Digital Shapers 2020

In partnership with Bilanz and Handelszeitung, digitalswitzerland is once again embarking on the exciting quest to identify and celebrate the 100 people advancing Switzerland on its journey to become a leading global digital hub of innovation. The new edition of 100 Digital Shapers 2020 is now released. 

To promote and celebrate this special campaign, we hear from some Shapers from the ten varied categories.

Sarah Kenderdine, Professor of Digital Museology, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)

You were heavily involved in the new laboratory for experimental museology (eM+) at EPFL. What is your mission there?

I established the laboratory in 2017 as a transdisciplinary initiative at the intersection of immersive visualisation technologies, aesthetics and cultural (big) data. eM+ occupies a large warehouse as part of EPFL. We build uniquely configured fully-immersive systems that are benchmarks in the realms of virtual, augmented and mixed realities for the arts, humanities and sciences. We have a number of major platforms including a 6m diametre fulldome and a 10m diametre x 4m high panoramic screen. All systems are stereo-enabled with spatial sound. The applications we develop derive from the research we conduct and are deployed in major exhibitions and installations throughout the world.

As museums and physical spaces continue to adapt their traditional roles, what are you most excited about for museology in 2020 and beyond?

2020 has been a defining moment in the development of museums. While under significant stress right now, Covid-19 has led to renewed commitment to innovation, collaboration and accessibility among museums. The pandemic has highlighted the fundamental importance of our diverse audiences. I believe we are now entering a new age where the voice of the visitor will define the future of engagement!

Many would argue that the emphasis on the digital for the arts and cultural sector has never been more important. There are ~95,000 museums in the world according to the latest ICOM/UNESCO figures, a 60% increase on 2012. When audiences return to the physical space of museums, they will have changed appetites and will want to participate in the cultural sphere in new ways. 

What is your favourite exhibition that you have ever curated?

My favourite is always the one I’m building now! There are two exhibitions for 2021 that are very important to me:

Deep Fakes? Art & its Double was conceived before the pandemic but it certainly feels like the exhibition for our time with its emphasis on new digital technologies and experiences of world art. 

The Atlas of Maritime Buddhism is the culmination of 5 years of research in 12 countries across Asia to tell the previously untold story of the spread of Buddhism from India to China from 2nd C BCE to 14th CE.

«When audiences return to the physical space of museums, they will have changed appetites and will want to participate in the cultural sphere in new ways.»

Sophie Lamparter, Co-Founder & CEO DART Labs 

You successfully build bridges between Switzerland, Europe and the US. Can you tell a bit more about your approach at DART Labs and how you do this?

We incubate and invest in early-stage Swiss and European technology startups. We have an office in Zurich, led by my co-founder Arijana Walcott and an office in San Francisco, where I’m based. Next to the financial investment, we help the startups test and enter the US market and scale internationally.

What is the biggest opportunity for growth of Swiss startups right now?

Switzerland is often listed as the most innovative country in the world. We have excellent universities, conduct high-quality research, development and money. It’s all there, but the talents lack access to larger markets, industry players and bold investors to really grow the companies. We can offer them a fast-track with our local Bay Area and international network. Especially in times where nobody can travel, startups need a ‘warm’ introduction. Otherwise, where would you even start?

We see the opportunity for the entire Swiss ecosystem. Today’s internet giants are coming from the US and China. If the Swiss don’t want to just stay technology providers and users, but play an active role, we have to think big. On the other hand, we have in Switzerland and in Europe a much higher awareness around questions of quality, sustainability, ethics and privacy. We want these approaches to win.

Your goal is to humanise technology, but also to humanise venture capital. What are the biggest challenges in this area?

The pandemic and the current fires on the US West Coast show how fragile and closely linked humans and our planet are. When we say we invest in teams that build technologies for a more human future, we mean: technologies that improve the way we live, learn, work and treat our environment. Our current investments are in health-tech, education-tech, XR and sustainable materials.

