Much is written about Switzerland as a country of innovation – an entire industry has specialized in helping young researchers and scientists to implement their ideas, connecting them with investors and thus shaping a start-up culture that helps Switzerland gain an international reputation . And many people to money. Because even if various start-ups never really grow beyond the start-up phase, there are always so-called “unicorns”. This is what insiders call start-up companies that, after a relatively short period of time and even before their IPO, are estimated to be worth one or more billion US dollars. Such start-ups are of course created by the Swiss research institutions, above all the ETH and the Lausanne University of Art and Design (ECAL). Currently, some companies that were founded by graduates of our technical universities have unicorn status – we present four of them to you:
“South Pole” is active almost from the South to the North Pole
30 offices on six continents, over 700 certified projects implemented in 50 countries, 170 million tons of CO₂ saved or removed from the atmosphere as early as 2019, countless environmental awards – that is the rather overwhelming record of «South Pole». The five ETH graduates Patrick Bürgi, Thomas Camerata, Renat Heuberger, Ingo Puhl and Christoph Sutter originally founded the CO₂ online calculator “myclimate” in 2006. Individuals as well as company owners can use it to calculate their own ecological footprint, be it in detail for a flight or for an entire annual balance. In a further step, the website also allows you to compensate for your own CO₂ emissions – so you can immediately pay the amount that is needed to remove the CO₂ caused from the air again. Depending on your taste, you can even choose which selected climate projects this money will be used for.
After the success of “myclimate”, the founders recognized the great need for solutions to reduce CO₂ or capture and store CO₂ from the air and have specialized in this. Whether it is reforestation projects, ecosystem restoration, clean combustion solutions for cooking stoves in African countries, geothermal energy development or simply opportunities to invest in climate friendly projects – South Pole has solutions. And meets with such keen interest that the company now employs 500 people in 20 different countries. Customers are globally active companies such as Nestlé or Chanel, but also government organizations – including those from Belize, Vietnam or Colombia.
CO₂ turns to stone at Climeworks
We have already reported several times about the ETH spin-off Climeworks, founded in 2009. With good reason: Thanks to a wood-based “nanosponge” developed at Eawag, the founders Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher are using additional technologies to capture CO₂ directly from the air. In further steps, the company then supplies the CO₂ as a kind of fertilizer to vegetable producers or to mineral water producers in order to enrich the water with “leaves” – Valser is a customer, for example. Far more efficient, however, is a process that Climeworks uses in a plant in Iceland, and which converts the CO₂ – mixed with water – into stone, so to speak, and stores it underground. Climeworks also offers on the website to remove their own CO₂ emissions from the air. Climeworks currently employs 150 people in four countries. Large companies such as Microsoft work with Climeworks, and the list of investors is also impressive: there are countless of them, from the US Department of Energy to Swiss Re.
Lightning-fast scans with smart devices are Scandit’s invention
They are computer engineers, financial experts, electrical engineers, and they were educated at ETH, MIT, Cambridge as well as IBM. And Christof Roduner, Samuel Müller and Christian Floerkemeier had an idea together, namely that a normal barcode reader is annoying: you have to hold it at exactly the right angle, it also beeps mostly annoyingly, it is awkward to handle.
How much easier would it be to just be able to read barcodes with a cell phone? Or even to enable the reading of barcodes on almost every digital device? The company Scandit, founded in 2009, makes it possible to use smartphones, drones and smart glasses to scan and analyze barcodes, identity cards or text much faster and much more precisely than with conventional devices. Customers can quickly test food for intolerances, shops such as Coop can process their scans more quickly, and airlines can complete safety checks more quickly. The company’s customer list is huge: from the Swiss Post to Japanese major distributors to tech giants like Bosch or health organizations like the British NHS – they all use the services of the Zurich company, which is now in Tokyo, Boston, London and countless others locations and is overwhelmed with prizes and awards from the Digitech industry.
The digital travel agency in your pocket
They were actually studying something else: Johannes Reck was once a prospective biochemist with a focus on brain research, Tao Tao went on to study physics at the ETH after studying economics in the Netherlands. Together they had a brilliant idea in 2008: in the past, you would go to a travel agency and not only receive a booking, but also suggestions for possible activities at the destination. Today you have to laboriously look for it yourself – but how do you know what’s on where when you’re not familiar with the area? This is where the getyourguide website and app come in. The platform allows tourists to filter countless offers at almost any location according to their own interests and book them directly. The offer is free for travelers, but activity providers have to give the platform a percentage of the booking. While it was difficult at first – initially family and friends funded the development of the platform – the company now employs over 800 people worldwide.
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