Published: 07.01.13
Campus

Young researchers show entrepreneurial spirit

Researchers from ETH Zurich founded twenty-two new spin-offs in 2012. The number of company foundations has thus remained constant at around twenty in recent years. Last year, ETH Zurich spin-offs received over ten million Swiss Francs in investments.

Claudia Naegeli
The twenty-two new spin-offs are active in various fields, whereby over a third can be ascribed to information and communication technology.
The twenty-two new spin-offs are active in various fields, whereby over a third can be ascribed to information and communication technology. (large view)

As concrete figures reflect, researchers are taking the plunge and striking out on their own more and more frequently. For many talented young scientists, founding their own firm constitutes an attractive alternative to a scientific career or working in the private sector. Members of ETH Zurich founded twenty-two spin-offs last year. The number of company foundations has thus remained constantly high in the last five years. “We can now reap the fruits of all the development work we have put in recent years,” says Roland Siegwart, Vice-President of Research and Corporate Relations. The “ETH Zurich spin-off” label is well established – due in no small part to many successful young companies that have emerged from the university in recent years.

Eight spin-offs from the ICT sector

The twenty-two new spin-offs are active in various fields, whereby over a third can be ascribed to information and communication technology. Four new foundations fall into both mechanical engineering and the service and consulting sector and two each in the electrical engineering and nanotechnology sectors. One spin-off finally emerged in each of the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Silvio Bonaccio, Head of ETH Zurich’s technology transfer office, particularly lauds the distinct ingenuity of the young companies: “Many of the spin-offs founded in 2012 offer solutions to extremely challenging technical problems,” he says. SwissLitho AG, for instance, has developed a procedure that sets new benchmarks in the production of nanostructures. The technology developed at the IBM research lab enables complex forms to be milled from surfaces quickly, easily and with high precision. The spin-off Phocone manufactures infrared laser modules that are able to measures both heavy molecules and different gases.

Under the high-tech and cleantech banner

However, it was not just high-tech that proved popular among the young company founders in 2012, but also cleantech. Four out of the twenty-two spin-offs founded supply products, processes and services that protect natural resources and reduce negative influences on the environment. The founders of ElectricFeel have developed an e-bike-sharing system with which you can rent an e-bike via smartphone and Polyport provides two services: the Kartoffeltaxi (potato taxi) caters for the climate-neutral transportation of local bioproducts and BringBee is a delivery service for smaller purchases at IKEA.

Prize money and large investments

The ETH Zurich spin-offs got numerous entrepreneurial awards, receiving a total of over 900,000 Swiss Francs in prize money. Last year’s ZKB Pionierpreis, which carries nearly 100,000 Swiss Francs in prize money, went to Cytosurge. GetYourGuide and U-Blox won a Swiss ICT Award. ProteoMedix, Uepaa and Climeworks were each given an advancement award of 100,000 Swiss Francs for innovative business ideas by the W.A. De Vigier Foundation. Six ETH Zurich spin-offs made it into the top ten of the “Top 100 Swiss Start-Ups” ranking published by the Institut für Jungunternehmen and Handelszeitung. And in the economy it is also apparent that many believe in the sustainable success of the young companies. Last year, over ten million Swiss Francs were invested in ETH Zurich spin-off companies.

In 2010 ETH Zurich launched the Pioneer Fellowships development programme, which awards grants to students looking to transform their research results into products ready for the market. Every project receives a maximum of 150,000 Swiss Francs over a period of eighteen months. Meanwhile, four spin-offs have resulted from the programme, three of which were founded last year.

 
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