Innovation Report

 
report Invest in Basel region

"We will not shy away from taking risks"

05.06.2018

In 2016, Roivant Sciences established their global headquarters in Basel. Roivant founder and CEO Vivek Ramaswamy talked to us about his fast growing company, his priorities for the company and about the role that Roivant aims to play in the Basel life sciences ecosystem.

BaselArea.swiss: You built a company from scratch. What are the crucial ingredients?

Vivek Ramaswamy: In biotech you need three main ingredients to build a great company: good drugs, good people, and sufficient capital. Of course, it is difficult to know which drugs will succeed or fail in advance of conducting clinical research so I started Roivant with the vision of having a broad portfolio—a company whose success would be measured by the number and the quality of the medicines that we deliver to market, but at the same time a company that would not be defined by the success or failure of any given drug. It is my belief that the long term success of the company will be driven by the quality of our people and our cultural principles which include a singular focus on value creation and a commitment to innovation throughout all aspects of our business. This is an expensive and risky industry where you have to invest heavily before you know the eventual result and I am very grateful for the backing of our investors. But at the end of the day, the money we’ve raised is not an accomplishment, it is just an ingredient.

Roivant has grown rapidly. How do you maintain an entrepreneurial spirit within the company?

Maintaining an entrepreneurial mindset is core to our model. Our company is based on the principle that smaller tends to be better which is why we did not organize Roivant as a single, centralized, command-and-control operation. Instead we scale our business through the creation of wholly- or majority-owned subsidiary companies, which we call “Vants.” We now have over 600 employees across our family of companies, and it is fair to say that preserving that initial entrepreneurial mindset is one of my main priorities going forward.

How free are the Vants in finding their own version of entrepreneurial spirit?

Think of Roivant as a parent that contributes DNA to each of our Vants. We also carefully select leaders who contribute their own DNA. Each Vant resembles Roivant heavily but also has its own unique genotype. There are common cultural principles, but there are also important distinctive features and we see that heterogeneity as a comparative advantage.

How do you cope with failure?

We are fortunate that relatively early in our history we have experienced both success and failure. We would not be doing our job if we had only a string of successes insomuch as that would indicate we are not taking sufficient risk to benefit patients. We cope with failure in three ways. First, we acknowledge it as a necessary consequence of our broader strategy. Second, we build a diverse portfolio rather than predicate the success of our business on any single drug. Finally, we own our failures openly and use them as an opportunity to learn. When our drug for Alzheimer’s disease intepirdine failed in phase III, we did not obfuscate or sugarcoat the news. But we also did not overreact and we will not shy away in the future from taking risks in similar areas of significant unmet need. Instead we will embrace the risk of failure as we make calculated decisions across all therapeutic areas.

You chose Basel for setting up your global headquarters. Which aspects did you find most convincing about the location?

It starts with the talent. We believe in diversity of talent and we recruit from both within and beyond pharma. Basel is emblematic in that sense because it brings together a very diverse talent pool from multiple countries and cultures, speaking different languages with varied experiences and educational backgrounds. That mixture makes for a warm, welcoming, and innovative environment which mirrors the culture we seek to build internally at Roivant. At the same time, the legacy of successful pharmaceutical products being developed here makes Basel a place where we wanted to plant a seed early in the life of our company. In addition to the large multinational companies for which Basel is best known there is also a strong scene of young and vibrant companies building on that tradition, and we hope to be at the center of that.

How did Roivant accommodate in Basel for the time being – were your expectations met?

Yes, except in one aspect: Basel does not seem to believe in air conditioning! Joking aside, our expectations were in many ways exceeded. I have found the community to be very welcoming, and we immediately felt at home here. We have been able to recruit talent very effectively, and we have engaged in positive dialogue with several companies in the area. We continue to source new asset opportunities in the region, and we are delighted with how this ecosystem has embraced us and allowed us to thrive. The partnerships we have forged in the region are crucial for us, not least with partners like BaselArea.swiss and its BaseLaunch accelerator program.

We are happy to have you. How do you contribute to the accelerator?

Our business model is to accelerate the launch of new companies in our family so it’s only logical that we would be part of BaseLaunch. We can use our expertise to help other companies accelerate their own launches and scale their businesses. We support BaseLaunch in the process of selecting new projects and we offer advice and mentorship. For us, it is a great way to signal our support for the local startup scene and develop our relationships with other companies in Basel. We are happy to be a part of that.

What are the prospects for the headquarters in Basel?

The short answer is we will grow further. All of the Vants will use Basel as a business hub to develop and maintain partnerships within Europe. We started out as a company focusing on shelved drugs. But we are also keen to accelerate drug development in other companies’ pipelines. Basel is a great place to do that with companies in Europe and its vicinity.

Interview: Annett Altvater

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Meet the BaseLaunch Startups

11.03.2018

Six of the BaseLaunch startups recently started Phase II. They received either grants up to 250,000 Swiss francs or gained free of charge access to BaseLaunch laboratory and office space at the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area. Hear what the startups, the BaseLaunch team and selection committee members experienced in the first year. Find out more about what makes BaseLaunch unique.

The BaseLaunch accelerator is now open for applications for the second cycle. Entrepreneurs with a healthcare based project or a game-changing innovation in diagnostics, medtech or related field at the pre-seed or seed funding stage are invited to submit their applications to the program.

Following the application deadline on 14 May, promising projects will be admitted to the accelerator program for a period of 15 months. In phase I, the startups will benefit from the support of industry experts, office- and laboratory space free of charge and access to healthcare partners. After three months, they will be invited to present their idea to the selection committee. They will determine which promising startups will proceed to Phase II that runs for one year.

BaseLaunch is backed by five industry leaders — Johnson & Johnson Innovation, Novartis Venture Fund, Pfizer, Roche and Roivant Sciences. Other public and private partners such as KPMG and Vossius & Partner also support the initiative.

