MarketPlus went in search of the Swiss incubators for startups. Here is the first, Kickstart Accelerators, working in the field of FinTech, Food, Smart Cities, Robotics & Intelligent Systems, EdTech and Healthcare. Patricia Schlenter, Program Manager, explained us how it works.
«Kickstart Accelerator invites 50 startups from all over the world for 11 weeks to Switzerland where they are provided with coworking space, seed funding as well as direct access to leading corporate partners, investors and experts. Moreover, they get a chance to win up to 25`000 CHF of grants. Throughout the program, the startup founders join well-structured workshops and receive high-quality mentoring. Moreover, Kickstart Accelerator provides startups with the possibility of attaining a proof of concept with one of the corporate partners.
The program is open to the best international startups within the following six verticals: FinTech, Food, Smart Cities, Robotics & Intelligent Systems, EdTech and Healthcare. EdTech vertical is in partnership with EPFL and operated by venturelab . To offer the healthcare-specific vertical, Kickstart Accelerator has entered into a partnership with BaseLaunch (operated by BaselArea.swiss ).”Founding teams can apply given that they have a minimum viable product or a working prototype, the commitment to build a business and the desire to scale and learn”.
How lively is the startup scene in Switzerland?
«Switzerland is one of the countries with the best environment for entrepreneurial activities. The number of companies being founded in Switzerland has been growing for several years and is being fostered actively by different initiatives such as Kickstart Accelerator. The stable economic framework and market, the strong education sector, the world-class infrastructure and the presence of some of the leading technical universities are just some of the positive aspects that make Switzerland attractive for startups. Furthermore, it is seen that there is a strong appetite of the corporate sector to collaborate with startups - this has already led to fruitful cooperations.
However, there are several factors where the Swiss innovation ecosystem has room for improvement. The main issue for entrepreneurs in Switzerland is the lack of funding. Investors in Switzerland are very risk-averse. A higher availability of venture capital would greatly strengthen the position of Switzerland in the global context».
Do you think that the situation of startups in Switzerland is positive, concerning laws and/or bureaucracy?
«Founding a startup in Switzerland is pretty easy, the barriers to entry are comparatively low. Switzerland has a world-class infrastructure, stability and strong business environment, which are all beneficial to starting a company. Scaling and growing, however, is often a challenge in Switzerland. First of all, there is a lack of venture capital and investors - when startups get into a growth phase, funding is often difficult. A private initiative with support by the Swiss economics minister now tries to change this by launching a special startup fund.
Another obstacle for startups in Switzerland is the tax system. A political proposal that demanded fiscal easement for entrepreneurs was refused mid June in the national parliament. A so-called startup visa - as known in Canada for example - seems difficult to get decided on the Swiss political level. A startup visa would make it easier for startups to hire experts from outside Europe as well as attracting international founders in the first place. However, a political proposal requesting such a visa was declined lately as well.
Finally, things do seem to change as we currently see a strong appetite to become a global leader in startup ecosystems».
Could you tell us one of your success stories?
«Kickstart Accelerator acts in the interest of the startups, looking closely at their development and their opportunity to progress further. We measure success by the collaborations between the startups and the leading Swiss corporates e.g. in terms of Proof of Concepts (PoC), linking startups with each other, valuable relationships to mentors as well as investments received. Also, for us it`s important to integrate the program in the overall innovation and startup ecosystem in Switzerland.
Looking back to the first edition of the program, several PoCs and further collaborations were successfully initiated and the participating startups raised millions of investments. Overall, several of the startups from last years’ batch have built up or enhanced relationships to Switzerland. 90 Percent of the entrepreneurs remained in contact with their mentors during the program and still profit from these relationships. And some startups even incorporated fully in Switzerland, such as the breakfast delivery Dalou who brought their whole business from London to Zurich thanks to Kickstart Accelerator».
What do you think your incubator has to offer which differentiates it from others?
«Kickstart Accelerator takes no equity, charges no fees and provides startups with the possibility of attaining a proof of concept trial with one of the leading corporate partners. This strong and wide network is a huge benefit of the program: Kickstart Accelerator is backed by some of Switzerland’s biggest companies including leading financial corporations such as UBS, Credit Suisse, Raiffeisen; Switzerland’s largest ICT provider Swisscom, two largest food retailers Migros and Coop, insurance company AXA Winterthur as well as the global consultancy firms PwC Switzerland and EY».
Is there a kind of startup you’d particularly want to work with?
«Kickstart Accelerator welcomes startups in the fields of FinTech, Food, Robotics & Intelligent Systems, Smart Cities as well as EdTech and Healthcare. But generally, Kickstart accelerates solutions that work for problems that matter. Which means that also startups that have the potential to deliver impactful innovations to key industries but don`t fit in one of our verticals at a first glance, are encouraged to apply».
Do you know the situation of other startups in Europe, and what do you think are the best countries to work within?
«Different countries offer the startups a different framework. The United States with Silicon Valley are still leading in terms of startups and tech innovation. But other regions such as London, Berlin, Tel Aviv and Singapore are definitely catching up and have become worthy competitors.
With Kickstart Accelerator we aim to also make Switzerland a leading digital innovation hub worldwide. Initiatives like this can help to create a long-lasting collaborative network where established players and startup innovators come together to test, scale and solve key challenges affecting people, companies and industries alike. We`re convinced to be on the right track».
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