Going Global – How Switzerland takes a leap in entrepreneurship

With Kickstart Accelerator, we place our bets on collaboration and internationalisation to accelerate Switzerland’s development towards a leading entrepreneurship ecosystem across the globe.

On collaboration: It requires a collaborative effort amongst many actors to build and grow an ecosystem. For the past two decades, individual startup programs have been successfully established to support startups in a particular niche. These programs are pivotal for some founders, and Impact Hubs in Zürich and Geneva, along with many peers such as CTI startup, IfJ, VentureKick, Swiss Startup Invest, Startup Campus, Swiss Startup Factory, Venture, startups.ch, etc. have contributed to this emergence of program-level support. However, it now may seem as if there are more programs in Switzerland than startups that actually make a difference. For breakthrough successes, it requires a critical mass of actors, first and foremost startups, to come together and collaborate rather than compete over limited public, philanthropic or private resources.

On internationalisation: Thus far, we have attracted international talent mostly at the Federal Institute of Technology or St.Gallen University. And when talented students graduate, they are either recruited by large corporates or leave the country again. We lose out on what is a key factor for Silicon Valley’s success story, i.e., the majority of Silicon Valley’s renowned founders being direct immigrants or born to immigrant parents. If we want to develop Switzerland to a global leader of entrepreneurs, we need to build stronger bridges to the international entrepreneurship scene.

Building on DigitalZurich2025, Kickstart Accelerator is the largest collaborative effort to welcome top international startups to Switzerland. With many corporates, leading universities and public institutions joining forces, we have the unique opportunity for our country to take a leap forward in entrepreneurship.

Both collaboration and internationalisation require a distinct mindset. Being part of the global community of over 90 Impact Hubs with 14’000 entrepreneurial members, our team at Impact Hub Zürich has continuously proven this mentality – as we have recently articulated in our Co-Manifesto. We are honoured and proud to be asked to lead Switzerland’s most ambitious effort in startup acceleration, corporate open innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem building. And we are thankful to the many partners and supporters who reach out to us with their helping hands rather than falling back to silo-thinking and traditional competition.

So which collaborations are happening exactly?

DigitalZurich2025 is already a remarkable initiative convening over 25 large corporates, several leading institutions and public players. Building on such an orchestrated power, Kickstart Accelerator now sees competitors working side-by-side for a shared ambition: UBS and Credit Suisse, along with half a dozen of other industry leaders, supporting the Fintech Vertical. Migros and Coop doing so in the Food Vertical. During the selection process, several C-level executives have debated over which corporate is first to initiate a PoC (Proof-of-Concept) with which startup in the program. This, to my knowledge, is very rare in startup programs. It is the openness that is required in order to build something meaningful.

Never before have we actively welcomed so many startups from abroad to Switzerland to establish long-lasting relationships, both with large corporates and institutions, as well as with other Swiss startups. While the majority of participants come from all over the world, about one-third are Swiss startups. And they will not only compete with each other but also collaborate within and across the four thematic verticals. Fortunately, all partners have recognised the innovation potential of not building four different accelerators, but to connect four, and soon more, verticals under one joint acceleration program.

Swiss startups, who do not participate, will also benefit from Kickstart Accelerator. We are curating world-class educational content with Masterclass coaches such as Joachim Schoss, Curdin Janett and Pascal Mathis, in which Swiss startups will also have a chance to join. Stay tuned for more information on this.

Finally, we collaborate intensively behind the scenes. To build a global leader in fintech acceleration, for example, we are working together on a day-to-day basis with Eric Van der Kleij and the team at DV2C, former founder of London’s Level39 and not to forget the many managers and intrapreneurs from our corporate partners rolling up their sleeves to become operationally involved with us.

While all this may both sound exciting and promising for Switzerland, it is also extremely demanding work. Earlier this year, an experienced international acceleration provider had informed one of our partners that it takes at least nine months to put together an outstanding program and only if one has done so before. Well, we have had less than half a year to get the first batch off the ground. And it is due to an extraordinary Kickstart Accelerator team, all of them entrepreneurs in their own regard, strong support by our Steering Committee and office at DigitalZurich2025 and its partners and an incredible backing from Impact Hub Zürich’s 40 people team to make it happen in record time. Before the program officially starts on 22nd August 2016, I would like to thank all of you who make Kickstart Accelerator a reality.

Christoph Birkholz