ABB’s Startup day

This week ABB Switzerland organised a Startup day at their HQ in Baden.

The format was presentations in the morning (ABB on innovation, followed by 15 minute pitches from each startup), then lunch, followed by 20 minute one-on-one meetings between ABB management and the startups in the afternoon.

The attendees were about 40 top managers at ABB and 11 startups picked by ABB with the help of the CTI startup ecosystem. The managers included many business unit heads so there really were decision makers present. What is impressive is how seriously the ABB top management took this day – most of them scheduled one-on-one meetings all afternoon.

Reno Lütolf, ABB Switzerland country manager

kicked off the presentations with ABB’s vision: Power and productivity for a better world

  • Improve operation performance, whilst using less energy
  • Drive innovation
  • Attract talent
  • Act responsibly

ABB has145,000 employees, $39 billion of revenue split across 5 divisions: Power products, Power systems, Low voltage system, discrete automation and motion, process automation. 8000 of these employees are R&D engineers – “Innovation is key to ABB’s competitive advantage”.

Kurt Kaltenegger, ABB Technology Ventures

followed up with some more details:

ABB has always been a big innovator: 1st synthetic diamond, 1st industrial robot, 1st liquid crystal tech, several 1sts in electric/hybrid motors. And more recently the 1st high voltage DC breaker. This last invention has put ABB on the MIT Technology Review list of the 50 most disruptive companies because this technology makes it practical to build high-voltage DC electric power grids which are needed to bring power long distances (from windfarms, solar farms, etc. to the main population areas).

The goals of the Startup day are to leverage the innovation ecosystem in Switzerland and to envisage co-operation of all kinds

ABB Technology Ventures  sees 3 global innovation hotspots with startup activity: North America (US,CA) Israel, and Central/Northern Europe. In fact this innovation day in Switzerland follows on from one they ran last year with Israeli companies.

He explained that ABB engages with startups in any of the following ways:

  • Partnership and co-operation with local and global business units and R&D
  • Equity investment (with different levels of business support)
  • Pre-acquistion or Acquisition by the M&A team

ABB are looking for win-win deals and are not risk adverse –  a high risk is OK if there’s a high market potential. Areas of interest include big data, Internet of things, sensors, Software as a Service and every disruptive Technology in proximity to ABB’s today and/or future business

They’ve made more than a dozen investments so far.

The CTI startup president Lutz Nolte, who helped ABB select the startups presenting, gave a CTI intro pitch – explaining the role of the CTI as a catalyst between public funded innovation and Industry.

And the startups? Given ABB’s stated areas of interest (big data, Internet of things, sensors, Software as a Service) it’s not a surprise that they were in these areas. Note: as it was a private event I’m not going to list them.

The event was organised by Michael Daiber, Innovation Agent and Franziska Bossart, Head of Innovation at ABB Switzerland.

More data on innovation in Switzerland is reporting about the latest annual update from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM). This is hot on the heels of the KOF innovation study.

It covers all entrepreneurship in Switzerland, so it isn’t specific to our focus high-tech innovation. But there’s some interesting data:

Switzerland shows no great potential with regard to creating new jobs via young companies.

A clear orientation on (combined product-market) innovation and orientation to international markets is clear.

Switzerland achieves outstanding results in finance, commercial infrastructure, tertiary education, and knowledge and technology transfer, as well as in stable internal market dynamics.

The age structure of entrepreneurial activity in Switzerland is noteworthy. Entrepreneurial activity among the young
in Switzerland (18-24) is the lowest of all comparable countries, whereas the 35-44 age group shows the highest entrenpreneurial activity.

Entrepreneurial activity for both first and the second generation migrants is significantly higher than the Swiss average.

Stéphane Garelli at IMD: Innovation is good, but Swiss SMEs are not expanding

SwissInfo has posted a great interview with Stéphane Garelli (head of the IMD World Competitiveness Center) where he discusses innovation in Switzerland. (thanks to Andy Ryan at 3baysover for the pointer)

It’s really worth reading the whole interview, but here’s my summary:

1) lack of growth capital (he thinks there’s enough seed capital)

2) lack of ambition (focus on work/life balance)

3) small local market (compared to eg. the US) makes it difficult to get to critical mass to then go big

4) focus on small scale high added value & not big manufacturing

5) being risk averse is in Switzerland’s DNA

The interview is in response to the  recent KOF innovation study which show Swiss innovation as healthy but that other European countries are catching up (especially Findland & Belgium) or overtaking (Denmark).