I shiver when I hear venture capitalists talk about “deploying capital” – that sounds and is passive. We’re often among the very first investors. We’re hands-on and see ourselves as an extension of a startup team helping them grow. Additionally, we continue to explore new models in order to make our investment process ever more participatory and democratic.

«We can offer startups a fast-track with our local Bay Area and international network. Especially in times where nobody can travel, startups need a ‘warm’ introduction. Otherwise, where would you even start?»

Guillaume Pousaz, Founder & CEO Checkout.com

For those new to checkout.com. Can you explain this technology?

We help innovative global brands like Grab, Revolut, Careem, Glovo, Robinhood, Farfetch, Klarna and Remitly manage their digital payments – empowering them with tailored solutions that allow them to drive more value and better customer experiences, starting with their payments.

Your sales figures have rocketed since the Covid-19 pandemic. How are you keeping pace with this transformation?

The societal shift from offline to online commerce has accelerated, fuelling ongoing business growth. With an exclusive focus on online payments, global lockdowns have further accelerated Checkout.com’s growth as businesses have rapidly pivoted online. In fact, the number of online transactions on Checkout.com’s platform has increased by 250% this year. We’ve built a technical architecture that enables pioneers to reinvent industries and redefine their relationship with consumers. Now more than ever, we are confident in our mission to build the connected payments that businesses deserve.

Checkout.com is now processing payments in over 150 currencies. What’s next for 2021 and beyond?

Building on the success of the past few years, we will continue our mission of building banking services that businesses deserve. We know that the way money moves in and out of businesses is rapidly changing and our focus is on working with merchants to solve financial complexities, starting with digital payments. By doing so, businesses can unlock innovation and crucial revenue. We believe that the future is one of more connected finance and it all starts with payments. That’s our focus for 2021.

«The societal shift from offline to online commerce has accelerated, fuelling ongoing business growth…Checkout.com has seen a 250% increase in online transactions.»

Nadja Perroulaz, Co-founder Liip

Liip organises itself to the organisational system of Holacracy. Why do you follow this model and how does it impact your company and employees?

Holacracy was the next logical step after having agile development and open source in our DNA for 10 years. After having flat hierarchies and exponential growth in employees, we started to look for another organisation system which makes Liip efficient to the markets and employers needs. That’s why Holacracy was the way to go. The impact is that we are closer to the market’s needs and employees are getting the responsibility and the accountability needed to decide what’s best in their roles. It makes us successful in so many ways – our way to the future of digital progress.

Tell us more about how you have transformed your business digitally?

Digital transformation into a new organisation system was a challenge, especially as the system was brand new. After reading Frédéric Laloux’s book about “Reinventing Organisations”, and researching the best way to represent the trinity of sustainability, we decided to go with holacracy. We had training and some consultancy support in the beginning, but it was a challenge to change the mindset first. To give up power to enable change and the employees on one side, and to take on leadership everywhere in the company on the other side. Within a year we had a solid new organisational structure where all the employees constantly get trained and develop.

What future work trends are you excited about or planning for 2021 and beyond?

We are working on an evolved salary system. The one we have is transparent in all sorts of ways already but there are always ways to make improvements. Furthermore, digital transformation and change management rose to the next level during the Covid-19 crisis. That’s why we’re constantly working on digital HR and digitalisation processes.

«After having flat hierarchies and exponential growth in employees, we started to look for another organisation system which makes Liip efficient to the markets and employers needs. That’s why Holacracy was the way to go.»

Marcel Salathé, Professor EPFL, Academic Director EPFL Extension School, Co-founder AIcrowd

How are you feeling right now about Switzerland’s response to Covid-19?

In general, we have taken a programatic approach and have had success with it. On the other hand, the situation is fragile, and may go out of control in some places. But ever the optimist, I hope we’ll continue to manage reasonably well, with innovative solutions, adjusted to local situations.

How satisfied are you with the number of Swiss-Covid app users and what did the test phase reveal?

I am happy with how it started. Now I hope more people will see the benefit of the app, and participate in the system. Switzerland has played a key role in the development of privacy-preserving apps around the world, and we’re also the first to provide epidemiological evidence that it works.

