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“Switzerland cannot rest on its laurels”

André Kudelski, president of Innosuisse, the future Swiss Innovation agency, wants to boost the capacity of Swiss companies

On 1 January 2018, Innosuisse will take over the functions of the current Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI). This new entity, independent of the Swiss government, aims to be better equipped to tackle the economic challenges Switzerland will face in the future. The Federal Council named André Kudelski as CEO. Chairman of the Board and CEO of the eponymous information security firm, Vaud-native Kudelski seeks to encourage groundbreaking innovations. He will have the means to do so, with close to 1 billion Swiss francs for 2017–2020.

With Innosuisse, Switzerland has a new body to promote and support innovation. What will change?

In terms of substance, Innosuisse has the same mission as the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI), namely to tackle future economic challenges. But in practical terms, we can expect significant changes. The governance structure, for example, will be refined to include an executive board, which will be in charge of the strategic vision, and an Innovation Council which will choose which projects to support. Until now, there was some confusion between these two roles.

In concrete terms, what is Switzerland lacking when it comes to innovation?

We’re very skilled at solving technological problems, but we often don’t pay enough attention to the economic consequences. Someone could have an excellent idea, or a wonderful technology, but completely miss a market if they didn’t consider the added value of the product. We must therefore work on our ability to create new business models like Google and Facebook did. Furthermore, we tend to be somewhat risk-averse here in Switzerland. The problem is that when we mitigate danger, we also risk missing out on breakthrough innovations.

How can Innosuisse change this?

We can support innovation in two ways. First, we can help universities find outlets for their technologies by creating start-ups. Second, we can offer companies better access to university research. The focus of Innosuisse is to provide SMEs – the primary employers in Switzerland – with access to the brainpower of universities as well as the economic world’s reflections on new business models.

Switzerland is always at the top of international innovation rankings. Aren’t universities and companies already connected?

Nothing lasts forever. We can’t rest on our laurels because the rest of the world is moving very quickly. Currently, our companies and universities are successful but the universe in which they are evolving is very competitive. Digital technologies, for example, will profoundly change many economic industries. Switzerland could be a major player in this digital revolution. But for SMEs, the investments necessary for this type of transformation can sometimes be too high. So we must help them take on the challenge of digitalisation.

What are some other risks for Swiss companies?

In my opinion, the biggest danger would be to only look inwards or even to think that Europe protects us. The Swiss market is too small for our companies and the European market is too skittish. We must look beyond our borders. Speaking of which, the CTI was mainly focused on Switzerland, whereas Innosuisse has a more global approach. We’re going to seek collaborations with universities and companies all over the world.