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“As an entrepreneur, you have to own up to your decisions”

06.02.2018

Five years ago, Alisée de Tonnac quit her job at L’Oréal and travelled the world to set up the first edition of the startup competition Seedstars World. Five years later, Seedstars is present in more than 85 cities worldwide, runs its own co-working and educational centers and plans to have 15 Seedspaces for co-working and co-living by the end of 2018. BaselArea.swiss sat down with Alisée de Tonnac after her keynote at the Swiss Innovation Forum that took place in Basel last November.

BaselArea.swiss: What was the most compelling argument for you to leave your career at an international corporation and become an entrepreneur?

Alisée de Tonnac: I remember coming across this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I thought: Gosh, I do the opposite. I was complacent (I wonder if that is not the definition of unhappy), my corporate and personal life at that time was not engaging me in the right fashion, or at least I did not know how to engage with it in the right fashion. I did not foresee that entrepreneurship and building something of my own was the necessary change, but it definitely became part of who I am today.

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

First of all, I think there are different types of entrepreneurs. One builds everything from scratch and does not sleep until his idea transforms into reality. Others, like myself, follow; they support and scale the idea. So, potentially, entrepreneurship is for everyone, depending on your personality traits and of course you would need to be comfortable with uncertainty, taking risks, and self-management. I love about my lifestyle that I decide how my day roles out. It is spectacular. To be honest, one of the main ingredients to my professional and personal success is that I work with an unbelievable team. My co-founders make the difference. I do not know if I would have been able to launch a company on my own. The team is crucial – keep in mind that you spend every day with them.

What do you think is important in a team of co-founders?

My co-founders and I are very complementary. I am an operational person, definitely not a strategist. A strategist looks five years ahead, sees all the obstacles and still heads forward. More importantly though, we made sure that our values are aligned. We asked ourselves whether we would stick together during the highs and lows. Shared values have proven to be our biggest strength and one of the reasons why we are still sustaining, five years later. We want to build good things with good people. We believe that we can build a profitable business and be good, but more importantly we have an underlying foundation of values that keeps us together no matter what – at least until now...

Before you co-founded Seedstars, you worked with L’Oreal. How do you benefit from your corporate experience?

I learned so much in terms of business, culture, teamwork and social pressure. I also know what I do not want to do, which is just as important. It also taught me a lot on how I would want to build the culture within our new structure. The culture is so fundamental in managing and scaling the business. I think you learn while working at corporations what differentiates them and how a uniquely defined and communicated culture makes the difference.

What was the biggest surprise for you when becoming an entrepreneur?

The ownership of your day and actions. Because you really have to own up to your decisions. You cannot bullshit and you cannot hide behind the brand or the cc- emails. It was a bit terrifying initially to be the only person that can start the whole machine – and very gratifying at the same time.

You work with entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries. Which challenges are these entrepreneurs tackling?

In healthcare, we see many digital platforms, like one that allows you to recognize if a medicine is fake or not – which is an issue in Nigeria and other emerging markets. There are telemedicine platforms to connect rural areas with specialists and educational apps for pregnant women, as childbirth is still a huge cause of death in those regions.

Seedstars launched its own trainings. Why was that necessary?

There is talent everywhere, but not every talented person gets the same access to education, network opportunities and infrastructure. With our training, we tap talent that is not yet exposed to such opportunities.

What did you learn from your experience in Lagos?

We are in markets that represent a big part of the world. Exposing yourself to different consumer habits, radical transformations and growing cities helps to understand the world of tomorrow. We are living in a global economy today, the world does not end at the borders of a nation. People who ignore that fact are limiting themselves professionally and personally. Take Lagos, for example: there are 20 million people, the streets are buzzing, everyone is young and you witness a dynamic “everything is possible”- spirit. It is so contrary to coming back to Geneva where we have meters of space between one person and the next. After two weeks, I am complaining when the bus is five minutes late. We are very comfortable and very fortunate – which can also be seen as a problem for innovation. Being comfortable can be a goal, but it is in many ways the opposite of being innovative.

Your company is registered in Geneva. How important is the Swiss headquarters?

First of all, we are very proud of the “Swiss made” brand, which has supported us in successfully scaling the business around the world. The values that the flag carries – like quality, professionalism and neutrality – we aim to represent on the ground. As all partners grew up in Switzerland, we also keep close ties with our private and public network. Switzerland is an amazing hub with strong public institutions like the UN in Geneva or the WEF in Davos that play an important role in the markets where we are present with Seedstars. Many multinational companies residing here are also very interested in these emerging markets, not least in terms of talent acquisition. Moreover, they provide potential solutions. It is crucial to be present in Switzerland as well as in the countries where we have our competitions. Interestingly, we slowly start to see reverse innovation: Safaricom, the biggest mobile service provider in Kenya launched the payment solution M-Pesa. They are now testing their solution in Romania and Albania. I am certain that the usual way of doing business by conducting a product in the north and selling it in the south will blur out eventually.


About Alisée de Tonnac
Alisée graduated from HEC Lausanne and obtained her Masters in International Management at Bocconi University. The French citizen lived in Singapore, Silicon Valley, Switzerland, Italy and in Lagos, Nigeria. She was a product manager for luxury brands at L’Oreal Group and worked at Voyage Privé, a leading European startup. After traveling around the world for a year to set up the first edition of the Seedstars World startup competition back in 2013, Alisée is now managing the company. She has accumulated deep knowledge of trends in technology, social media & consumer behavior in emerging markets. Alisée is a board member of the School of Management of Fribourg and a member of the Swiss National Innovation Council. She was nominated Social Entrepreneur Forbes 30 under 30 in 2017 and was Innovation Fellow of Wired UK in 2015.