How do you think the winter period will affect Covid-19 cases in Switzerland and across Europe?

In general, it’s very difficult to predict what’s going to happen, because so much depends on how we as a society respond, and how well the testing and contact tracing works. Social distancing and other preventive measures may keep the numbers of all respiratory diseases low, not just of Covid-19, and thus we may continue to focus on the latter. And there may be very positive developments with respect to vaccines and treatments, but it’s impossible to predict exactly when that will happen. I’m hopeful for good news in that regard in the coming weeks and months.”

«Switzerland has played a key role in the development of privacy-preserving apps around the world, and we’re also the first to provide epidemiological evidence that it works.»

Déborah Heintze, Co-founder & COO, Lunaphore Technologies

The cutting-edge technology you are working on provides high quality results much faster than current techniques in the area of in-situ tissue analytics for cancer research. Can you tell us a bit more?

We’re in the field of tissue analytics, so when a biopsy is performed or we are getting a tissue sample from a human body, we analyse that with biomarkers. Every biomarker is a piece of information on your tissue. It helps to understand how the cancer is evolving or what kind of treatment you could benefit from. We’re developing the instruments, the automation that allow us to make this kind of research in a much faster and precise manner. There’s more and more data so we’re bringing a solution that allows us to first extract all this information and to be able to analyse it through digitalization

As technology and digital tools continue to advance at a rapid pace, what are you most excited for in the near future?

It’s very exciting to be able to get more and more information and go towards what we call personalised medicine. To be able to use tools for automating and analysing samples in a more efficient manner. The more data you have from each sample, the more you will be able to have a personalised treatment. Not having one solution for all. Using this data to improve our lives in general, and in this particular case, in treatment of cancer is very exciting

You have created a number of exciting products at Lunaphore. What one are you most proud of to date and are there any challenges or blockers to new advances?

I’m very excited about the upcoming product in the pipeline and very proud that although we are not yet on the market with this new product, we already have a huge interest from the potential customers. It’s great to see that what you are building is of interest for users, especially in the field of cancer research. Being able to bring a solution of sample-in data-out is what we’re trying to build in this upcoming product. That’s going to be a great advancement that we can bring to the market. There are, of course, always some challenges linked to it. We are developing innovative products. When innovating, you can be disruptive in a good sense but not be too disruptive, especially when we talk about the diagnostics field. You have to be sure that you have the right timing and not be too early, otherwise people will not be able to see what value you are bringing.

«I think it’s very exciting to be able to get more and more information and in my field to go towards what we call personalised medicine. Not having one solution for all but being able to bring something personalised.»

Sandra Tobler, Co-founder and CEO of Futurae Technologies

What is The Futurae Authentication Suite?

At Futurae we secure online services of businesses, be it on the web or mobile. The platform offers flexibility to design secure logins and seamless user interactions. Customers can combine secure and modular authentication and transaction confirmation methods, like novel adaptive or passwordless authentication, anomaly and fraud detection with more traditional software and hardware-based security. Users demand secure logins that always work. This is what the Futurae Authentication Suite offers to its customers.

Cyber security is becoming increasingly important as digitization continues to accelerate. What simple steps can we take to stay safe?

As a company, cloud deployments and subscription-based models offer faster and easier adoption of cyber security products, increasing the speed to address evolving cyber threats. As a user, it’s crucial to have a basic privacy and security hygiene: long and different passwords per login (password managers), keep software up-to-date (also smartphones), and be diligent with information you share. Thinking that you are not an interesting target to cyber criminals is shortsighted. Our online presence is a trove of information that can be used to steal money directly, or indirectly.

User journey or safety? What’s more important?

Balancing the two is the core of the Futurae mission. Businesses expect the highest security, while consumers are impatient and leave a service behind because of bad user journeys. This is where Futurae helps customers in highly regulated markets, enabling customised user onboarding and login flows for very different types of users or applications. The Futurae Authentication Platform enables customers to implement secure and effortless solutions, so they can focus on what they do best: offering a great service to their customers.

