by MARCO BRUNNER and ANINA FRISCHKNECHT
For eleven weeks now, Zurich has been hosting 30 international start-ups for the Kickstart Accelerator, an initiative of “digitalswitzerland”. The EWZ-Unterwerk Selnau, an old transformer station next to the Sihl, has become the home away from home for 89 young entrepreneurs from all over the world. Here, they developed and tested their innovative and disruptive ideas.
Today marks their final demo day – and we are summing it up.
Kickstarter was aiming high: By bringing the best international start–ups to Switzerland, Kickstart wanted to build bridges between the strong economy network that Switzerland has to offer and the trailblazing and creative start-ups worldwide.
Mission accomplished? Patricia Schlenter (30), Program Manager at Kickstart Accelerator, seems to think so: “The buzz our start-ups created was contagious. Our Hub at the Selnau quickly became a hangout, not just for the 30 start-ups located here, but for a forward-thinking group of people, who are making innovation happen here in Switzerland. Even the President of the Swiss Confederation, Johann Schneider Ammann, was inspired and offered a sympathetic ear for political matters. I’m quite confident that we provided the fertile ground for digital hub greatness in Switzerland. But it was a lot of work, accomplished in a short time.”
A hell of a lot of work and just as many opportunities too
Kickstart meant a lot of work for the participants as well: For eleven weeks, the Hub at Selnau was their project-lab, their showcase and their networking platform. The prime motivators for these young founders were the high concentration of know-how and the abundance of practical advice at their disposal here, but also the truly Swiss way of promoting entrepreneurship.
Was it worth it? Till Haug, from Veezoo AG, a fintech start-up in data exploration, thinks it was: “Together with mentors and representatives from Corporate Partners we had the chance to set up Proof of Concepts. Which means, that in a piloting phase, they are going to evaluate the added value of our solution to their business.”
He adds: “To meet up with executives of these big companies, such as PwC, Swisslife or SIX and have them interested in our solution, was very exciting. So was our visit to SIBOS in Geneva. Opportunities like that were the highlights of Kickstart 16.”
Louis-Antoine Muhiré, founder and CEO of Mergims, an online bills payment aggregator from Rwanda, says: „We have learned so many things from this incubation program, from how to create efficient PowerPoint slides, to how to make a good pitch. It was very complete.”
His CTO Alex Uwiringiyimana agrees: “I think that innovation is a state of mind in Switzerland. The leadership style here is impressive. This could be a promising model for Rwanda, too. It seems that it is also Switzerland’s political stability that makes all this possible here.”
And today they get kicked out of the nest
Today is the final Demo Day: The Selnau Hub is closing, all the start-ups are flying out of the nest and heading out into the world. For Till and Veezoo, the next step on their voyage to success is to move to an office near ETH Zurich. There, they will start the pilot phase of Veezoo with their first clients. Till is convinced that “having an address at the ETH and being a spin-off gives us even more credibility.”
For Alex and Louis-Antoine from Mergims, the next destination is Kigali, Rwanda. “During the 11 weeks in Zurich we learned that european investors are still a bit reticent when it comes to investing in emerging markets. In Rwanda, we want to expand in new markets, primarily West Africa.” Though Mergims will operate from Africa, Switzerland will not be that far away: A partnership with a Swiss company will help fulfill their business objectives.
“Our time at the hub has come to an end today, but thankfully it’s not as final as it sounds,” says Program Manager Patricia Schlenter. “The Kickstart Accelerator community will continue to exist. Furthermore we are building an alumni network for all the kickstarters 16 participants so that they will stay connected, with us, with the mentors, with each other. And then there is their involvement with ImpactHub, which allows them to use the provided work spaces all over the world.”
They are going to make it
Today, no one is thinking about saying goodbye to the old transformer station at Selnau. Demo Day is what all the start-ups have been working towards during these last three months. In this last event, they all have the chance to shine in front of a group of business angels and investors and hopefully, secure a successful future for their ideas and projects.
Patricia Schlenter is convinced that all the participants have a successful future awaiting them. “For Kickstart Accelerator, we chose young and innovative start-ups, full of potential and quality. Every one of them has an enormous chance to succeed.”
When Kickstart Accelerator begins their second season in less than a year, 30 new young founders will have the chance to make it in the start-up world.
We will keep you posted!