Jonah Balfour
Jonah Balfour
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A tale of two cities: How Zurich and Tel Aviv can help each other grow in innovation

Switzerland and Israel are both hotbeds of technology, although they come at things from different directions
Tel Aviv's Azrieli Center by night (Yehoshua Yosef/Flash90)
Tel Aviv's Azrieli Center by night (Yehoshua Yosef/Flash90)

Israel is a tiny country bursting with innovation. The facts and statistics relating to the country’s success are well known, but still bear repeating: Israel has more high-tech startups per capita than any other country in the world. The amount that Israelis spend on R&D in relation to the national GDP is the second highest in the world. In fact, the Israeli government has a branch, the Office of the Chief Scientist, whose role is to assist in technology development in Israel in order to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. As a result, it seems like everyone you meet in Israel is an entrepreneur, works at a startup, or has a great idea for an app.

Switzerland is another tiny country that ranks high in innovation, albeit it happens differently there. In Switzerland, innovation comes from pioneering research activity that is often directly transferred into the country’s powerful corporate network. IBM has maintained a research laboratory in Zurich since 1962. Disney has its only European Research Lab headquartered there. And Google has built up its largest engineering office outside of Mountain View in Zurich. There is also an abundance of more traditional big businesses that are eager to stay ahead of the innovation curve in Switzerland. As a result, the many multinational corporations headquartered in Switzerland – think Credit Suisse, Nestlé, Swatch, Novartis, Roche –  invest tremendously in innovation, constantly pushing themselves to the highest standard of quality.

Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0, bough, Flickr
Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0, bough, Flickr

How can these two vastly different countries come together to help each other grow even further in innovation?

This is where it gets exciting: Switzerland has an abundance of large multinational corporations that are eager to work with young startups because they recognize their innovation potential. Meanwhile Israel has an excess of startups looking for funding, mentorship, and business opportunities. The obvious solution? A Swiss accelerator open to international startups.

Enter Kickstart, an accelerator based in Zurich that is offering participating startups mentorship, workshops, and guidance from top leaders in the Swiss corporate ecosystem this summer. Kickstart will be providing their startups with up to 25 thousand Swiss francs in seed-funding, free office space, and a monthly founder’s stipend to cover living costs.

Kickstart is backed by DigitalZurich2025 and the Kick Foundation. Both of these Swiss initiatives were started with the goal of increasing innovation and entrepreneurship within Switzerland. With the connections drawn from these two organizations, Kickstart is offering its startups a wealth of direct connections with the country’s top established C-level leaders, including those from EY, Swisscom (Switzerland’s largest telecom company), UBS and the largest Swiss food retailer MIGROS.

Kickstart understands that through offering expertise from the fields in which Switzerland has an international competitive advantage, such as FinTech, IoT, robotics, food, and future tech, it can bring in promising startups with a specific focus on those verticals. For startups interested in applying to Kickstart, applications are open from now through March 31st, and the program itself will run from July through September 2016.

Throughout my years working within the Israeli tech industry, I have seen countless startups with brilliant ideas fail simply because they did not have the proper resources to succeed. With just a bit of money, mentorship, and the right connections from well-established companies, these promising startups could still be thriving today.

By playing to each country’s strengths, Switzerland and Israel can help each other grow in leadership and innovation. The wealth and expertise of Switzerland combined with the entrepreneurial Israeli spirit has the potential to produce incredibly successful companies that will lead the way into the future.

About the Author
Jonah Balfour is an avid fan of technology, Apple, and Israel. He has worked with some of the hottest Israeli startups and is an evangelist for the Israeli tech industry as a whole.
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