More Space for New Business Ideas
The STARTFELD development platform has taken a decisive step forward, with the opening of an innovation centre adjacent to the Empa site in St. Gallen. It is intended to act as a crystallization nucleus for innovative young entrepreneurs and SMEs in Eastern Switzerland.
Many people have brilliant new business ideas, but very few of these actually will ever be implemented and see the light of day. There many reasons for this: no time, innovators may not have enough money, lack infrastructure or market access, have no business experience and so on. In order to help greater numbers of innovative people develop their novel ideas to the stage where they are ready to create a start-up company, promotion platforms such as STARTFELD exist. Their staff ask entrepreneurs-to-be the right questions, offer a ready-made network of contacts and point them towards ways of obtaining finance – vital first steps which are crucial for the future success of a start-up.
“When someone has a bright business idea, STARTFELD is a good place to start,” says Peter Frischknecht, Managing Director of the platform. The incubation centre promotes innovative projects in the St. Gallen – Lake Constance region of Eastern Switzerland, continuing to offer support until they achieve successful market penetration and are able to stand on their own feet. “And so we offer not just a wide network of contacts, advice, coaching and financing help,” says Frischknecht, “but now also space.” The latter facilities were inaugurated on March 11, 2016.
A different king of opening ceremony
The opening ceremony was unconventional, with the 200 or so invited guests exploring the premises under their own steam. Instead of a long dry introductory speech, those responsible for creating STARTFELD, and their guests and supporters from the universities, institutes of technology, the city of St. Gallen, the Cantonal Bank of St. Gallen, and Empa engaged in a round of questions and answers. In the course of the discussion Empa Director Gian-Luca Bona explained that the economic well-being of St Gallen, his hometown, lay dear to his heart and it meant a great deal to him on a personal level to raise a toast to innovations in this familiar neighbourhood.
Familiar, indeed, as the incubator is located right next to the Empa site in St. Gallen, in the old “Tagblatt” newspaper building at Lerchenfeldstrasse 3. At the moment the innovation centre has a good 900 m² of space available, some already occupied by start-up firms, and a FabLab. There are also meeting rooms, common working rooms and areas for holding events which can be individually reserved. The common rooms were conceived with the help of experts from the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and are intended to encourage collaborative working. In a second phase, by around mid-2017, the innovation center will be extended by 4500 m². Should this additional area prove to be insufficient, additional room can be added. This may well turn out to be necessary, since the first 900 m² were occupied with very little advertising effort, according to Frischknecht.
Inspired by STARTFELD
Among the tenants is, for example, the start-up company «Advertima», where some 10 staff are developing cloud-based, individualized marketing software. “Until a short time ago the founder was a member of our STARTFELD team,” says Frischknecht. “Now he’s set up his own firm and moved in as a tenant!” A clear demonstration, if one were necessary, that STARTFELD inspires innovative thinking and encourages the establishment of new companies.
Empa spin-offs also find support from STARTFELD – the first young start-up firm from the institution to move into space at Lerchenfeld is «MycoSolutions». The team, led by Empa researcher Francis Schwarze, has a great deal of know-how in the field of protecting wood from attack by copper-resistant fungus. To achieve this they use another fungus, making wooden poles more resistant to attack or for treating growing trees. With their tailor-made biological product they can protect trees from harmful urban and road-traffic emissions using simple treatment techniques.
Since the beginning of May KRISS (Korea Research Institute for Standards and Science) has also been occupying premises in the innovation centre. KRISS staff are working on a research project together with scientists from Empa’s «Particles-Biology Interactions» Laboratory.
These examples show how STARTFELD links two aspects of innovation development: the well-organized top-down development of SMEs and research institutes, and the contrasting wild, bottom-up behaviour which is characteristic of start-ups. The proximity of newly grounded companies and novel projects in areas including Materials meet Life and Precision meets IT are particularly important to nearby institutions such as Empa, the University of St. Gallen, the St. Gallen University of Applied Sciences and the Cantonal Hospital of St. Gallen. Significant synergies are possible through interaction with players from the neighbouring economy. With such ideal incubation conditions already in place, the next flash of inspiration will surely not remain just a brilliant idea!