Yesterday, we started sharing some good practices and inspirational examples that we collected from our virtual visit to the Swiss Smart Factory in Biel (Canton of Bern, Switzerland), on November 26th 2020. Our partners from Switzerland have so much to share that we have prepared a second article to let you know a little bit more about the lessons learnt!

Dr Margaret Quinn

The innovation policy of the Canton of Bern was outlined by Virve Resta of Bern Economic Development Agency (BEDA). The area is the second largest Canton in Switzerland, the primary industrial region in the country and home to 60,000 companies, mostly SME’s. Virve noted the key role of “Hidden Champions”, family owned businesses which have become global leaders across a wide range of sectors from watches, jewellery, pharmaceuticals, engineering and medical devices and are very export oriented. Key aspects of the innovation promotion strategy were highlighted such as focus on growing markets where the canton has competitiveness, being inter-disciplinary, a strong focus on business needs and also a results orientation. It was interesting to note that the cluster policy which was followed for 20 years has now ended. A key item was emphasised- developing the innovation ecosystem to distribute knowledge and contact between stakeholders 

Innovation coaching for SME’s and start-ups in the region is provided by the Be-advanced agency which aims to “guide Bernese entrepreneurs through the ecosystem, give them valuable impulses and thus sustainably increase innovation, entrepreneurial dynamism and economic strength throughout the entire canton”. Roger Neuenschwander, Head of Be-Advanced, gave an overview of the innovation support for SME’s in the Canton which has 1m citizens, 70,000 start-ups, is the number one industrial Canton in Switzerland and has the second highest GDP in the country. For Roger, the key essential elements for innovation are the business idea and the entrepreneurship, the capability to bring the idea to market. In the former BE-Advanced provide support to help shape the idea and in the latter, they provide support to empower the entrepreneur.

Three programme areas were highlighted, start-up programme, founder coaching and SME coaching. The start-up programme was outlined with distinct programmes for different stages from early stage for problem solution fit, Challenge, Evolve for product market fit and High Flyer for scaling up support. For SME support a responsive, collaborative and needs oriented approach is taken and is based on smE MOWER. The smE-MPOWER team use a life cycle model to support SME’s in different stages and with different challenges according to the stage. Currently in piloting is a shared support and innovation process between Be-Advanced and the SSF technical platform which will be very interesting to hear about once results emerge. The final message was certainly empowering: “Your future is what you make it!”