«Thinking that you are not an interesting target to cyber criminals is shortsighted. Our online presence is a trove of information that can be used to steal money directly, or indirectly.»

Jean-Luc Favre, President of the Union of Employers’ Associations, Geneva

TOSA buses would save 25,000 tonnes of CO₂ emissions per year, or 10 million litres of diesel. Tell us more…

If in Geneva city you replaced all of the existing buses, the diesel ones, you would end up with the savings we are speaking about. By increasing electricity consumption by 1.8%, it’s a very good balance between using more electricity but reducing the CO₂ emissions and diesel consumption. This technology enables us to deploy clean mobility within cities. TOSA buses have helped to show the public-private partnership. This technology has been implemented in France, Australia, India and soon China. It’s one of the projects that enabled the market transformation. Moving from diesel technology, hybrid technology to electrical technology.

Tell us more about the hydrogen-based industry opportunities that Switzerland can benefit from?

We’re working in the Swiss-French part of Switzerland on a project named GOH! (Generation of Hydrogen) similar to TOSA, putting partners together who will produce, distribute green hydrogen and use it for sustainable mobility. It will be produced by SIG, distributed in a Migrol station and used by Migros to transport goods. That’s a 40 ton truck with green hydrogen technology developed by GreenGT. Nomads Foundation develops an agile method to upskill the workforce to be ready for hydrogen technologies. What’s fascinating about hydrogen is independence. You can produce, store and use it locally. Since we don’t have oil, gas or the material that’s part of electrical batteries, it’s very important. It’s the energy of the 21st century. It’s also a unique opportunity to develop green jobs. Since the market is developing, as soon as you’re a part of it with the right approach and the right technology, you can take a significant share.

You have said in the past that change does not scare you. How can you help people to adopt the same view?

Change is part of humanity, part of history but it’s accelerating. The best way to share passion for change, is to embark people on projects. I do this for a foundation called Nomads, where we engage people on the areas of mobility, energy, the future of jobs and the next social contract. Through projects, we need to show changes in line with the 17 sustainable goals of the United Nations. We need people to share views, share fears, to identify the difficulties and have ambitious goals. The more you anticipate and structure, the more you reduce fear. It’s a question of mindset. Not to be afraid of changes but to be a part of the changes.

«Change is part of humanity, part of history but it’s accelerating. The best way to share passion for change, is to embark people on projects

Effy Vayena, Professor of health policy at ETH Zurich

Tell us more about the possible privacy concerns surrounding contact tracing apps in their efforts to tackle and track Covid-19 in Europe?

There has been significant concern about what kinds of data are collected, by whom, what they are used for and for how long. Beyond the health status of a person, applications were proposed that would collect an enormous amount of other data that could reveal a lot more than what was strictly necessary for managing the pandemic.  Earlier in the pandemic we went through the big debate about centralised versus decentralised data systems. Thankfully the most privacy preserving options were adopted more widely, including here in Switzerland.

As a leading expert in the dynamic and diverse field of health data and ethics. What is your main focus of interest right now?

My main focus is on how to avoid the “either privacy or health” misguided approach that seems to be prevalent amongst many stakeholders. The Covid-19 crisis made this issue more pronounced and demonstrated how much more work we need to do in order to avoid this false binary. With this as my overarching theme, I’m focusing on several aspects of data governance, the role of independent oversight in health data projects and very specifically on a roadmap for ethical digital innovation. I also work on the ethics of Health AI and I am very involved with the World Health Organization’s effort on this issue.

You are part of the taskforce advising the Swiss Government for the tracing application. What are some of the key learnings from working on this force?

It has been a very rich learning experience. Beyond the technical knowledge I personally gained, I also had at least three important take-aways: first, it was humbling to see the commitment of so many amazing colleagues in offering their knowledge, time, experience and networks. In the midst of a crisis, this was a great reminder of the power of our humanity. Second, I was reminded that communicating complex concepts beyond your own small professional circle is an art, and not all of us are talented or trained. Caution is warranted. Third, digital public health tools like the contact tracing app are the new kid on the block. Ideally the kind of task force work we did during the crisis, should have started earlier, anticipating such scenarios and setting processes in place. This type of scientific advice to the government should be of a more permanent nature than an ad hoc one.