About Seedstars
Seedstars is a Switzerland based group with the mission to impact people’s lives in emerging markets through technology and entrepreneurship. Seedstars connects stakeholders, builds companies from scratch with public and private partners, and invests in high growth startups within these ecosystems. Through different activities that range from startup scouting to company building and acceleration programs, the team has built the most powerful network of entrepreneurs, investors, incubators, corporations and government officials from more than 65 fast growing economies around the globe. Seedstars started running its operations in 2013, launching its startup competition model on 20 emerging markets. By 2018, the competition is present in more than 85 cities, and the Seedstars Group will be launching 15 strategic hubs (Seedspaces, co-working activities, acceleration programs and academy centres) around the world. The business model relies on recurring partnership deals with both local and international players seeking to be involved in impact investment in the fields of technology and innovation. Part of the revenue channels also includes a hybrid company building model through which Seedstars launches new companies in new markets, with tested business models adapted to the local environment. So far, Seedstars has invested in 15 startups. Another 10 to 15 investments are foreseen for the first semester of 2018.

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"I want to turn innovative research into new drugs"

04.07.2017

Each year some 250,000 patients develop a type of cancer because of faulty communication between cells. This malfunction occurs in what is known as the NOTCH signal path. There are currently no effective treatments – but this is set to change. Cellestia Biotech AG is developing an innovative drug against this type of cancer by using a novel active ingredient that selectively attacks the malfunctioning cell communication. The drug could be used to treat leukaemia, lymphomas and solid tumours such as breast cancer.

In 2014 Professor Freddy Radtke and Dr Rajwinder Lehal, who had dealt with this subject in his dissertation, founded the company Cellestia Biotech AG. In 2015, an experienced team of pharmacology and oncology development specialists led by Michael Bauer came on board, investing in Cellestia as co-founders. Bauer and his team had previously spent several years examining various projects in an effort to help shape the development of such a start-up company. We spoke with him about the risks and implications of founding a company.

Interview: Stephan Emmerth

Mr Bauer, how long did you have to look before you found a project you wanted to invest?

Michael Bauer: Over the course of many years and alongside my regular jobs, I and my colleagues examined, evaluated and rejected a number of projects – sometimes more intensively, sometimes less. Some of the projects were great, some being unbelievably innovative. However, something always led us not to pursue a project in the end.

The search did not just cost you a lot of time, but also a lot of money as you have to conduct due diligence every time.

We of course had to put effort into the search. You could say that we identified, examined and evaluated projects acting similar to a small venture fund. Thanks to the make-up of our team, we were able to undertake many of the tasks ourselves, at times bringing in experts. There were many instances when specialists from our network assisted us. There was a considerable amount of good will. To some extent we footed the bill ourselves.

Why did this not work out before Cellestia?

A number of conditions have to be met. The basis is of course excellent, innovative research results protected by patents. Also important are ownership rights to the inventions and reasonable licencing terms. Finally, there has to be agreement on the expectations of the people involved in the project. We have experienced pretty much everything. Many times it emerged over the course of the investigation that, for example, the research data was not quite so convincing as had initially been presented. Or the expectations with respect to the licencing conditions were too far apart. In one project, they wanted to sell us patents that had expired. It often happens that the scientists have unrealistic ideas about the value of their project. One retired professor who had tried in vain for many years to finance his company expected us to try for five per cent of the shares. This is of course not the basis for a partnership.

Juggling research and entrepreneurship is a big challenge, isn’t it?

It is necessary to develop an understanding of the relations and contributions of the various partners involved in such a project, each of who have very different personal risks. On the one hand, there is some 20 years of basic research behind Cellestia, 11 of which were at the EPFL. Rajwinder Lehal has been working concretely on this project for the past nine years, initially as part of his dissertation, then as a post-doc and since 2014 as Chief Scientific Officer. We respect this history from the management team and are happy to have access to the resulting knowledge. At the same time, the inventor’s side has to have regard for the entire expenditure: some five million of public funds were invested over the years at the EPFL. However, it could take hundreds of millions until a product comes onto the market. Moreover, the path from the first successful experiment in lab animals until a drug is approved for human use is long. Altogether, the cost of research could be marginal in comparison to the development and marketing, amounting to only a few per cent. And the development costs are paid for by the investors, who need the investment to pay off. All of these factors have to be considered and respected in a partnership. This worked with our team.

You have many years of industrial experience. What attracted you to the entrepreneurship?

The challenge of turning ground breaking inventions into products attracted me. I consider myself a product developer and had wanted to start a company even as a student. Looking back, I have to say that I am lucky to have gained nearly 20 years of professional experience in product development as it is important to be able to understand and appreciate just how complex the challenges are in product development in life sciences and pharma. This wealth of experience also helps you understand where your own knowledge ends and when experts have to be brought on board to be able to successfully advance a project or a company.

What was the incubation from first contact until you joined as co-founder at Cellestia like?

The current Chief Scientific Officer, Rajwinder Lehal, and I had been in regular contact with each other for a number of years. At that time, however, the project was not advanced enough to establish a company. Initially, Professor Radtke, Rajwinder Lehal and Maximilien Murone founded Cellestia in 2014. We met a few times in summer 2015 with the Lausanne research and founder team at i-net, the predecessor of BaselArea.swiss. Things moved quickly from there. In just a few meetings, we were able to evaluate the project and develop a good personal understanding, which for me and my partners was very important if we were to invest in Cellestia. We could agree on matters quickly, more or less by handshake. Then came the necessary contracts and in November we were already listed in the commercial register. Our lawyer and co-founder Ralf Rosenow saw to the formalities. We decided to move the headquarters from Lausanne to Basel but to leave the research activities in Lausanne, resulting in a sort of transcantonal partnership.

