Switzerland's Most Promising Answer to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Only hours before the opening dinner of the World Economic Forum on January 19th, I had the tremendous pleasure to moderate the inaugural Investor Summit, DigitalZurich2025's first main initiative. The Summit aims to provide a platform for a select set of our country's most promising and scalable start-ups to connect with international investors as well as CEOs and chairmen from large corporates, as they pass by the airport en route to the WEF.

In my closing remarks, I announced the opening of the applications for Kickstart - The Swiss Accelerator, outlining why I believe this program is so very, very important and how it is a direct answer to this year's WEF Global Agenda "The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond". Here's what I said to 100 investors, CEOs and Chairmen:  

Why is today so important? And what might be the take-aways, as you continue your journey to Davos? 

I would like to quote one paragraph from this year’s Global Agenda "The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond" written by Klaus Schwab himself:

"An underlying theme in my conversations with global CEOs and senior business executives is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed. Indeed, across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses."

We have heard 7 successful entrepreneurs pitch today. Klaus Schwab talks about "drivers that constitute a source of constant surprise." Well, you’ve just met these drivers. It the entrepreneurs among us, that "accelerate innovation." It is these entrepreneurs who are pushing forward the "velocity of disruption." It is also these entrepreneurs who create the economic wealth that results from this fourth Industrial revolution. Entrepreneurs, are after all, the single most powerful job creation engine we know. And just think of all the previous industrial revolutions: every single time, the economy eventually soared, more jobs, more innovation, more life quality. And all, because entrepreneurs found ways to turn innovation into business. So you might well say, it is because of these entrepreneurs that we even have a term "the fourth industrial revolution.” Without them, it simply won’t happen. 

Now to Klaus Schwab’s question: What it means, how to respond, I know that every country, every organization, every individual will have to find his or her own answers. I’d like to leave with the one Switzerland is giving:  

It goes by the name of Kickstart - The Swiss Accelerator. Kickstart will be a three month acceleration program for early-stage entrepreneurs from around the world. It is a project of the Kick Foundation in cooperation with DigitalZurich2025. Financially possible thanks to DigitalZurich2025, Engagement Migros, EY, Gebert Rüf Foundation, Swisscom and VZug. Kickstart does not take any equity from the startups. It will run from from July through September of 2016 for the first time. The selected founders and their teams will live and work in Zurich. We will give the startups seed funding, mentoring, office space and fast-track access to relevant industry partners. The program culminates on Demo Day, where each startup presents their company to venture capitalists, corporate leaders, and journalists. 

Kickstart will be the big arrival into the Swiss innovation ecosystem. And Switzerland is bursting with incredible resources for young startups. We will focus Kickstart on those areas where Switzerland is particularly resourceful. Where we have competitive advantage over the rest of the world. What do I mean? Kickstart will have four verticals: The first will be FinTech, wich a focus on wealth management, digital identity and blockchain. If you want to innovate wealth management, you will find the best industry expertise here. If you want to innovate robotics, there’s few places like the Autonomous Systems Lab of ETH Zurich under Prof. Roland Siegwart. If you want to innovate in Food, Switzerland has food experts like few other places. Just think of Migros, Bühler, Nestle - all of them are headquartered here. 

And then, the fourth and my personally favorite vertical: Future & Emerging Tech. For all those who are crazy enough to believe they have “the next big idea” in whatever industry it may be. We have a place for you. Because the beautiful thing about building an arrival hall into the Swiss innovation ecosystem is that some industries might not exist today. And we know a little something about that too: After all, the birth of the web happened in Switzerland, at CERN in 1989. 

So without further ado, we  are launching the applications to Kickstart today. From now onwards, you can go to www.kickstart-accelerator.com and submit your business idea and MVP, and have a chance to get fast track access to Switzerland - the most innovative country in the world. 

Share it. Write about it. Spread the word everywhere. Tell the world that Switzerland believes in entrepreneurs as an answer to the fourth industrial revolution. We’ll give them up to CHF 25’000. Mentoring. Free Office Space. We won’t take equity. All we ask in return, is that the entrepreneurs make the most of it. Drive forward, and do what you always do: create opportunities, jobs, economic prosperity, partnerships, innovation. 

One day we will look back, and think of this as a historic moment. The moment when we opened the gate to ideas from around the world to come to Switzerland, kickstart their business in Zurich and accelerate the forth industrial revolution from the heart of Europe.

Update 26.1.2016: I repackaged some of the thoughts from my closing remarks into an op-ed that got published on US Huffington Post Business. You can read it here