MassChallenge sets up camp in Switzerland

Lausanne, a small town in the Western part of Switzerland, has emerged as a surprising melting pot of innovative technology, and the latest feather in the town’s tech nest will be hosting the first Swiss chapter of MassChallenge.

A large Boston-based accelerator program that is rapidly expanding across the globe, MassChallenge is a nonprofit and does not take an equity stake in startups that graduate from the program.

Approximately 75 percent of the company’s funding base comes from corporate sponsorship. In the case of Switzerland, giants like Nestlé and Givaudan are some of the partners that are sponsoring the accelerator program this year.

“MassChallenge has a unique format and mentality that we are eager to implement in Switzerland. This will hopefully instill a global vision that will go beyond our borders,” explains Benoit Dubuis, founding partner of MassChallenge Switzerland and director of the Campus Biotech in Geneva.

With its new residents, Lausanne is following in the footsteps of Boston and London, which have already joined the MassChallenge network (Mexico and Jerusalem are also launching this year).

With more than 450 applications from early-stage startups across various industries and countries, 72 have been selected to participate in the four-month Swiss program, which launched on June 20. Top industries include high-tech (38 percent), social impact (11 percent) and of course healthcare and life sciences (24 percent), which is one of the predominant sectors of activity in Switzerland.

Among the Swiss competing startups is Artmyn, which provides a disruptive solution for a highly accurate digitization of artworks. The company’s portable scanner captures gigabytes of data describing the art in its finest details, which results in a true-to-life visualization via 3D topography, HD resolution and virtual relighting.

It already has partnerships with several museums and just announced its official partnership with Koller, a leading Swiss-based auction house.

Within medical devices, Sterilux is developing a sterilization-focused medical device for hospitals in developing countries. Intento, the EPFL spin-off, is working on a wearable solution for the rehabilitation of upper limbs of paralyzed stroke patients.

Companies are even being drawn from beyond the Swiss borders. The France-based startup Vize, for instance, zooms in on the value of data by developing a visual analytics software that helps detect trends and patterns to answer any data-related questions. Egypt-based mintrics allows brand and content creators to understand exactly how their videos are performing on Facebook.

But why choose Switzerland to implement a MassChallenge program?

John Harthorne, the founder and CEO of MassChallenge, explains: “Switzerland has a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem and is home to some very advanced areas of tech. We can therefore leverage these resources to help future startups. There is also plenty of money in Switzerland. The idea is to try and convert this capital into risk capital to increase startup funding.”

When asked about the small market size of Switzerland, which could be a disadvantage for some startups who wish to test their product, Harthorne turns this reality into an advantage:

“Like in Israel, the small market size is one of the great strengths of Switzerland. Startups know that they can either go small and local or think big from the start and go global.” To this day, MassChallenge has 835 alumni startups with over $1.3 billion in capital raised.

The 72 competing startups in Switzerland have free access to co-working spaces, wet labs and the prototyping lab located at Univercité, the Renens-based open laboratory next to Lausanne. They are also receiving coaching and mentorship by industry professionals.

An outside pool of judges from the community will help select the finalists. This year’s experts include entrepreneurs and investors from UBS, Waypoint Capital, VI Partners and Beyond Investing. The accelerator program will culminate in November 2016 at the MassChallenge Switzerland Awards Ceremony, where entrepreneurs will pitch their startups for the chance to win a share of 1 million Swiss Francs ($1,005,227) in zero-equity awards and in-kind prizes.

“The fact that 450 startups applied for this first Swiss edition confirms the need to have a structured accelerator program in this region,” concludes Benoit Dubuis. “This addresses the country’s global ambitions and underlines the quality of its ecosystem.”