Why move the headquarters to Basel?

For us, the most important argument in favour of Basel was access to talent and resources for product development, resulting from the proximity to leading pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, Roche, Actelion and many others. Such access to experienced development specialists is more difficult in Lausanne. In addition, our co-founder Roger Meier and other colleagues already have an active investor network in Basel with an affinity to the sector and Basel itself. We did not have such access in Zurich or Geneva at the beginning. I personally also like the quality of work and life in Basel. The city is of a manageable size yet international, with diverse cultural offerings. Furthermore, the Basel airport has excellent connections – you are in the middle of Europe and in just one to two hours you’re practically anywhere Europe, be it London, Berlin or Barcelona. Lausanne, on the other hand, has in its favour the outstanding academic environment with the EPFL and the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research. Here, too, there is an excellent environment for start-ups, but in our opinion more toward engineering and technical disciplines or medicine technology. Many companies are founded each year at the EPFL and the innovation potential is enormous, but Cellestia is the first company founded at the EPFL that seeks to bring a drug to clinical development. We are happy to be able to combine the positive elements of both regions via what is now an established approach with two locations.

Which pre-conditions were decisive enough that you ended up collaborating and founding the company?

Actually, everything was right from the very beginning. First of all, the personal atmosphere between the people involved has to be right. This was also the basis in coming to a fair agreement for all co-founders with respect to understanding the evaluation and allocating the respective shares in the company at the time it was founded. On the other hand, it was of course crucial that the substantive examination of the project – as concerns both the scientific basis and the quality of the data – and the examination of the patent as well as license conditions of the EPFL were positive. Also important to us was that the risk profile is manageable, i.e. there is a good balance between innovation and reference to the research already carried out.

How will Cellestia develop further operationally?

Cellestia already has a long history, starting with the research activities at the EPFL. When the management team was expanded in 2015, other co-founders joined at the same time that I did: Dirk Weber as Chief Medical Officer, as well as the already mentioned co-founders Ralf Rosenow and Roger Meier. Cellestia now has six employees. Then there are the numerous service and consulting mandates, which complement our internal resources as needed. If you take into consideration external services, I reckon there are now well over 100 people involved in Cellestia. We expect that we will continue to grow in the direction of clinical development as our first project progresses and further expand the team. Moreover, we would like to develop additional products in our pipeline as soon as possible. This will definitely require additional financial resources. The Board of Directors will also develop further, expanding and adapting with each financing round in order to properly represent new investors. Research work is increasingly being carried out by external services providers, and at the same time continuing in the laboratory of Professor Freddy Radtke at the EPFL. We are currently setting up new framework agreements with the EPFL concerning the further use of their infrastructure. The flexibility there is very helpful for us.

What are the next milestones?

A key milestone is the treatment of the first cancer patients. We hope to be able to treat the first patients in October.

How are the clinical studies organised?

The course of a clinical trial for new drugs is strictly regulated. In the Phase I study, the compatibility of the active ingredient is first examined. This is when we treat patients who are suffering from a form of cancer in which NOTCH most likely plays a role. In the following Phase II study, the efficacy of our drug is researched in different types of cancer. This is when we select patients in whom activation of the NOTCH signal path is detected with a Cellestia diagnostic method. The therapeutic benefit for these patients is therefore very likely.

Have there been any surprises so far?

No, not really, because we have considered everything. Or yes, but pleasant surprises: due to the considerable amount of preparatory work, we were already quite certain with respect to the effect mechanism. It has now finally been possible to detect the precise binding mechanism of the drug, which confirmed all former studies. This is also the basis for significantly expanding the programme. We can now build a new platform on whose basis we can generate new drugs for new indications. In addition, it was not that easy to manufacture the drug in large quantities and in a high quality. Innovative steps were needed, which ultimately leads to a patent.

What do you have in mind for the next five years?

We are very optimistic about Cellestia’s prospects for success and are planning the next couple of years in detail. We of course also have a plan for the overall development over the next five years, but as experience shows, such plans always change with the results obtained. This is also the fascination and challenge in medication development – it does not allow you to plan everything in detail, and you have to respond flexibly to new results. This also applies to possible setbacks, of course. It is important to have sufficient reserves to deal with these and resolve them. Thanks to the successful financing rounds that we could close in January 2017, we are in a position to begin with Phase I while at the same time pursue further financing.

Who has invested in Cellestia so far?

The first investors after the deposit of the initial capital were predominantly many of our advisors, i.e. experts who are familiar with the sector as well as private people involved in life sciences and the pharma sector as investors. Around one-third of the shareholders are experts from the pharma and life sciences setting. Over the course of the Series A, B and C financing rounds, larger investments from family offices also came. The first institutional investor, the PPF Group, invested after its own, extensive due diligence that was conducted by experts from Sotio. So far, we’ve been able to mobilise a total of CHF 8 million to drive product development at Cellestia. In preparation of the next financing round, we are in talks with private investors, venture funds and pharmaceutical companies. We are confident that we will be able to win good partners for Cellestia’s next phase. The right combination of partnerships and financing is important. We need strong partners on board to give patients access to our medications quickly.


About
Michael Bauer (born 1966) has been CEO at Cellestia since November 2015. He studied chemistry at the University of Hamburg and completed his doctoral in biotechology from 1994 to 1997 at the Hamburg-Harburg University of Technology. After working in metabolic research at Zeneca in England, he moved to Syngenta in Basel in 2001 where he worked as Global Regulatory Affairs Manager in project and portfolio management. From 2007 to 2009 he was a project leader at Arpida, a biotech firm in the field of antibiotics development. From 2009 to 2012 he was a Global Program Manager at Novartis where he led global development projects in the field of oncology and brought a range of products to clinical development. From 2012 to 2015 he was the Head of Clinical Development at Polyphor.

