It's now almost 150 days ago that something truly remarkable happened in Zurich, Switzerland. In early July 2015, Marc Walder, CEO of Ringier, Switzerland's largest media corporation, succeeded in unifying 20 of the most powerful corporations, academic institutions and political leaders of Switzerland for one shared vision: to turn the Greater Zurich Area into a leading European digital-innovation hub. The initiative organizes five projects launching in 2016, focusing on three key areas: attracting outstanding digital talent, helping existing companies master digital challenges and significantly strengthening the Swiss startup ecosystem. My role in all of it? Make it happen, or more officially: managing director of DigitalZurich2025.
Zurich is not the only city in Europe looking to get it right. There's Startup Amsterdam. There's Startup Britain. There's Copenhagen For The Win. There's ParisandCo and its French Tech Ticket Paris initiative to name but a few. We're not the first to realize that a digital world is happening and that we better get on the bandwagon of the future. In fact, we are actually late to the party. So late, that when Compass published its analysis of the top 20 startup ecosystems in July - a full 153 page report - Zurich did not even make the list. Still, we have a ton of potential to make our vision a reality. Why am I so convinced? Three observations:
First, as Ruedi Noser, member of the Swiss Council of States and founding member of DigitalZurich2025, noted in his op-ed in Switzerland's premier business newspaper Handelszeitung last July, Zurich has all the ingredients it takes: highly educated, technical talent thanks to the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH, ranked number 9 in the world), ample financial capital to invest in digital opportunities and great access to international markets. And the best part? In Zurich, it's all within 30 minutes reach of each other.
Second, when Switzerland does something, we do it well, very well. There's a reason why Made in Switzerland is a global trademark for the highest quality known to mankind. According to the Global Innovation Index and the Global Competitiveness Report we rank number 1 in both innovation and global competitiveness. That's a great foundation and starting point. Now add the perspective that 20 of the country's most powerful leaders from politics and business have united to turn Zurich and Switzerland into a leading digital innovation hub. You don't get a better chance at success. This is it. Now we just gotta run ahead and build that bright future.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, even though it's time to run ahead, we ought to keep in mind that it's a marathon not a sprint. Silicon Valley took nearly 70 years to become what it is today. Most cities in Europe are currently between kilometer 10 and 15, and Switzerland is about to complete its first few kilometers. But as all long-distance runners know, starting in a pole position and speeding ahead for the first few kilometers doesn't mean you'll finish first. Having completed a full marathon just this summer myself, I can assure you that a lot can happen in between those 42 kilometers.
DigitalZurich2025 is proof that business, politics and academia can move ahead together in Switzerland. The extent of our success, however, will depend on two factors: On the inside, it will depend on our ability to make steps fast and repeatedly in the same direction, fully aligned side by side. Externally, success will depend on the number of people from Switzerland and abroad who will join us in making this country a hotspot for digital innovation today and any day in the future.