Switzerland: The country of innovation

June 05, 2017 •

4 min reading

Switzerland: The country of innovation

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Switzerland is a nation of inventors and innovators. For the last six years running, Switzerland was ranked as the number one country in the world for innovation according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) index. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Swiss citizens apply for more European patents each year than any other member of the EU.

What is it that drives the Swiss to create new and exciting creations? It is tradition.

Some of the greatest Swiss inventions

There is a strong tradition of technological breakthroughs in Switzerland. Some of the most famous inventions include:

  • The Zipper. Where would the world be today without the zipper? An American may have come up with the first working prototype, but it took a Swiss innovator to perfect the design. In 1925, Martin Winterhalter unveiled the interlocking-teeth style zipper which is the same design which is in use today.
  • Velcro. Perhaps it is the weather, but the Swiss seem to have an obsession for keeping things closed. While on a hunting trip in the Jura mountains in 1941, the Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral was perturbed to find the propensity of a certain plant to cling to his clothing and his dog fur despite his repetitive effort to remove it. When he returned home, he recreated the plant's hooks to create Velcro.
  • Cellophane. It is time to wrap up the section of Swiss inventions by writing about another invention from Switzerland — cellophane. It turns out that being a natural-born klutz may be a blessing in disguise. While enjoying a glass of wine, Jacques E. Brandenberger ruined a perfectly good tablecloth when he spilled the contents of the glass. Jacques spent the next 12 years perfecting his invention until he released cellophane to the world in 1912.

The Swiss approach to education

Switzerland counts two of the top 20 academic institutes in the world; the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich). These two top institutes are committed to helping students reach their full potential through programs which hone the students' ability to become thinkers and creators.

The new EPFLinnovators program at EPFL leads the way in providing the institute's doctoral students with unique opportunities to gain firsthand experience through non-academic, practical scientific and entrepreneurial skills. The program is supported by the EU's Marie Skłodowska-Curie program.

The annual Innovation Project at ETH Zurich is an engineering course, where students learn how to overcome the fundamental challenges which occur while designing, building and operating a complex technical system while remaining on schedule and under budget.

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Startups at the EHL incubator

Jean-Pierre Vuilleumier (JP), the MD of CTI Invest, famously said,“We don’t like failure in Switzerland, but we don’t like success either” and the Swiss had “failed to monetize on their education."

Things are changing, and Switzerland's educational opportunities lead to some of the most innovative startups.

The Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) has been educating hospital professionals since 1893. The school's EHL incubator fosters young companies who appreciate the support it offers them: 

  • BookBedder a collaborative hotel booking website;

Our goal at BookBedder is to help hotels with their online bookings: it is therefore important for us to be close to hoteliers and understand their needs, and there is no better place to be than the EHL incubator! - Skye Legon, CEO of BookBedder

  • Beelong whose goal it is to indicate the environmental impact of a restaurant;

EHL is a cornerstone for tomorrow's hospitality industry and it's therefore a real opportunity for a young company to grow within the incubator. Beelong benefits from EHL’s extensive network and valuable support. We also have the opportunity to implement our indicator in the F&B outlets on-site – we couldn’t be any closer to those impacted by our tool! - Mathias Faigaux, Co-Founder of Beelong

  • Safe Mountain which trains winter sports enthusiasts to deal with emergencies

For us, EHL's Incubateur was a great accelerator. Its environment has always been giving us motivation for excellence in our project preventing risks in the mountain. Taking care of the client, the attention to the service is at the center of our preoccupation and there is no doubt that EHL has a positive impact on our way of working.- Dominique Perret, CEO and Founder of Safe Mountain

From the past to the present and beyond, there is no doubt Switzerland will continue to impress the world with new ideas and technology. Today's students and young entrepreneurs are already leading the way with more to come.


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