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Basel initiative supports life sciences start-ups

01.02.2017

BaseLaunch, an accelerator initiative launched and run by the location promotion organisation BaselArea.swiss, is a new partner of the start-up accelerator Kickstart. Life sciences start-ups will be promoted through a second Kickstart programme.

BaseLaunch, which will be launched on 22 February, is an accelerator initiative that aims to create the next generation of groundbreaking healthcare companies in the Basel region, according to a BaselArea.swiss announcement. The collaboration with Kickstart, one of the Europe’s largest multi-corporate start-up accelerators and an initiative of digitalswitzerland, will contribute towards accomplishing this objective. Kickstart is now starting a second programme.

“With the second edition taking place in Zurich and the extension of the programme to Basel, Kickstart will be one step closer to becoming the largest European start-up accelerator,” said Nicolas Bürer, managing director of digitalswitzerland, in a Kickstart statement. Kickstart describes Basel as a life sciences “hot spot” and says that the partnership will make it possible to “tap into the unexplored innovation potential”.

Kickstart Accelerator will select a shortlist of up to 30 start-ups that will be given the opportunity to develop their ideas in an 11-week programme at Impact Hub Zurich. In addition to life sciences, start-ups from the food sector, fintech, smart cities, and robotics and intelligent systems are also eligible.

The start-ups will receive support from experienced mentors and partner companies, and will have the chance to win up to CHF 25,000 as well as receiving a monthly stipend.

“Cooperation between the start-ups and corporate partners will allow the entrepreneurs to benefit from the corporates’ know-how and large customer networks, as well as enable them to develop new technologies and disruptive products together,” commented Carola Wahl, head of transformation and market management at AXA Winterthur, one of the corporate partners.

Interested start-ups can apply at Kickstart Accelerator.

 

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«As an entrepreneur you have to be a little paranoid»

07.10.2015

Adrian Bult, the Basel private investor and member of various boards of directors, is an acknowledged expert with an in-depth knowledge of Switzerland’s ICT sector. Since March 2013, he has been engaged on a voluntary basis as head of the i-net Technology Field ICT. In this interview he explains that makes entrepreneur types and why he is convinced that Switzerland could quite easily produce the next Google.

What’s it like being a Business Angel in Switzerland?
Adrian Bult*: Basically I have an exciting life. I am constantly confronted with new ideas and incentives. I have to do with young entrepreneurs, and that is very enriching for me.

Do you also mean that in a literal sense?
Certainly, because I am primarily interested in the content and people. So I also don’t see myself as an investor but as an interested developer of companies.

You invest above all in ICT – are there enough interesting cases?
Yes, in my view there are an awful lot of good ideas in Switzerland and a distinct sense of enterprise. But most is privately funded. In this respect Switzerland is unique. There is probably no other country anywhere in the world where so much in the way of financial resources flows into innovation from private investors or companies. This is also different from Silicon Valley, where enterprise is driven by a highly professional venture capital industry.

So you also have to lower your sights accordingly in Switzerland?
Yes, and Switzerland also has a small domestic market. This therefore begs the question of ambition right at the outset of any start-up. In the B-to-C segment, if you don’t step up to the plate with a global vision, then you usually have little chance from the start. Switzerland is therefore above all a country with lots of interesting niche providers – especially in the B-to-B segment.

What is lacking in most of the cases you encounter?
Switzerland has a distinct pharmaceutical, engineering and chemical culture. But a good sales and marketing culture is also important for the success of a start-up. In this respect, other countries - especially the USA, for example - have a head start. They give much more emphasis to marketing. Young technology-driven entrepreneurs in particular believe the best product will succeed. But that is often just not the case. In most cases it is the product that is marketed best that comes out on top.

But in Silicon Valley aren’t companies still being founded by techies and nerds, not by marketing people?
That’s true, but marketing has the same importance as engineering operations. If you tell someone at a party that you’re a salesman, then the reaction is usually very muted. This has to do with the fact that, in Switzerland, understatement is seen as a great virtue. Self-marketing is nothing like as important as it is in other cultures. That’s something we Swiss have to learn.

Does a start-up founder without salesman qualities have no chance?
Absolutely. How else does he want to attract investors for his project? This is where it starts. And then you also need a certain ambition. There are founders who focus on the global market from the outset. In Switzerland, this is immediately greeted with smiles. But basically this is the right attitude in order to reel in the first customer. This is also a typical approach of many technology-driven start-up founders in Switzerland: pick up the phone and work through a list of leads. Most people feel this is beneath them.

Are there other patterns you often come across in young Swiss entrepreneurs?
Something I always see especially in start-ups is an underestimation of the time that is needed to achieve the desired results. If you underestimate the time and the funding is linked to this time axis, then you have to react in good time when you see that you are going to need longer. Otherwise you run out of steam.

So you should always plan for twice as much time and money as you think?
No, that would be wrong. I’m in favour of setting a tight deadline and keeping funds short. But you have to react in good time if you see that things are getting tight. You need the pressure – otherwise you don’t move.

Can Switzerland and Europe ever produce an ICT giant?
Why not? You always only hear of Google, Airbnb or Uber. But there are also companies that are working very successfully one or two steps below this radar. There are some areas where technologically very advanced solutions are being developed in Switzerland. Such as “Over the Top” internet TV.

Does Switzerland not simply make too little of its opportunities? It is not Zurich but London that is the FinTech centre of the world today.
In Switzerland there have certainly been developments in this direction; for example, companies invested early on in e-private banking, and apps from big Swiss banks lead the field today. But a cluster has not formed around this as it has in London. Why is that? To succeed in the FinTech sector, banks have to cannibalize their own business. Under these conditions it is simply difficult to drive innovation forward within your own organization. This is why I argue in favour of cooperative ventures. Twint from Postfinance is a good example of how this can succeed.

