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Summary:

Every so often we hear about another new technology hub; currently, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Tallinn and Bangalore are among the places vying to be the next Silicon Valley. Add to that list Switzerland — in particular, Zurich. Earlier this week I ran into Michael Naef, founder […]

michaelnaf

Michael Naef, CEO of Doodle

Every so often we hear about another new technology hub; currently, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Tallinn and Bangalore are among the places vying to be the next Silicon Valley. Add to that list Switzerland — in particular, Zurich.

Earlier this week I ran into Michael Naef, founder of Zurich-based Doodle, which can be loosely described as a smarter, simpler version of Evite that works with your existing calendaring systems.

Doodle, which claims some 3 million users — 800,000 from its native Switzerland — is one of the dozens of technology startups that have sprouted up around the country. According to some estimates, there are between 50 and 100 technology startups in Switzerland –- a pittance when compared with the San Francisco Bay Area, where the buildings surrounding South Park alone could house that many companies –- but impressive nonetheless.

And Naef said that number is on the rise, especially around Zurich. What’s behind the growth? The emergence of a healthy technology ecosystem: There are half a dozen venture funds in Switzerland; the government helps technology startups through various programs; and Switzerland has broadband aplenty –- it ranks fourth among OECD countries. As of June 2008, nearly 33 of its every 100 inhabitants had a broadband connection.

Even more important is the fact that a lot of big technology companies have set up shop there. Google has set up its European engineering headquarters in Zurich, and Yahoo moved its European headquarters there from London last year. There is peripherals maker, Logitech, and even a few large, non-IT tech companies, like Tyco. They find there a plentiful supply of engineering minds, many of whom graduated from Switzerland’s equivalent of MIT, the ETH.

Many of those engineers, encouraged by the successful sale of local startup, Wuala, a P2P storage service, to French hard drive maker Lacie, are likely to try their hand at entrepreneurship. But when I asked Naef if he had missed out on any growth opportunities because he was based in Zurich and not in Silicon Valley, he said no.

“If it would have helped us grow faster if we were in Silicon Valley, I would have moved the company here,” he said. In fact, he thinks being in Switzerland has worked to Doodle’s advantage. Just like Israel’s limited local market forces companies there to think globally right from the get-go, so do Swiss-based firms.

In a post-broadband world, where geographic boundaries are blurred by the Internet, that is good vantage point to have. Doodle is now available in 30 languages and works across multiple time zones. “We have four official languages in Switzerland, and that alone is enough to get us to think globally,” Naef said. And global focus can bring a lot growth -– if not profits -– as demonstrated by Facebook.

If this furious pace of startup activity keeps up, I may just have to make a stop in Zurich during my next trip to Europe later this year.

  1. Does anybody have a good list of the tech startups in Zurich?

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    1. Birdyomnomnom Wednesday, May 6, 2009

      This is a good list, i know all of these startups and they represent the swiss ground for startups very well, since all of them stand for a good product.
      The Creative Commons Licence movement and generally Open Source get much support in Switzerland too.

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  2. We’re all happy to welcome you here in Zurich. Just send us a note!

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    1. he he, that puts your company on the list. thanks for the invite… I’m just curious.

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  3. Logically, as everything ‘big’ disaggregates, one could foresee silicon valley and its concentration of ‘big’ venture firms going the same way. Reality however often trumps logic.

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  4. eBay has recently moved to Zurich too.

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  5. Om, Zurich has turned into a gem…the large corporates discovered this first and keep locating or moving their EMEA HQs to Zurich and Geneva. A clear trend, and above you could also have added IBM, Cisco and 15-20 other companies who joined the party in the recent past.

    Having had one foot solidly in Silicon Valley and one in Zurich for the last 15 years, my companies have been based in Switzerland by design. No capital gains tax, pre-event tax rulings, low company- and even lower personal income taxes, mortgage rates below 2% ….and so on.

    Zurich is obviously not SV though. By far. Valuations are lower, the acceptance of ‘creative failure’ non-existent, and investors could learn from their colleagues in Palo Alto. Also, the time to exit can be significantly shorter in the Valley. You will therefore over here end up with a product usable in all corners of the world, which is the point you make above. There’s also plenty of talent, great universities, low cost of capital and an awesome quality of life here. Makes it easy to motivate key talent to come and work for you.

