Innosuisse Annual Magazine 2021

Themed article

Exporting Swiss innovations

"Unusual approaches and risk-taking are important"

Asked by...

Felix Moesner

Science Consul and CEO of Swissnex in Japan*

What should an entrepreneur do to successfully export innovation abroad?

Felix Moesner: It’s essential to do your research beforehand about the market you want to gain a foothold in. This includes finding out about business opportunities, local trends, the needs of the population and country-specific regulations. Just as important though is knowing about and understanding the country’s cultural background. It can also be helpful if you first visit the country as a tourist. Don’t be afraid to seek advice and accept help either. In Switzerland, there are various contact points for this – for example, Switzerland Global Enterprise. At Swissnex, for example, we are doing more and more consulting on video tools. If you look for information and advice, you’ll build up not just your knowledge, but also gain the self-confidence needed to expand into new markets.

How does Swissnex help Swiss companies export their innovative ideas and products?

First, we evaluate with the start-ups whether the product fits the market and whether the start-up is ready for expansion. In the internationalisation camps that we run on behalf of Innosuisse, the focus is then specifically on entering the new market: We clarify needs with the start-ups individually. There are a number of ways in which expansion into Japan could look: For example, is it simply a matter of selling products in Japan or is a Japanese company being sought for a joint venture/deeper cooperation? It may also be that a Japanese company can be persuaded to establish a foothold in Switzerland by forming a close partnership with the start-up in Switzerland. Or the Swiss start-up may decide to set up a subsidiary in Japan as it sees great potential in the market there. We offer fast, straightforward solutions – for example, a workplace before the company sets up its own office on site. Sometimes we simply place suitable new employees. There is no single specific way if a company decides it wants to gain a foothold in the new market. In Boston, Swissnex has so far advised 400 start-ups, in China 300 start-ups, and in Japan, too, it’s moving at breakneck speed: although we only started operations here a few months ago, we are already in contact with over 20 Swiss start-ups.

Switzerland is often associated, especially in distant markets, with traditional clichés that have little to do with its modern and innovative side. How can Switzerland better draw international attention to its high-tech achievements?

By actively drawing attention to its innovative achievements. But at the same time, it should also emphasise proven Swiss values. Take the Japanese, for example: traditional values and performance are important to them – I can see many parallels with Switzerland in this respect. I believe we can get a lot more out of it if we try to steer the clichés that Switzerland has abroad more in the direction of innovation.

It’s important to think and approach things “out of the box”. Also to become more risk-averse. Without a willingness to take risks, there would be no innovation. We prove this every single day at Swissnex and Innosuisse. To successfully market Swiss innovation, you can present achievements from Switzerland that are not known abroad, for example.

Let me give you an example: In China, I was fascinated by how many electric vehicles are on the road there. The Chinese are very proud of this and are keen to highlight at every opportunity that they have made e-cars suitable for mass production. But what they did not know was that Switzerland has the fastest electric vehicle. The “Grimsel” car was developed at ETH and holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest electric car. We were fortunate enough to be able to bring the 160 kg autonomous sibling vehicle from the same series to China. During the pandemic, no delegation from Switzerland could travel to Shanghai. We presented the car with the official certificate at various events and exhibitions and were able to show the innovative side of Switzerland. Once we even brought two superlatives together: the fastest e-car in the tallest building in all of Asia. This triggered a huge response.

*An electrical engineer by training, he has worked abroad for 20 years in various capacities. He managed Switzerland’s first science consulate in the US business metropolis of Boston for Swissnex and set up an office in New York. Since then, he and his team have helped hundreds of start-ups and various research institutes successfully network abroad and exchange international knowledge, ideas and talent.