Digital transformation is here to stay. We must therefore constantly foster dialogue to increase awareness for all that is and will be digital. Digitalization brings not only opportunities, but also risks that need to be addressed and taken seriously. In my new series “Dialogue Interviews” I discuss these topics with leaders in Switzerland, from our member organisations, digital shapers and the brightest people in the field of technology and innovation.
This time, I talked to Sasha Schriber, CEO of NANOS, a startup that makes online advertisement easily accessible to everyone.
Nicolas Bürer: Can you please describe what services NANOS provides and what makes it a deep tech startup?
Sasha Schriber: We at NANOS believe that digitalisation should be an opportunity and not an obstacle. To give an example: my hairdresser is a one-person team; she cuts hair, cleans the floors, takes care of the day-to-day running of her salon and of her taxes. But, she has no special knowledge or time to do her own digital marketing, which nowadays is crucial for her business.
Currently, as a small business owner without any technical, design or marketing experience and without a budget to hire an agency, you can get lost in the system. We created NANOS with these people in mind: by answering a few simple questions about your business and whom you want to advertise to, you can create and place ad campaigns across multiple digital platforms. The process takes less than 10 minutes and you can start with as little as 5 CHF.
Behind our simple interface lay deep learning algorithms and a sophisticated software architecture, which was carefully built over the last years by our tech team. We are graduates from ETH and other technical schools, with a solid expertise in machine learning, deep learning, computer graphics, computer vision and artificial intelligence. Good things take time and lots of data: we have built three prototypes before going live with our beta version on 1 April 2019.
Nicolas Bürer: Why did NANOS choose Switzerland as its home?
Sasha Schriber: Prior to incorporating we had several cities in mind, like Berlin, London, Barcelona and San Francisco amongst others. In the end, we decided on Zurich, because of the excellent quality of life here and the ability to attract the best tech and software engineering talent studying at the many great technical schools. Affordable office space and legal services, direct access to seed and series A funding, governmental support, as well as competitive tax advantages when selling software services online internationally also played an important role in the decision to make Zurich our home.
Nicolas Bürer: In three to four years, do you think your headquarters will still be in Switzerland? And if not, what would make you leave?
Sasha Schriber: We are a tech company, not a sales and marketing company. Having direct access to the best tech talent is the foundation of our future success. While we certainly will be opening sales offices internationally, Switzerland will remain our main hub to drive innovation forward. The proximity to ETH alone, one of the top technology universities in the world, is incredibly valuable.
We have just moved into our new 350m2 office space next to Zurich main train station and we can swim in the Limmat River during our lunch break. The best skiing is easily accessible within an hour or two drive. This is work-life balance at its best, why go anywhere else?
Nicolas Bürer: Why would you recommend other companies to choose Switzerland as their headquarters?
Sasha Schriber: Our experience in Switzerland has been nothing but great so far. We are noticing steady improvements in the ecosystem of deep tech and not-so-deep tech startups in general. For instance, larger Swiss venture funds like ZKB, in addition to seed financing programmes, now start series A financing, which was not the case a year ago. The governmentally funded CTI initiative is a fantastic opportunity, which allows us to work on long-term research topics and create more job opportunities for tech and non-tech professionals alike. At coding boot camps like Propulsion Academy, the best students from full stack and data science programmes are easily available for recruiting. Law firms with special startup departments like Kellerhals Carrard answer any of our legal, immigration or tax questions at the speed of light, while supporting the growth of the local startup community through specialized events and targeted 1-1 business opportunity connections. There is always room for improvement but we can focus on that next time we speak. Let me, in return, ask you a few questions.
Sasha Schriber: What are the short-term and long-term goals of digitalswitzerland as an organisation?
Nicolas Bürer: In the short-term, we are focused on fostering new ideas, connecting and inspiring people and catalysing innovation. For us, it is very important to develop as many projects as possible along our core topics: Politico-Economic, Education & Talent, Startup Enablement, Corporate Enablement, Public Dialogue, International Visibility and our industry-focused Verticals in Fintech & Crypto, Life Science & Food, Infrastructure and Technology. We are currently working on over 30 projects all over Switzerland with the objective to sensitise diverse stakeholder groups and help them move in the right direction. As a non-profit association, we don’t actively transform the country into a digital and innovative leader, but we act as a platform to give the impulse.
A long-term goal for me is to look back in ten years and be able to say that Switzerland succeeded in positioning itself as a leader in digital innovation. And the likelihood is high: the country’s political framework is very innovation-friendly; the economy is prosperous and we have many new unicorns in the startup scene. In addition, our incumbents are developing very well and many new international corporations are investing heavily in Switzerland. The country is recognized for developing key industries of the future, the school system is focusing on integrating technological skills in the curriculum and the population is aware and savvy of technological developments, regardless of the age group.
Sasha Schriber: How does digitalswitzerland support local tech companies to scale more rapidly?
Nicolas Bürer: These past years, the entire ecosystem was busy creating the right structures for young tech companies. That meant establishing possibilities to get Seed Series, bringing founders together and coaching new entrepreneurs. Overall, the still young Swiss ecosystem is performing well and all these measures are still extremely important. The next step is to transform the young startups into scale-ups and make them internationally successful. digitalswitzerland is helping with specific measures, for example by organising scale-up bootcamps to connect young tech companies with corporates to create opportunities for partnerships, or by showcasing promising scale-ups at different international tech conferences like the CES in Las Vegas and VivaTech in Paris. There is also room for improvement in the political environment and that is why we support the Start-Up Manifesto that was launched earlier this year and we participate in different hearings with the Economy Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin.
Sasha Schriber: From your perspective, what is the major challenge Switzerland is currently facing in order to attract more tech companies from outside the country?
Nicolas Bürer: Clearly the race for talent. We have a good and deep talent pool in Switzerland, but we need to increase it massively. According to statistics from ICT-Berufsbildung, there is a need for additional 40’000 software engineers by 2026. Only 7 years left! On the one hand, we need to invest enough in our ETH/EPFL/universities, since they are the foundation to develop new talent for the market. On the other hand, we can attract more talent to Switzerland with more flexible immigration rules. The worst case for the country would be for tech companies to leave because they are unable to hire the most talented employees.