Patrick Aebischer Discusses Swiss Innovation and Venture Funding
Geneva, March 6, 2018: The American International Club (AIC) hosted an inspiring presentation by Dr. Patrick Aebischer, President Emeritus EPFL.at the Swissôtel Metropole on March 6th. Dr. Aebischer is a leading figure in research, innovation, and entrepreneurship in Switzerland.
Dr. Aebischer stated that Switzerland’s innovation, technology readiness, and higher education & training have led to a #1 competitiveness ranking by the World Economic Forum. World-renown inventions emanating from Geneva include the world-wide web and restriction enzymes (which cut DNA into many pieces). Switzerland’s weakness thus far has been an inability to capture the commercial value of these inventions.
He laid out an innovation ecosystem framework consisting of 1) top universities that produce disruptive, world-class research, 2) an innovation ecosystem, 3) anchor companies that are global leaders (e.g. Google in Zurich), 4) access to venture capital and growth funds, 5) successful exits (M&A), and 6) pleasant living conditions. Switzerland checks the box in most of these categories. Switzerland’s universities are ranked third globally behind the US and UK, and is #1 on a per-capita basis. EPFL already has created 233 startups, and raised CHF 400 million in capital in 2016, versus only CHF 3 million in 2001.
Dr. Aebischer pointed out that while Switzerland provides ample early-stage funding, the Swiss lack the growth capital needed for bigger ticket projects. The need for larger growth funds is a European-wide phenomenon. Europe accounted for just $16 billion of the $127 billion global venture capital investment last year, with Switzerland providing only $1 billion. Other issues faced by Europe include fragmented national stock exchanges (versus the US Nasdaq) - dis-incentivizing IPOs, and too many acquisitions of early-stage startups before they mature. Dr. Aebischer countered that part of the solution lies in larger growth funds that can attract high-quality, experienced CEOs, which he is trying to implement in a new venture fund.
In an interactive discussion with the audience, Dr. Aebischer presented a Swiss education process that enables local school-children to participate in tomorrow’s innovative and dynamic economy. He provided his vision of future technology convergence at the nano, molecular and bio levels. One manifestation of this convergence is DNA archiving, where one can put the entire Montreux Jazz Festival on a DNA storage element that is no larger than a cube of sugar! He said one of the repercussions of robotics and artificial intelligence will be more leisure time. This will provide humans greater freedom to pursue the arts and humanities, so we can finally “give content to technology”.
AIC President, Ron Banks, closed-out the event by thanking Dr. Aebischer, presenting him a gift and lifetime AIC membership. The event was well attended, including local luminaries such as Anne Hornung-Soukup - Chairperson of the Board of TPG, among others.