«Earlier on in the pandemic we went through the big debate about centralised versus decentralised data systems. Thankfully the most privacy preserving options were adopted more widely, including here in Switzerland.»

Karen Bhavnani, President of Women in Digital Switzerland

Tell us a bit about your role as President of  Women in Digital Switzerland (WDS)?

Women in Digital Switzerland is a non-profit community built on passion and purpose with some 4,000 supporters across 5 Swiss cantons. I work with the most amazing team, drawn to our shared goals to promote digital thought leadership, idea exchanges, and inspire growth and transformation.

Women are vastly underrepresented in the tech sector. How can the dial move forward on this?

The underrepresentation of women in the technology industry is a significant and enduring problem. Concerted effort is required on the part of public, private and not-for-profit actors at the institutional, group, collective and individual level. Efforts need to be developed, nurtured and sustained by both men and women to promote lasting changes in diversity and inclusion. Also, the dialogue must widen to encompass women in leadership during the 4th Industrial Revolution.

More work is needed to empower schoolgirls and young women to acquire coding skills, increasing the number of women in developer communities. Funding is required to democratise access to learning resources, professional peer exchanges, role models, and mentoring, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects along the key touchpoints of a woman’s career journey.

How can more diverse voices be heard in the digital sphere?

We’re learning from ongoing efforts, such as The World Economic Forum’s Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators that seek to create global and national public-private collaborative platforms. Studies led by McKinsey suggest that companies with large numbers of women in leadership roles have 41% higher financial returns. The European Commission found that greater inclusion of women in technology could increase the EU’s GDP by €16 billion annually. These numbers suggest that diversity and innovation make good business sense. Creating more opportunities to expand participation of diverse groups in key visible digital speaking and project opportunities will improve equal representation.

«The European Commission found that greater inclusion of women in technology could increase the EU’s GDP by €16 billion annually. These numbers suggest that diversity and innovation make good business sense.»

Jan Wurzbacher, co-CEO and Founder Climeworks 

What is your mission at Climeworks?

Climeworks’ vision is to inspire 1 billion people to remove carbon dioxide from the air. By providing accessible climate action, we strive to empower as many people as possible.

Tell us about your unique technology solution?

Climeworks develops, builds and operates direct air capture machines. Our machines consist of modular CO₂ collectors that can be stacked to build machines of any size. Climeworks direct air capture machines are powered solely by renewable energy or energy-from-waste. Grey emissions are below 10%, which means that out of 100 tons of carbon dioxide that our machines capture from the air, at least 90 tons are permanently removed and only up to 10 tons are re-emitted.

Our CO₂ collectors selectively capture carbon dioxide in a two-step process. First, air is drawn into a collector with a fan. Carbon dioxide is captured on the surface of a of a highly selective filter material that sits inside the collectors. Second, after the filter material is full with carbon dioxide, the collector is closed. We increase the temperature to between 80 and 100 °C – this releases the carbon dioxide. Finally, we can collect this high-purity, high concentration carbon dioxide. Direct air capture is a form of carbon dioxide removal if it is combined with storage.

In an exemplary carbon dioxide removal project, we have joined forces with Icelandic company Carbfix. We remove carbon dioxide from the air and Carbfix then mixes the carbon dioxide with water and pumps it deep underground. Through natural mineralization, the carbon dioxide reacts with the basalt rock and turns to stone within a few year.

You encourage people to be climate positive. What can each person do to make a difference?

If we want to achieve an inclusive and sustainable future, we cannot solve this alone. We believe in the power of small steps. Each and every one can find ways to include climate positivity in their everyday lives. On top of that, we offer the service of removing historic CO2 emissions from the atmosphere. People can join us on our journey to reverse climate change by signing up to our service or by spreading the Climeworks message.

«If we want to achieve an inclusive and sustainable future, we cannot solve this alone. We believe in the power of small steps. Each and every one can find ways to include climate positivity in their everyday lives.»