    Being in a position to take a peek behind the scenes I can also say that the start-up pipeline is high-quality and high-potential, also from a SV perspective. Very impressive on the Life Sciences side.

    Personally I chose to relocate to Zurich…may I suggest for good reasons ;-) Come and check out the place.

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  6. Om, you got the OECD star wrong. It is 33 connections per 100 inhabitants. The way you phrased it makes it sound like only 33% of the Swiss have broadband, when it’s nearly double that.

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  7. [...] Is switzerland the newest tech hub? Just read this: Is Switzerland the Newest Tech Hub?: [...]

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  8. LiberoVision are based in Zürich and seem to be going from strength to strength

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  9. Krishna Baidya Sunday, April 5, 2009

    Good points mentioned about the distributed “silicon valley”, OM.

    I was curious to know your thought about Israeal. Any thoughts?

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  10. Swiss is NOT a newest tech hub. It’s ALWAYS a tech hub. Did we forget where web born? -> CERN lab in Geneva.

    IBM has a research lab in Zurich and technopark in Zurich is an interesting place with lot’s of startups.

    I worked in India, Swiss(basel & zurich) and last 10 years here in silicon valley. IMO, Swiss is a great place to do basic/fundamental research. The eco system supports it. I always love to go back & work there…

    From commercial product development perspective, the problem is multi-language + limited set of technical resources.

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  11. Robert A. Decker Sunday, April 5, 2009

    Interesting article.

    My wife just accepted a job in Basel and so we’ll be moving there this coming Friday. I’ll have a B-class work permit and so I can work in Switzerland. I’m an American with 15 years programming experience with about 10 years of that in Silicon Valley with small start-ups (one of which is quite large now), and I’ve founded a couple of companies myself, worked closely with partners in India, etc.

    I’m a programmer and looking for contacts in small tech company startups in Basel – I’m not that interested in working for a large company but I can do it in a pinch

    I see that there’s a Zurich Entrepreneurs meet-up group (the leader of which just stepped down). Can anyone give me pointers on meeting start-ups in Basel?

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    1. @Robert Why not come to Web Monday Zurich? (http://www.amazee.com/web-monday-zurich). You’ll probably meet a bunch of people there.

      Other Basel start-ups would be Cyon and Trigami (already mentioned above).

      And, oh yeah, here at Wuala we’re looking for talented developers :-)

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    2. Dear Robert

      if you want to know about start ups in Basel area please get in contact with Michael Bertram, COO of the BaselArea Economic Promotion http://www.baselarea.ch. He can be of help to you.
      good luck!

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  12. Om – we met a year ago when we went with Faisal Galaria to the movies.
    Zurich is definitely growing in Start-Up numbers.
    The last Tech-Crunch event Zurich was a big success with over 40 companies presenting.

    Whenever you come, get in contact and we’ll organise a get together with interesting entrepreneurs.

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  13. [...] 号的 Gigaom 上有篇 Is Switzerland the Newest Tech Hub? 这里有句话很有意思 Just like Israel’s limited local market forces companies there to [...]

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  14. [...] 号的 Gigaom 上有篇 Is Switzerland the Newest Tech Hub? 这里有句话很有意思 Just like Israel’s limited local market forces companies there to [...]

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  15. Zürich is a wonderful and creative place to live and work.

    It is amazing how clear your mind is when you don’t have a avoid a mugging on your way to work.

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  16. Interesting article. Do you need to speak German to work in Zurich?

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  17. Om, thanks for mentioning us (Wuala, http://www.wuala.com) as a success story :) Please drop a line whenever you’re close to Switzerland, you’re very welcome here.

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  18. It helps to speak german, but almost everybody speaks english. It’s actually difficult to use your german, since the swiss like to practice their english skills on all foreigners :-)

    shameless plug: we are actually a Zuerich Startup too :-)

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  19. Don’t forget little old Geneva….! We will be launching an angel site shortly, designed to let investors in tech start ups interact with investors and industry mentors..

