Biotechnologies are among the main driving forces behind innovation in Switzerland and they retain their permanent place in Innosuisse’s funding strategy. The two featured examples – Piqur Therapeutics AG and MaxiVAX SA – demonstrate that innovation of this kind has the potential to change the world. ‘Benefits have to be demonstrated not just in theory but especially in practice. Technology transfer and fast movers in industry are essential elements in bringing innovation to market and changing the world by enabling global access and affordability.’ (Source: Origins and evolution of Swiss biotech)
Turning theory into practice is the core competence of Inno-suisse. Innosuisse enables companies in Switzerland to increase their capacity and ability to innovate. Its support will particularly focus on the challenges of digitisation, especially with regard to the maintenance and creation of new jobs with added value and the promotion of prosperity in Switzerland.
Innosuisse helps companies to gain easy access to the expertise of research institutions. In doing so, it focuses on projects that boast exceptionally high innovation potential. The aim is to encourage SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) to take calculated risks and approach challenges in new ways, as well as offering them new prospects by promoting innovative business models and forming international partnerships. Further improvements to the start-up ecosystem are in the pipeline. The innovation promotion agency has an annual budget of around CHF 200 million for this purpose.
Innosuisse bases its support for innovation projects on the bottom-up principle. This means that it does not specify the disciplines or business sectors where it will provide support for projects and start-ups. This decision is made by industry and academia. A glance at the statistics shows that innovation projects in the field of biotechnology have a permanent place in the CTI/Innosuisse funding program. From 2013 up until the end of 2017, between 35 and 47 projects were funded each year with the total amount of funding ranging from CHF 14.4 million to CHF 18.1 million.
The board of directors with the chief executive officer of the Innosuisse Secretariat. From the left: Edouard Bugnion, Nicola Thibaudeau, Martina Hirayama,
Annalise Eggimann (CEO), André Kudelski (Board Chairman), Marco Illy, Trudi Hämmerli, Thierry Calame.
The route to change
The organisation of the former CTI was the subject of several parliamentary procedural requests. In 2011 the Federal Council used one of these requests as an opportunity to carry out an analysis of the potential for organisational changes to the CTI. The findings showed that improvements were needed, particularly in the area of governance, and that these could only be introduced by means of fundamental reform. By transforming the organisation into an entity under public law, it was possible to not only guarantee a clear separation between its strategic and operational activities, but also to enable it to benefit from greater financial flexibility. The fundamental mission of the former CTI, which was to promote science-based innovation, remains unchanged and will be continued by Innosuisse.
In June 2016 the Swiss Parliament passed the Innosuisse Act and in December of the same year the board of the new agency was appointed. The new innovation promotion agency has been in operation since 1 January 2018.
Four bodies with responsibilities
The Innosuisse Board is the strategic body heading up the new organisation. Seven expert representatives from industry and academia are responsible for managing Innosuisse in line with the Federal Council’s objectives and with an eye on the future. The Chairman of the Board is André Kudelski, an entrepreneur from Western Switzerland. The core task of the Innovation Council, Innosuisse’s specialist body, is to make decisions about funding applications. It comprises 21 people from industry and academia who have an excellent track record in innovation. Experts support the Innovation Council in assessing applications and supporting project work.
The operational body of Innosuisse is the Secretariat under the leadership of the management team with Annalise Eggimann as Chief Executive Officer. The auditing body is the Swiss Federal Audit Office SFAO.
Innovation projects centre stage
Innosuisse’s funding instruments will remain the same in principle, with funding of innovation projects being its most important instrument from a financial point of view. Partners from the worlds of industry and research join forces to implement clearly defined innovation projects. Innosuisse will assume half of the project costs, covering the salaries of the researchers involved in the project and the companies will contribute the other half.
Innosuisse innovation mentors are available free of charge in all regions of Switzerland so that companies can find the right research partners and work with them to draw up an application. New businesses can also take advantage of professional startup coaching and Innosuisse offers a set of courses and training modules for those looking to found a business. Innosuisse will no longer assign a coach to start-ups that it supports, but rather gives the companies vouchers so that they can select their own partners from a pool of accredited coaches.
National Thematic Networks: innovation drivers in Switzerland
The Swiss Biotech Association is involved in the publication of the Swiss Biotech Report and in one of eleven National Thematic Networks (NTN) supported by Innosuisse. These networks cover the whole of Switzerland and each specializes in one specific area of innovation. They encourage research institutions and industry to share ideas, promote the transfer of knowledge and technologies, and act as innovation drivers in their specialist fields. They form an important part of Innosuisse’s funding instruments and play a major role in initiating innovation projects.