The head of Zurich’s technology park says the future of the Swiss economy lies in the creation of new and innovative companies.
Lesley Spiegel told swissinfo that promoting start-ups and developing groundbreaking technologies was also essential for preventing a brain drain from Switzerland.
Spiegel succeeded Thomas Waldkirch as head of the Technopark Zurich Foundation in October last year.
The goal of the Technopark is to provide a platform for technology transfer from science to industry, giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to build their own company.
It currently offers a home to 190 companies with around 1,400 employees, smoothing the often rocky path from conception to market place.
In a recent speech, Aymo Brunetti, chief economist at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, said the key to Switzerland’s future prosperity lay in higher productivity, and new technologies had an essential role to play.
swissinfo: What is unique about the Technopark?
Lesley Spiegel: It is the combination of targeted services that we can offer entrepreneurs who intend to start and build a company.
First, at the infrastructure level we have a modular and flexible approach. Companies can grow rapidly here or, if necessary, downsize, because they can just apply for another office or move out of one.
Second, in terms of technology transfer, I think we have a unique situation in that the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich is the largest tenant in the Technopark.
This allows us to implement technology transfer on the spot by enabling companies to carry out joint development projects with the institute and industry. And third, the Foundation Technopark Zurich provides a tailor-made service portfolio for our companies.
swissinfo: How long are firms allowed to stay in the Technopark and what is the turnover rate of companies?
L.S.: There is no limit on how long they can remain in the Technopark; it usually regulates itself.
Either a company grows extremely fast and thus grows out of the Technopark and moves into the market, making space for new companies, such as esmertec [wireless software solutions] or Freitag [recycled bags], for instance. Or a company grows slowly and remains in the Technopark.
Then there are companies that don’t develop and move out at some point, and those that go bankrupt. But on average, companies move out of the Technopark after about five years.
Regarding the turnover rate, I can only say that it is substantial. The Technopark has a very high occupation rate, but at the same time we have to make sure that there is always an opportunity for new companies to come in.
swissinfo: Are these start-ups, spin-offs or established companies innovative enough when they move out to compete with big international firms? And have many companies succeeded in establishing themselves?
L.S.: They have to be very innovative and competitive while they are at the Technopark, because we don’t protect them from competitors. What we can offer is support and coaching, but they have to be able to stand on their own feet here.
I do not have a statistic on the number of companies that have succeeded in establishing themselves in the market. But I know that the success rate of companies in the category of "innovative companies" in the Technopark is 90 per cent, which is very high.
swissinfo: What can the Technopark do to help small companies get established?
L.S.: First of all, I think it is very important that we acknowledge that our future lies in the generation of new and innovative companies. Many people still think that the future lies mainly with the big, traditional icons of the Swiss economy. But many of these enterprises have come under significant pressure, as the painful restructuring processes over the last years have shown.
The Technopark Zurich contributes to bring about this change by offering a comprehensive platform for technology transfer and entrepreneurial activities. We have several projects running to address key issues, such as bringing technology to markets, team building, early-stage financing and enhancing the public acknowledgement of entrepreneurship in our society.
One example of this is the Zurich Cantonal Bank Pioneer Prize. Awarding prizes is one way of bringing the start-up culture to the attention of the wider public.
Another very effective way is to build up successful role models, because success stories provide the best incentive for potential entrepreneurs in universities and in companies to take a risk and to move towards building their own company.
swissinfo: How does the Swiss economy benefit?
L.S.: Start-ups help at several levels. One crucial aspect is to generate new jobs, which I think is one of the most important issues.
By building up start-up companies, Switzerland remains an attractive place to work for qualified people from both home and abroad. In order to prevent a brain drain from Switzerland, we have to be able to offer qualified people interesting and rewarding jobs, both now and in the future.
By building up innovative companies here, you will also attract venture capital and additional investment from corporate investors who will bring further dynamics and business connections into the country.
swissinfo-interview: Katalin Fekete
Technopark Zurich, which opened in 1993, provides a platform for technology transfer between companies and universities, and offers young entrepreneurs the opportunity to establish their own company.
The Technopark houses 190 companies with about 1,400 employees. It has three alliance partners in Switzerland: Technopark Winterthur, Technopark Lucerne and Technopark in Manno in the southern canton of Ticino.
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