    Switzerland maybe small, but its perfectly formed!!

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  20. Zamir Tribelsky Tuesday, April 7, 2009

    Zurich is a GR8 place. Switzerland on the whole is a great place. As founder, INVENTOR OF CORE TECHNOLOGY Ex CTO of Atlantium Ltd, Atlantium Lasers and Atlantium technologies a world leader in water treatment technologies (UV), I had great interactions with honorable Swiss investors. I love Switzerland. The food is great, the people are credible and super intelligent. I recommend anyone doing business in Switzerland. The truth of the matter, there are numerous centers for doing business in all fields of technologies around the world. There is place for all and all should be developed.

    I wish anyone developing Switzerland as a technology hub great success.

    With utmost respect

    Zamir Tribelsky

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  21. Yes, when they sought out the new financial rules. ;-)

    At least people can die in dignity and peace there. I always knew they got Father Time correct. ;-)

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  22. If California Assembly Bill 178 and other individual state laws pass, there may be a flood of Internet talent moving to Switzerland. CA AB 178 will kill tens of thousands of California jobs and small businesses, put a huge damper on Internet innovation, and get this, be a net revenue LOSS to the individual states as companies move their business relationships to companies in other states. That is exactly what just happened in NY. But hey, it will get a few clueless politicians a few votes because they claim it is “fairness” and will raise taxes to pay down the deficit in their state. And of course, punish those “bad people with them new-fangled ‘puters” on the Internet from other states.

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  23. Hi,
    Internet has narrowed down boundaries and made the globe a village. India has emerged as leader in software development. Switzerland has talent, technicians and money.There are consumers also.

    Zurich, Switzerland has potential to be a tachno hub. However will it not be better to get works done in India and control it from Zurich? Will it not be cheaper? Will it not be more profitable?

    I see a collaboration between India and Switzerland.

    Vardhaman Gems

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  24. N Bhashyam . Tuesday, April 7, 2009

    Switzerland has the potential to evolve as a center of excellence in the emerging knowledge era provided well defined and focussed action plan is drawn and implemented in a mission mode manner to upgrade and build up a state-of-art knowledge acquisition and dissemination system so as to make the country a focal point in the incoming knowledge era.

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  25. Om, thanks for such an advert for our home town (Tallinn) – I guess it was wiki-linked because it seems to be less known to general public than those other cities from your list.

    Unfortunately enough, I can’t see Tallinn thriving of many startups. Of course, Skype and fotki.com are made here, but there are no other big hyped names at the moment. It seems that in Zurich innovation meets capital more easily. I hope situation changes as we are taking the global recession as a sign to boost innovations

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  26. An entrepreneur friend of mine has benefited from Zurich location for starts ups setting up the very successful http://www.genevalab.com and more exciting business to come

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  27. Hey, my German ancestors hale from Tallinn. I see a collaboration between the world and Switzerland.

    “I look upon Switzerland as an inferior sort of Scotland.” – Sydney Smith ;-)

    Israel has developed many of the technolical parts that are used by mobiles and many other IT uses. The only problem is they don’t get the credit for it.

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  28. Switzerland is best place to work and has done very critical role for UNO biggest thing is that UNO is mature now.

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  29. [...] Is Switzerland / Zurich the newest tech hub? (article on GigaOM) [...]

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  30. Hi all,

    Add another one to the list!

    We are Procedural Inc. specializing in software for the efficient creation of 3D buildings and cities.

    Like many we are a start up company and spin off of the ETH Zurich.

    http://www.procedural.com

    Greetings from the Technopark Zurich

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  31. Switzerland is becoming a tech hub. The country has been manufacturing sophisticated machines since long time such as watches.
    Switzerland has the ability to be a tech hub.
    Thanks for a nice post.
    Darshan

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  32. [...] 我们不是得奖者中的唯一瑞士初创公司。拥有一个14个得奖公司,瑞士是名列前茅的国家,之后 是德国、瑞典和以色列。我猜测瑞士正成为一个新的技术中心…… [...]

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