Strengthening Switzerland’s start-up ecosystem

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Paul Baade (left) and Christina Sauter (centre) from the ETH spin-off eightinks
Paul Baade (left) and Christina Sauter (centre) from the ETH spin-off eightinks in discussion with an investor (right). (Photograph: Monika Estermann)
ETH Zurich and UBS held an initial joint deeptech investor summit for start-ups at the start of March. This enabled the university’s spin-offs to talk to potential investors and present their business ideas and technologies.

There were 43 spin-offs founded at ETH Zurich in the past year, more than ever before. Most of them use their own resources or grants to fund themselves in the start-up phase. However, many larger funding rounds with venture capitalists that enable the start-ups to grow require capital from abroad in order to succeed.

This is soon to change: in order to make it easier for ETH spin-offs to gain access to local investors and thereby keep them in Switzerland, ETH Zurich last week staged an initial joint deeptech investor summit together with Swiss major bank UBS. Over 200 potential investors gained an insight into the entrepreneurial activities at ETH Zurich. They had the opportunity at a large number of presentations, panels and an exhibition to network with around 50 ETH spin-offs.

"We want our spin-offs to find investors for their growth more quickly so that they can create jobs in Switzerland and contribute to a sustainable and competitive economy," said ETH President Joel Mesot, who welcomed the guests together with Anton Simonet, Regional Vice President UBS Switzerland, in the ETH Audi Max. Simonet added: "Our aim with the event is to strengthen the network between universities, start-ups and investors and in so doing to promote entrepreneurship in Switzerland." The event, which from now on is to take place once a year, is part of the partnership that the two organisations launched in August 2022.

Many spin-offs of ETH Zurich distinguish themselves by bringing new technologies from the laboratory onto the market. This puts them among the group of so-called DeepTech start-ups. Their products and services are largely based on scientific findings and technological innovations.

In his introductory address, Bart Clarysse, Professor of Entrepreneurship at ETH Zurich, highlighted the fact that DeepTech start-ups are currently popular among investors. The reason for this is that they are capable of creating new industries and changing entire sectors with their technologies. However, this disruptive potential also comes at a price as DeepTech start-ups generally require more capital and time for market entry than traditional start-ups.

All the other things needed for DeepTech start-ups to succeed was the subject of a panel in which Vanessa Wood also took part. The ETH Vice President for Knowledge Transfer and Corporate Relations among other things underlined how important a well-functioning ecosystem was in which universities, investors and government and private sponsors collaborate to support founders. "We wish to use the investor event to strengthen and expand the start-up ecosystem in Switzerland," said Wood.

Established and new spin-offs

During presentations in the morning by ETH spin-offs Anybotics, Verity and Planted, the participants came to know the potential offered by the DeepTech start-ups of ETH. The technologies behind these start-ups have been developed in many years of research at ETH Zurich. While the four-legged robot dogs of Anybotics independently inspect industrial plants and the autonomous drones of Verity are changing the way warehouses work, Swiss supermarkets can no longer be imagined without the meat alternatives of Planted. All three companies are now among the market leaders of their respective sectors.

The focus in the afternoon then turned to spin-offs that are less well established. More than 20 founders pitched their ideas in four topical sessions and answered investors’ questions. Another 30 start-ups presented their products in an exhibition filling the main hall of the ETH Main Building. The start-ups made use of the opportunity to establish valuable contacts with potential investors.

One of these was Paul Baade, founder of ETH spin-off eightinks. Baade and his team are developing the next generation of low-cost and high-performance lithium ion batteries. "We got to know various venture capitalists specialising in different phases and degrees of maturity of start-ups and now have a better understanding of what each one pays particular attention to. We also had the opportunity to talk with some investors about their experiences and views concerning other companies in the battery sector," says Baade.

One of these investors was Victoria Lietha from Swisscom Ventures, who confirmed Baade’s impression: "The event is a unique opportunity to get talking to a large number of founders. As DeepTech is one of our investment clusters, ETH spin-offs are obviously very interesting and we have seen some things that fit into our search profile. We’ll certainly be following this up."

Partnership for the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship

ETH Zurich and UBS launched a strategic partnership in 2022. UBS is investing up to CHF 20 million over ten years in two joint initiatives for the promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation and to enhance the interest in MINT subjects. UBS is also supporting the construction of a new ETH building on the Hönggerberg campus with a donation of up to CHF 20 million.
Christoph Elhardt