. This allows them to inspect installations that other robots cannot reach.
Third prize went to Nanolive SA, which has developed a revolutionary 3-dimensional way of observing living cells. This allows doctors and researchers to look deep inside biological systems, without altering what happens inside the living cell.
The awards event, which was televised live on the la Tele channel, was hosted by anchors Nasrat Latif and Zelda Chauvet, who brought charm and perspicacity to the show. Their line-up featured interviews with the key organisers of the event, as well as captivating armchair-style dialogues with the finalists – who reflected on the particular keys to their business success and revealed some of the management secrets behind their art.
A central theme was that entrepreneurial ventures are extremely difficult to bring to fruition, and we frequently underestimate the challenges they pose and the time it will take to accomplish the dream. It has been said that entrepreneurship is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. And since manpower is so expensive in Switzerland, local entities really have to leverage their grey matter. Yet when they do, the results can be astonishing.
Two years ago the winner was DomoSafety SA, a company that provides a suite of monitoring solutions for the elderly. Using movement sensors, but no cameras, these allow fragile seniors to remain in their own homes long beyond the point at which they would previously have been checked into a care home. In addition to the dignity this preventative approach brings, its software allows ‘the home to take care of its elderly resident’. For example it can detect mild changes in habit and communicate potential issues to the caregiver, and it can even recognise an emergency before the panic button is triggered.
There is poetic beauty in the way that the our entrepreneurial industry works at the commune level. It’s a virtuous circle, in which the commune has nurtured its early stage businesses through the PERL trophy. And new businesses have, in return, developed solutions to nurture our society, beginning with our frail and elderly seniors – one of the principal obligations of the commune.
It also reflects the way in which Switzerland, by leveraging it’s grey matter, has developed a network of enterprising businesses which together have helped build our “health valley” of medical technology companies in the arc Lémanique – aided in this case by the recognition of the PERL, and some well-earned green matter!
By James Cullinan
Disclosure: The author has invested in DomoSafety through the Business Angels Swiss network, and will most likely reinvest at their next fundraising round this summer.