Switzerland is repeatedly listed as a top player when it comes to innovation. A new innovation report from the foundation CH2048 recognizes that this view has weaknesses and that the country must improve, especially in the digital innovation competition in order to remain in the top group internationally. On Thursday, 22 March, the foundation presented the main findings of the report in Zug and discussed together with participants from politics, business and academia in which areas action is in dire need.

General framework conditions for innovation top, but key sectors need to catch up

Among the general innovation factors, Switzerland is very well positioned: this applies to taxation, labour market regulation, the quality of transport and communications infrastructure, the quality of life and the quality of education. However, the authors of the CH2048 innovation report see an urgent need to catch up in key sectors, which are the most important source of innovation. These include the pharmaceutical industry, the financial sector, information and communication technology (ICT) and the mechanical, electrical and metal industries (MEM). In these sectors, Switzerland is always in the top five, but never on the first place. Most serious international competitors are hotspots like San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Sweden.

In terms of percentage of graduates in information and communication technology (ICT), as well as researchers in this branch, Switzerland lags behind. Further, the digital penetration of world-class patents, in particular in life sciences, is not advanced enough. In the area of Artificial Intelligence, the next big step in digital revolution, Switzerland ranks even on the last spot compared to its most serious competitors. Same goes with the foundation of new startups. The startup ecosystem could still do better.

Digital innovation competition: Moving into the second half

Discussions in Zug were lively and revolved around the question of the future of work, new forms of work and social partnership in the digital age and political initiatives necessary to make sure that Switzerland can keep up with its competitors and to stay ahead of the curve and one of the most innovative countries worldwide.

In a panel, attended by representatives from all main political parties, the participants talked about the status quo and action required in politics. There was agreement that digitalisation has arrived on the political level, yet not enough. It is a cross-cutting topic and even most political parties have no clear concept of how to handle the future challenges of digitalisation. In times of new working forms, more freelancers and project based work, employment insurances have to be rethought. According to the CH2048 innovation report, social partners have a strong common interest in the innovation success of key sectors, as this increases their scope for distribution.

 It is not enough to remain in the status quo

Speaker Dr. Kathrin Amacker from SBB, member of digitalswitzerland, called the CH2048 innovation report a “wake up call”. According to her, it is necessary that Switzerland does more, especially more to attract international top talents and for the education in the country. Member of the Council of States and digitalswitzerland Ruedi Noser talked about the courage to think ideas big and international. But for him it is not a matter of being number one in all areas, but to make sure that children today have a decent job tomorrow that allows them to pay them for a living.

During the day, speakers and panelists made repeatedly the following calls for action:

  • Switzerland needs to invest in the excellency of universities, research and education.
  • Switzerland needs to do more to develop and attract top talents.
  • It is not about copying hotspots such as the Silicon Valley, but to foster innovation within the country and to strengthen and use Swiss values and forces.

Where digitalswitzerland comes into play

The discussions in Zug have shown that Switzerland is doing a fine job, but that it needs to wake up and do more faster and towards the right goals. With a continuous globalized and interconnected world and fast-paced developments, it is a challenge to keep up with the international hotspots. Innovation, fostering top talents, having no fear to fail and think big is what is needed today. That is the «raison d’être» of digitalswitzerland: to embrace opportunities instead of being paralyzed by fear. With concrete projects in the startup ecosystem, by fostering education and talents and interdisciplinary collaboration between business, politics and academia and a dialogue with the public, the initiative aims to bring Switzerland forward and making it a leading digital innovation hub – worldwide.

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Author Niniane Paeffgen, digitalswitzerland

Senior Project Manager Politico-Economic Environment

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