With the coalescence of ICT and Life Sciences, the next opportunity presents itself for Switzerland and the Northwest region in particular. What needs to be done to make sure this opportunity is not missed?
Innovation arises through collaboration. Small companies often lack the know-how and the resources for major roll-outs. Established companies on the other hand lack the agility to achieve the best-possible result with few resources. I would therefore suggest approaching such issues more in project networks. It is typically just a few people in the management of large companies who decide whether an idea is good or bad. A completely different approach is taken in Silicon Valley, where there is a sponsor for any given idea. This sponsor gets together with financial investors and technical experts and interacts with them. If the idea goes down well and there is potential for improvement, then it is on the right track. If the comments are constantly negative, then it is probably the wrong way. The upshot is that, in Silicon Valley, it is the competent people with a competent opinion who are the decisive actors, not an individual in management. It is noticeable that this model is slowly coming to be accepted in Switzerland as well.

And yet Switzerland is world champion in innovation?
I would take the assertion that “Switzerland is world champion in innovation” with a very large dose of salt. Such statements just make you feel comfortable. If an innovation is in the process of redefining a market, then it can never be too soon to notice it. As an entrepreneur you have to be positively paranoid in this respect and should be constantly considering whether you are good enough and what could be improved.

It is often said that enterprise is not highly regarded in Switzerland and the willingness to take risks is given too little regard.
I feel this has changed a lot. In fact I see a lot of young people who set about projects with a very strong appetite for risk. Failure today is also no longer so serious. It is also very valuable for personal development if you have established your own company. I see young entrepreneurs today who are much further on than I was at the same age because they have established their own company.

You said at the start that in Switzerland it is mainly private individuals who invest. What could be done to ensure that even more is invested?
It could be encouraged by giving people the possibility to experience this themselves. For example, instead of investing heavily in training and continuing education, large companies could give management staff the opportunity to invest training money also in a start-up. If an MBA costs 20,000 francs, for example, the company could get the manager to pay up 20,000 francs themselves on top in order to support a small company with this capital. I’m convinced the learning effect in terms of reading balance sheets and profit-and-loss accounts or driving projects is at least as great as it is when compiling a case study at a prestigious university. If you can convey this credibly in a job interview, then this experience is just as valuable as a title.

What do you think of tax incentives for companies that create added value?
Basically I always find it positive when incentives are created for people who are prepared to take a risk. If someone takes a big risk, he should also be rewarded for this. Tax incentives are one possible way of doing this.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Adrian Bult has worked on an honorary basis for i-net as Head of ICT since March 2013. Bult is an acknowledged expert with an in-depth knowledge of Switzerland’s ICT sector. From 1998 to 2007 he was a member of the group management of Swisscom and from 2007 to April 2012 he was COO of Swiss-based bank software vendor Avaloq. Today Adrian Bult is a consultant and investor. He is Chairman of the Board of Directors at Swissgrid and Enkom Group and a member of the Board of Directors at Adnovum, Swissquote, Regent Beleuchtungskörper and Alfred Müller AG.

Adrian Bult (born in 1959) studied business administration and marketing at the University of St. Gallen.

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«If you’re after eight-figure investments, it’s always going to be very tight in Europe»

05.08.2015

With its award-winning Erlenapp, the company known as qipp made both a national and an international name for itself. But with its Allthings platform, success came to the Internet of Things startup in a different market from the one initially in mind. In this interview Stefan Zanetti, founder and CEO of qipp, explains what hurdles the Basel startup had to overcome and ventures a glimpse into the future for qipp.

In the past few months, qipp has reaped a host of startup awards. Does that also do something for the business or are the awards just good for the ego?
Stefan Zanetti*: Of course we wouldn’t have taken part in the competitions if we had not been convinced that they would get us somewhere. There are two considerations here. Firstly, our business idea is pretty abstract. To be successful, we have to package this in a good story. Competitions force us to get to the heart of our own story. Secondly, awards bring not only publicity, but above all also trust. It’s like a third opinion which certifies that we have a promising business idea. The awards have opened doors to investors in particular.

The idea of qipp matured over time. What has changed?
I would put it differently. The basic idea has always been the same: With our Allthings platform, we aim to equip the physical world with digital services. What has changed a lot is the market focus. At first we thought qipp could be interesting above all for producers of high-end goods. Our technology, for example, enables products such as watches, bicycles or kitchen devices to be equipped with digital services so that the producers can deliver their products directly with value-added services. This idea is still what guides us and was also well accepted by producers. Only this is unfortunately a slow-moving market and the sales cycles are much too long for a startup like us, who has to show concrete results very quickly.

So you had the right product, but were on the market too soon?
Yes, the producers we initially had in mind were simply not mature enough for our story. But fortunately another industry got wind of our product: the real estate sector. It was above all the initiative of a partner, namely the general contractor Losinger Marazzi, who wanted to explore new avenues for the Erlenmatt estate. And so we developed the Erlenapp on Allthings. Everyone who moves into an apartment in Erlenmatt is given access to this app, which covers all the services relating to the apartment and the estate: from the apartment documentation, a local social network where users can exchange their views or interfaces for reporting damage to the visualization of energy data. So far, 92 percent of the apartments have downloaded the app and use it on average every other day. These are fantastic values.

So is that now the breakthrough?
Since launching the Erlenapp, we have indeed been bombarded with queries. These come partly from the real estate sector and also from other sectors.

How are you coping with this rush?
At the moment we are working at two levels. Besides the further rollout of real estate apps, we are also working flat out on the publication of our API, which will then also open up the Allthings platform for third-party providers outside the real estate sector.

