by Olga Steidl
Switzerland is more than just delicious chocolates and beautiful ski resorts – this small and steadfast country is also, arguably, a promising environment for entrepreneurs. Olga Steidl, a Zürich-based CEO of Talkbits, an ex-VP at Yandex, and a Seedcamp and Springboard mentor, gives us a rundown on what and who to watch for in 2013.
When you think about the European startup scene, you tend to picture Berlin’s artistic crowd, Moscow’s busy commerce scene or London’s tech hub – I bet you don’t even think about Zurich. Despite being more known for banks and chocolate, Switzerland is one of the most promising and undiscovered parts of the European startup scene.
In a very Swiss way, concentrating on process and results and not on the shiny attributes of the startup life, this country has become a sweet spot for those who are seeking venture capital, R&D resources and incubation.
Switzerland’s growing startup community
Switzerland offers young companies easy setup, easy taxation, a fast investment process and free office space. High living costs needn’t scare a startup when it comes to developing a product because there are various means of financial support.
It’s never been easier to fund a company in Europe with support from local universities like ETH Zürich or governmental organizations like CTI Invest to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Once in the seed round or Series A round, startups can turn to venture capital firms like Redalpine or to direct investment platforms like Investiere.
Need more proof? Look around the Zurich area, where Google’s biggest engineering office (outside of US) is located. Also, eBay, Kayak, Evernote and Yandex hire and acquire startups from, and for their European HQs in, Zurich or Zug.
But let us look at the dark side: unfortunately, your monthly burn rate will be quite high. Developers in the Zurich region cost at least double what they cost in London and Moscow and it will be hard to find people with an entrepreneurial hunger, because it is still easier to work at a bank or insurance company.
In general, while Swiss startups already have quality and funding, areas of improvement include speed, design and usability as well as globally scalable strategies.
The top 10 Startups to Watch in Switzerland This Year
Below is a list of top Swiss startups to watch in 2013, who know how to work it internationally:
Playboard (42Matters) is an innovative app guide that allows users to get personalised recommendations for apps and games. Playboard content is powered by algorithms and editorial content by third-party users. In November 2012 Michael Breidenbrücker — founder of Last.fm – joined the Zurich-based 42matters team.
cooala is a mobile and Facebook app that allows users to rate and share what’s really cool – subscribe to the brands you love and get product news, event invitations, samples, coupons, gifts and much more. cooala is founderd by Michael Schwede, who was a cofounder of Goldbach Interactive and has been working for major brands, such as Beiersdorf (Nivea), EA, McDonald’s, TUI, Swisscom and many more.
GetYourGuide started in Zurich, moved to Berlin and now has an office in Las Vegas. Earlier this year, GetYourGuide raised $14m to become the go-to resource for finding and booking leisure activities. It is a booking platform for tours, attractions and activities, where professional suppliers can provide travelers with services and products.
HouseTrip, a company that started in Lausanne and now also has offices in London and Lisbon, is one of the largest holiday rental websites in the world. The HouseTrip concept is similar to Airbnb and is considered to be one of the accommodation-booking websites’s strongest competitors in Europe. In October 2012, HouseTrip attracted a $40m Series C funding round led by Accel Partners.
HypoPlus is a local early-stage Swiss startup. It is a platform for private mortgages that offers a free comparison of a variety of mortgage banking and insurance options in Switzerland. The company has already formed partnerships with Swiss financial institutes like AXA, GENERALI, Swiss Life, Credit Suisse, UBS and many more.
InSphero is one of the most interesting biotech startups in Switzerland and supplies organotypic 3D microtissue spheroids in a format ideally suited to drug testing. It also equips and trains its customers to produce their own specialised scaffold-free 3D micro tissue models. InSphero currently counts seven of the top 10 global pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies as customers.
questli is a web and mobile game platform to play and create quests that partners with brands to increase brand awareness among existing and potential customers. This TechCrunch Disrupt winner is already partnered with Unilever, LTUR, GetYourGuide and Fashion Friends, with more deals to be announced.
Silp uses Facebook as a talent pool – it matches jobs with your skills and Facebook’s social graph to find the best opportunities for candidates. It also aggregates users work experience from the web and updates their CV automatically to improve search results. Silp CEO Dominik Grolimund was previously founder and CEO at Wuala, acquired by LaCie in 2009.
Squirro is a new startup from Dorian Selz, former CEO of local.ch, that claims to be a personal digital research assistant, which gathers and harvests content in a way that matches your exact interests. It connects to Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing and Google+ to get topical updates related to companies contacts, connections and companies of interest.
Talkbits (Olga’s own startup and one we’ve written about before) is a real-time social voice stream that is used to connect with people nearby. Users can learn firsthand news, ask locals about new places, talk to drivers about current traffic jams and discuss burning questions. Backed by Runa Capital with a $2m Series A funding and led by Olga Steidl and Oleg Nevstruev (previously at Kaspersky), Talkbits aims to disrupt the mobile voice area.