2015 20 founding members from the private sector, politics and academia united
in a shared vision to turn Zurich and Switzerland into a leading digital
innovation hub of Europe. They decided to commit to five initial main
initiatives to prove their commitment to action (Kickstart Accelerator,
Investor Summit, CeBIT, WorldWebForum, Education Digital). I received the
mandate to build up the office of the DigitalZurich2025 association and to take
over the coordination of the five main projects as well as any other
partnerships necessary to maximize our overall impact.
The good news is, we will have successfully made these five projects happen by the time September comes around, i.e exactly one year after our foundation. While I am proud of our accomplishments, and confident to have built a strong foundation for DigitalZurich2025, I am also very aware that there’s still A LOT left to do. So what more needs to be done to turn the digital transformation into one of the greatest opportunities our country has ever had and become a leading digital innovation hub of Europe? Having worked for four years in Zurich’s startup ecosystem and having engaged through DigitalZurich2025 with founders, corporate leaders, politicians, professors and investors, here’s what I propose.
It all starts with a good story
Engage mainstream media in a massive ongoing story-telling effort and national dialog around innovation, digitization and pioneering Swiss startups. Do this by establishing permanent TV, newspaper and other media formats dedicated to innovation, startups and digital transformation topics. Also do this by building up at least one big internationally-recognized event (e.g. WorldWebForum). And finally, do this by supporting the grass-roots startup ecosystem leaders who work every day tirelessly towards making this digital innovation hub a reality through their programs, initiatives, meet-ups and more.
Make digitization accessible to all
Then bring it all together, and use these stories, events and the people that make up our startup community to inspire:
a) leaders from all sectors of the economy as well as the general Swiss public (kids to professionals to retirees) to educate themselves in all things digital. Work with our Education Digital partners to build up a physical education center and massive online platform which succeeds in educating 250’000 people (5% of the Swiss labor force) annually via 1-day to 3-months courses in coding, app development, social media marketing, VR, game design etc. In this way, we’ll have educated 95% of the workforce by 2025. (Side note: A good example for such a model is the wildly successful US-based General Assembly).
b) corporates, academia and startups from around the world to collaborate in the largest multi-corporate accelerator program of Europe (Kickstart Accelerator). Make sure corporates and startups learn how to make the most of this collaboration.
Enable a culture shift
Then, take all of it (the mainstream media story-telling, the events, the startup community, the digitally-educated people, everyone involved in the accelerator program) and make them early ambassadors of a bigger “culture shift” towards a strong “innovation culture & startup mentality” throughout Switzerland.
Manifest this culture in a permanent large-scale multi-corporate innovation center (ewz Selnau, Innovationspark) where startups, corporates and academia innovate together day in, day out, especially in those areas where Switzerland’s economy is particularly strong (i.e. finance, life science, precision technology, food, ICT).
Invest in the next Google – made in Switzerland
Then, build upon all these initiatives and their momentum and motivate corporates, pension funds and family offices to understand the tremendous investment opportunity around Swiss startups. End the ever-delayed conversation around initiatives like Motion Graber, the Swiss fund etc, and motivate them to create a big several-hundred-million Swiss franc fund which is used to invest in startups that have the business model and burning ambition to scale up, thereby enabling them to become the next Google, Facebook and Apple, made in Switzerland.
Win over Berne
At last, use all of these successful achievements to persuade politicians across the spectrum that Switzerland’s future depends critically on innovation, digitization and startups. Make them understand once and for all that scaling Swiss innovation globally will be the most important driver of future economic growth and therefore it must be a good politician’s primary concern while in office to a) get out of the way of innovation, and b) only vote for pro-innovation, pro-startup political conditions.
So in short:
1) Engage mainstream media in a nationwide storytelling effort on digitization.
2) Create a learning center where you can educate 5% of labor force annually in all things digital.
3) Bring together corporates and startups to collaborate in multi-corporate accelerator program.
4) Inspire culture shift and create large-scale innovation space for corporates, academia and startups to work together more permanently.
5) Motivate corporates, pension funds and family offices to create a major fund to invest in Swiss-made scale-ups and fund the next Swiss Google, Facebook etc.
6) Enable pro-innovation, pro-digitization political conditions unparalleled in this world to secure economic prosperity.