Can this balancing act work in the long run? Will you not have to decide at some stage: «World Leading Real Estate App» or horizontal platform for Internet of Things applications?
That’s a valid question. The real estate market is actually huge. And it’s not only about the market for apartments; a very attractive option of course is also the office segment, not least in view of new forms of work, such as shared desk and co-working, which are a growing feature of offices. There is huge potential in the real estate sector for micro-applications that can then be offered by third parties via our platform. This shows how crucial the local graph is - whether you want to get rid of the surplus food in your fridge before you go away on vacation or the local pub invites you to a BBQ evening.

So qipp positions itself as a sales and service outlet?
I could well imagine apps comparable with the Erlenapp in future being offered as basic infrastructure by cities, municipalities or districts. But at the same time you have to watch out that you don’t find yourself drifting out too wide, because a lot of things are possible, but not everything really makes sense. So it will be important to get the scalable core to crystallize out even more clearly in the coming months together with our partners.

You have been to Silicon Valley on various occasions. Will qipp have to move to the ICT mecca at some stage? Or to put it differently: can you also live out your ambitions in Basel?
If the success lasts, then the day will come when we have to touch ground in Silicon Valley. But we cannot and don’t want to take this step right now. We are also aware that there are hotspots like London and Berlin, where things are taking off at present and a European startup eco system has emerged. But you can also profit from this if you travel there now and then and actively network. You don’t necessarily have to locate your headquarters there. Conversely, a location like Basel also has advantages. For example, when you see how companies in London and Berlin poach developer talents off each other, then this is not something you necessarily want to get involved in. I can count on people here who above all are convinced of the qipp idea and find it exciting to develop this further. There are also top developers who don‘t desperately want to live in the most hip places in the world.

Is that not rather too defensively minded?
If you’re after big investments running to eight-figure sums, it’s always going to be very tight in Europe and you will also seek your fortune Silicon Valley. But no one there is waiting for a company from Europe and conversely no US venture capitalist invests to any substantial degree outside the US. Establishing a startup in Europe is fundamentally different from establishing a startup in the US. Take Nextdoor. This startup is doing something very similar to us in the US, but the approach is quite different. First it is all about conquering territory. The business model and sales don’t play any role. For as soon as you have the masses on the platform, these things then develop of their own accord. You can’t operate like that in Europe. You have to earn money from the outset. But this only works if you know your market, and the market you know best is where your home is.

So you can finance qipp yourself?
I have already built up two companies that were completely organically financed. To date qipp is also self-financed and could also continue to develop further organically. But the question is whether we would then risk missing out on great potential. For this reason we will hold our first external round of financing in the autumn.

How much capital is needed?
We will conduct an initial round among business angels, friends and employees and only then open up. And we need additional staff in order to meet the current strong growth in demand. But this will then enable us soon to generate new income, which we plan to use for the development of our platform in order to get third-party providers involved.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Stefan Zanetti is founder and CEO of qipp, the third company that he has founded after synesix (2005) and careware (2006). Within qipp, Zanetti is focusing on business development and key account management. All the companies he has founded are profitable and manage entirely without external financing. They achieve sales of 2 to 6 million francs a year and employ between 8 and 20 people.

Website of qipp

Video about qipp's Erlenapp

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«Europe is very much about stakeholders, Silicon Valley about shareholders»

21.08.2014

Michael Dillhyon is a US entrepreneur and investor living in Zug. Originally, he moved to Switzerland and only wanted to accompany the exit of a US spin-off company. But a growing family and new plans made him stay – he even discovered he has roots in this small country.

In our interview, Michael Dillhyon talks about his past and latest projects and explains what Swiss entrepreneurs do differently from US entrepreneurs.

What brought you to Switzerland and how did you end up staying in Zug?
Michael Dillhyon*: In 2003, I founded a company in the United States called «Netelligent». And we had an opportunity at Netelligent to spin-off a software company called «ActiveObjects» in Europe. The original plan was to be in Switzerland only for a short time until the exit took place and also to enjoy Europe. But in 2004, about two weeks before we were to leave Switzerland, I came home from the office and my wife said: «I’m pregnant.» We already thought that moving to Switzerland was a big change but on top of that, we were even going to have a child in this country.

Originally, you planned to return to the US afterwards. What was your reason to stay?
We liked our life in Switzerland a lot and saw that it was a good place for our children to grow up, but there is also another side to the story. As you may have noticed, I have quite a unique last name. My father discovered that his grandfather’s original name was «Jaeger-Blützinger» – and he was from Glarus. So you see, we moved to Zug firstly for economic reasons, then we stayed for the family and in the end it turned out that I have my roots in this country!

And the European expansion worked out for Netelligent?
Yes, it just evolved! In the end, ActiveObjects was acquired.

What made you become an investor in Swiss companies?
When I sold my stake in Netelligent and we sold ActiveObjects around 2010, I held some board roles and small jobs. Until then, I was not really involved with Switzerland business wise. I thought this was an interesting country and therefore decided to use my entrepreneurial skills. I travelled around Switzerland and realised that the Swiss do not think of themselves as entrepreneurs. But I can see that the idea of entrepreneurship is very strong in Switzerland; however, most of the people are more «lifestyle entrepreneurs». There is a big difference between this and «growth entrepreneurship». Risk capital doesn’t usually get invested in lifestyle entrepreneurship.

What projects are you following now?
When I travelled around Switzerland to make investments, I found that there weren’t enough companies that were ready that I could invest in. So I wanted to change the whole environment to create more investable alternatives. The idea was to change people’s mind-set. The difference between Europe and America is: The European community is all about stakeholders; but in America, in particular, Silicon Valley, it is about shareholders. The workforce here in Europe is not as flexible as it is in the United States.

