Building bridges

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Andrea Wehrli develops a business model for electronic waste recycling in India.

Andrea Wehrli develops a business model for electronic waste recycling in India. Image: SNSF

In its first two years, the BRIDGE funding programme has financed 81 projects at the interface of basic science and science-based innovation. BRIDGE is supporting a project at Empa to recycle electrical waste in India.

Andrea Wehrli and Jean-Charles Sanchez do not work in basic science nor do they have the capital to successfully bring their innovations to market. She is a graduate in environmental sciences, he is a successful doctor and they both have brilliant ideas. To boost finances and distribute risks, the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF and the Swiss Commission for Innovation Innosuisse have been running the BRIDGE programme since 2017.

BRIDGE promotes the transfer of research results during the critical precompetitive phase, says Lothar Thiele, president of the BRIDGE steering committee in 2017 and 2018 as well as member of the Research Council of the SNSF. Thiele, professor of informatics at ETH, adds: "The unexpectedly high numbers of applications and their excellent quality shows that BRIDGE has closed an important gap between the funding schemes of Innosuisse and those of the SNSF."

Andrea Wehrli is working at Empa and had been involved in a previous start-up. She secured a "Proof of Concept" grant, which BRIDGE offers to young researchers. "The funding has removed critical obstacles," says Andrea Wehrli. She now works full-time on a business model for recycling electronic waste in India.

Thanks to a BRIDGE Discovery grant for experienced researchers, Jean-Charles Sanchez and his team at the University of Geneva were able to secure the development of a mobile device that allows professionals to recognise small brain injuries. "The device makes it possible to make reliable assessments in GP surgeries, in ambulances and on sport’s grounds - it does away with time delays and the costs of CTI scans in hospitals," says Jean-Charles Sanchez.

In the spirit of the joint programme, Nicoletta Casanova of Femtoprint will assume the presidency of the steering committee in 2019 and 2020. She is a member of the innovation council of Innosuisse and is thrilled that BRIDGE has confirmed its raison d’être after only two years thanks to an array of successful projects. "In the future, BRIDGE will be even more open as it will fund Discovery projects in all disciplines and areas of innovation," Nicoletta Casanova says. She is convinced that Swiss innovation will benefit greatly. As a result of the high demand for BRIDGE funding, the programme will receive additional funds for the 2021-2024 funding period.

Since 2017, the BRIDGE programme has offered two funding lines at the interface of basic science and science-based innovation. "Proof of Concept" is aimed at young researchers who are funded for up to 18 months to make their research results marketable. Projects may target in-novations of all kinds. "Discovery" is aimed at established researchers who assess and imple-ment the innovation potential of research results. Projects may include up to three partners and last no more than four years. Only technological innovations that have a societal and economic impact will be funded.

For the 2017-2020 funding period, BRIDGE has an overall budget of 70 million francs. SNSF and Innosuisse have funded 81 projects (61 Proof of Concept, 20 Discovery) in the first two years. In total, 336 proposals for Proof of Concept and 277 proposals for Discovery were submitted. The first 46 Proof of Concept projects have resulted in 16 start-ups already. While participation and success of the universities of applied sciences remains low for Proof of Concept, they have significantly improved for the second Discovery call: 10 out of 30 people involved in the funded projects work at universities of applied sciences.