"Coeur de public" award for Empa researchers

Building bridges

Jun 25, 2019 | RAINER KLOSE

In the first two years, the BRIDGE funding programme financed 81 projects at the interface of basic research and science-based innovation. These include the project of Empa researchers Andrea Werhli and Michael Gasser. For their contribution to the BRIDGE project E[co]work, they received the "Coeur du publique" award, endowed with CHF 4,000, on 21 June 2019 as part of the "Together we're better" award for the future.

Andrea Wehrli develops a business model for electronic waste recycling in India. Image: SNSF
Andrea Wehrli and Jean-Charles Sanchez do not work in basic science nor do they have the capital to successfully bring their innovations to market. She is a graduate in environmental sciences, he is a successful doctor and they both have brilliant ideas. To boost finances and distribute risks, the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF and the Swiss Commission for Innovation Innosuisse have been running the BRIDGE programme since 2017. 
Support during the critical precompetition phase
BRIDGE promotes the transfer of research results during the critical precompetitive phase, says Lothar Thiele, president of the BRIDGE steering committee in 2017 and 2018 as well as member of the Research Council of the SNSF. Thiele, professor of informatics at ETH, adds: "The unexpectedly high numbers of applications and their excellent quality shows that BRIDGE has closed an important gap between the funding schemes of Innosuisse and those of the SNSF."
"Removed critical obstacles"

Andrea Wehrli is working at Empa and had been involved in a previous start-up. She secured a "Proof of Concept" grant, which BRIDGE offers to young researchers. "The funding has removed critical obstacles," says Andrea Wehrli. She now works full-time on a business model for recycling electronic waste in India.

Thanks to a BRIDGE Discovery grant for experienced researchers, Jean-Charles Sanchez and his team at the University of Geneva were able to secure the development of a mobile device that allows professionals to recognise small brain injuries. "The device makes it possible to make reliable assessments in GP surgeries, in ambulances and on sport's grounds - it does away with time delays and the costs of CTI scans in hospitals," says Jean-Charles Sanchez.

Greatly beneficial for Swiss innovation
In the spirit of the joint programme, Nicoletta Casanova of Femtoprint will assume the presidency of the steering committee in 2019 and 2020. She is a member of the innovation council of Innosuisse and is thrilled that BRIDGE has confirmed its raison d'être after only two years thanks to an array of successful projects. "In the future, BRIDGE will be even more open as it will fund Discovery projects in all disciplines and areas of innovation," Nicoletta Casanova says. She is convinced that Swiss innovation will benefit greatly. As a result of the high demand for BRIDGE funding, the programme will receive additional funds for the 2021-2024 funding period.
Bringing to market and implementing innovation potential
Since 2017, the BRIDGE programme has offered two funding lines at the interface of basic science and science-based innovation. "Proof of Concept" is aimed at young researchers who are funded for up to 18 months to make their research results marketable. Projects may target in-novations of all kinds. "Discovery" is aimed at established researchers who assess and imple-ment the innovation potential of research results. Projects may include up to three partners and last no more than four years. Only technological innovations that have a societal and economic impact will be funded. 
Success in numbers
For the 2017-2020 funding period, BRIDGE has an overall budget of 70 million francs. SNSF and Innosuisse have funded 81 projects (61 Proof of Concept, 20 Discovery) in the first two years. In total, 336 proposals for Proof of Concept and 277 proposals for Discovery were submitted. The first 46 Proof of Concept projects have resulted in 16 start-ups already. While participation and success of the universities of applied sciences remains low for Proof of Concept, they have significantly improved for the second Discovery call: 10 out of 30 people involved in the funded projects work at universities of applied sciences. 

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Press release of the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF


"Together we're better" award ceremony
Ninety-two projects were submitted from all over Switzerland, covering a wide range of areas, including agriculture, the environment, water, job creation, health, street children, orphanages and schools in impoverished urban settings. Some of the projects involve technical innovations or partnerships between organisations based in Switzerland and selected countries. Forty of the projects are intended for implementation in Africa; 52 are spread across Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia or have an international impact. The SDC and SECO are keenly aware of young people's key role in achieving global development goals. The competition aims to recognise young people's engagement and build a network with young actors.