The most recent Global Innovation Index (GII), released in September, was a report which in the main urged caution. As Covid-19 continues to cause disruption around the globe, Francis Gurry, CEO of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the report arbiter, noted the coronavirus ‘requires fresh thinking to ensure a shared victory.’
While some aspects of the report were new, others remained the same. Switzerland’s place at the top of the list should not come as a surprise; the European nation has now been ranked first overall for the past 10 years.
One area in which its legacy and expertise in innovation can be evinced is through Switzerland Innovation. The initiative, which has close links to the federal government of Switzerland, is a private-public partnership with five sites, or innovation parks, nationwide which allows business and academia the chance to connect and develop ideas. Many of Switzerland’s most respected companies, from Swiss Re, to Swisscom, to Zurich, are innovation partners, having helped fund the organisation initally.
The initiative’s focus is wide ranging, from data and computational science to health and life sciences. As Raymond Cron (left), CEO of Switzerland Innovation explains, the ongoing pandemic has given credence to the organisation’s mission.
“We are convinced that the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that technological innovations are important for our future,” Cron tells IoT News. “Therefore we will continue with this broad approach, based on the key competencies of our research partners.”
Companies who exist in the Internet of Things space have an important role to play here. Looking at companies such as Sensirion, sustainability and efficiency through technology is a vision of the future which Covid-19’s ‘new normal’ has accelerated. Switzerland Innovation’s focus is in itself closely linked to the sustainability development goals of the United Nations.
Elsewhere, in Bern, a Swiss smart factory site was launched to help businesses tackle issues relating to Industry 4.0 projects. “It is a kind of lab where you can demonstrate, test, and also explain what IoT is across the whole value chain,” adds Cron. “These smart factories are used by companies to do research to train their people.” One such company is NTT Docomo, the primary Japanese telecoms operator.
The GII report warned that Covid-19 was ‘severely pressuring a long-building rise in worldwide innovation’. For projects relating directly to science, this impact may take some time to unfold, although the report authors noted certain catalysts in areas such as healthcare, education and retail as a result of the pandemic.
Naturally, Switzerland Innovation has not been unaffected by this. But innovation must continue even if some of the traditional avenues are closed. Cron says the impact was ‘not huge’, but a general slowdown of projects and activities has been noted.
“Everything goes a little bit slower because in our innovation parks, many people are working from home,” he says. “For all the international contacts, travelling was not possible during the last couple of months, and this also led to slowdown, but our teams continue to work hard on their projects.”
For some elements in particular, such as face-to-face meetings, doing business has been entirely transformed. Cron notes the digital marketing is ‘to a certain extent new’ for Switzerland Innovation, and that building up personal relationships through digital means has been especially challenging.
As all industries have had to adapt, the events sector is no different – and it is an area which the organisation is exploring. At the IoT Tech Expo North America virtual event last week, Jonas Schmid, co-CEO and VP business at Akenza, spoke on how Switzerland Innovation is facilitating collaborations for companies, startups and universities. Using Akenza as an example, the company worked in the Zurich innovation park, alongside the city’s University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW).
In spite of the pandemic and its global impact, Switzerland Innovation remains open for business – and Cron wants to get this message across as far and wide as possible.