There are many who think that Switzerland should be imitating Silicon Valley – what is your opinion?
The conservative market economy and the liberal market economy are very different and Switzerland should not try to be Silicon Valley. What’s missing in Silicon Valley is building sustainable long-term businesses. Everybody expects things to happen in three to five year increments. But a Raiffeisen or a Nestlé in Switzerland has a different approach. That’s why healthcare represents an unbelievable opportunity for Switzerland. These companies need long-term planning. The top 100 health software companies with 50 million or more revenue, aren’t fast-burners. Most of them take some time to reach 50 million in revenue and by that time, they are strong and solid.

So what should Swiss entrepreneurs do better?
I talked to many people here and invested in several small companies in Europe and the US between 2008 and 2012. If I approached a company in Switzerland and wanted to know plausible value-enhancing steps about how they were going to return my invested money, I usually got nice product descriptions but no business idea. It seems that for the engineering type of entrepreneurs in Switzerland, talking about figures and future steps are very difficult. They can tell you everything about their product, but they don’t know how to sell, how much money they need as an investment or when they will be able to return my investment.

But they have a business plan, don’t they?
The problem is that you get a cost-curve that goes up and an investment curve that goes down. But nobody can tell you at which steps you are getting to the break-even. I need to hear whom they will be calling to sell their product to.

So what you are saying is that we need more sales people in Switzerland?
Yes! Switzerland has a great history of micro engineering and bioinformatics; it’s the life sciences Mecca! It has the highest number of Nobel Prize winners per capita. But if you ignore Novartis and Roche, there are not many innovative companies left. The Swiss Government is very brave. It puts a lot of money on the table for early stage life sciences research. The problem is, the companies receiving the money need to sell their ideas to investors, to clients and to the media, etc.

But how can innovation be fuelled then?
Clusters of innovation are driving the innovation and building ecosystems. Rather than taking Swiss entrepreneurs to boot camps in Silicon Valley, we need more people who want to be part of this environment like lawyers, designers or marketing people. Because that’s the great thing about Silicon Valley, you can be in any room and create a team overnight because you have all the experts there.

So there aren’t enough talented people in the startup environment?
In the US, everybody is eager to work for equity and wants to be part of the next Facebook. But in Switzerland, nobody wants to be paid in shares and the most talented people take high-level jobs in large pharma companies and in the financial industry.

The big Swiss companies that make up for the innovation index were not built with venture money but with bootstrap money i.e. private people financing them. Is that still a good approach?
I totally believe in this. It shouldn’t be your goal to sell the company; you should rather see if you can sell your stuff. In Switzerland, we have far too many accelerators and incubators where companies easily get seed money! That is not enough; we need to build an ecosystem!

Doesn’t an ecosystem build itself? There is no agency of Silicon Valley.
No it doesn’t build itself; you need to seed the ecosystem. I believe that Silicon Valley got started because of the success of one company called «Fairchild Semiconductors» that triggered the development of the area. Here in Switzerland, we have the pharma business, but none of the big players has a real pipeline. Facebook for example has a serious, game-changing plan underneath the hood but I don’t see this in pharma. Switzerland is a great country to start something in - it is small and has a great setup to build a company. I think we would have a Fairchild in Switzerland if the key players were not so closed and so large. A very innovative company in the healthcare space is needed.

So your big bet on the future is «Healthbank». What is this?
«Healthbank» started in June 2012 and we have a long-term plan. The idea behind it is a platform to hopefully create the next Fairchild. In healthcare, it is still very difficult to trade data back and forth. There are many platforms to have data on, but you can’t trade it. Without a central platform, there is no open healthcare data and therefore, there is no collaboration. A company like Google can’t trade your data, because another big player like Microsoft will never plug into that. A middle ground is needed and our system, Healthbank, is completely unbiased. It’s self-sustainable and we have deep trust and complete interoperability. We started it as a Genossenschaft because this legal form has a long-standing tradition in Switzerland. The idea is that if you give us your personal health data, you become a member of the Genossenschaft.

What is Healthbank doing with my data?
Healthbank is not storing the data, but instead the transactions happening with your data – like credit cards. As a Genossenschaft, we have the trust of people. We are interoperable because the data can be shared through our platform and it acts as an intermediary. It is scalable because health data means a lot of money, as there is a very long supply chain and there are a lot of cross-sectional data. If a pharma company needs data for a study, we can tell you that and you can make the decision. You tell us if you would like to provide your data and then pharma receives it. Plus you receive a bit of money for your participation – it’s very simple.

How has this idea been developed so far?
Healthbank is still going through funding, as it was a bit difficult to find risk capital for a Genossenschaft. Personally, I’m leaving Healthbank as CEO for my next venture, which is to kick off a disruptive biosensor company in Europe. But I believe so strongly in the idea of healthbank, that upon my decision to step down as CEO, I made sure the reigns would be passed to a strong Swiss leader in eHealth. Mr. Reto Schegg is the new CEO of healthbank.

Interview: Thomas Brenzikofer and Nadine Nikulski, i-net

*Michael Dillhyon was until mid-2014 the Founder/CEO of Geneva-based Healthbank, a citizen-owned, global open health data cooperative. In 2013, he was the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) for SystemsX, Switzerland’s largest (800M CHF) early stage life sciences fund, and served as a mentor for the ETH Entrepreneurship Lab. Prior to 2013, Mr. Dillhyon served as Chairman of Genebio, a bioinformatics software firm, and sat on the Strategic Advisory Committee for HealthTIES, an EU-backed consortium of four of Europe’s top regions in biosciences, medical technology and health entrepreneurship.

Previous to his move to Switzerland in 2004, Michael Dillhyon co-founded two US-based firms: Netelligent Corporation and ActiveObjects, where he held the roles of President, Chairman and CEO respectively. Mr. Dillhyon holds degrees in Biochemistry and Anthropology, as well as a MBA from the Olin School of Business.

 

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