Innovation In Its Blood: Switzerland’s Startup Scene Then and Now

Christoph Birkholz
March 7 2016
When people think of Switzerland, they tend to think of banks, watches, and chocolate. But many groundbreaking inventions and startups were created here too.

You can thank Switzerland for…

If you’ve ever used Velcro, you can thank Georges de Mestral, a Swiss engineer who came up with the concept after a hike in the Jura Mountains. He created the “zipperless zipper” in the 1940’s, though he didn’t release his invention until the 1950’s and it didn’t become popular until NASA began using it in their space program in the 1960’s. But parents of small children all over the world are grateful for this Swiss invention.

Interestingly, the modern zip also has Switzerland to thank for its existence. While the zip was invented in the United States, it was perfected in Switzerland in the 1920’s with the invention of the coil zip, which is the design still in use today.

And you’re reading this post thanks in part to an invention that also came out of Switzerland: the World Wide Web. The original web server, NeXT, was created and used here at CERN.  And in 1993 when CERN released the software behind NeXT into the public domain, the entire world was changed forever.

But we’re more than inventions…

One of the most successful startups created in Switzerland is Doodle. Developed by a computer scientist and electrical engineer in 2007, Doodle was one of the first digital schedulers available. This online platform was created to radically simplify the process of scheduling events, and in 2014 was being used by more than 20 million users a month.  

Doodle may have been one of the first successful startups in Switzerland, but they’ve hardly been the last. Switzerland is becoming one of the hottest places for startups in the world. According to Yannick Guerdat, a member of the Alp ICT, that’s because “beyond having the right people, technical solutions and infrastructure, the country’s heritage in banking and confidentiality surely contributes to some extent.”

Perhaps that’s why many of the successful startups coming out of Switzerland today are related to security.

One such startup is ProtonMail. Heralded by Forbes magazine as “the only email system the NSA can’t access”, the company was created in 2013 at CERN. While some of the ProtonMail team is based in the United States now, the company itself (as well as the servers) remains in Switzerland. Security and privacy are of the utmost importance, which is why ProtonMail will remain in Switzerland, according to Andy Yen, one of the founders. “One of the key things we want to do is control our servers and make sure all the servers are in Switzerland which will increase privacy because Switzerland doesn’t do things like seize servers or tape conversations.”

Another startup focused on privacy and security is Silent Circle. This company created the Blackphone, which is a smartphone that was specifically developed to be more secure than any other device on the market. They also offer other software and services, all designed to keep your information private and secure.

From Doodle to Velcro, it’s clear that Switzerland has more to offer than what most people think. These are just a few of the creative inventions and successful startups that have come out of Switzerland, but they definitely won’t be the last.  If you think your startup has what it takes, apply to Kickstart today.