Launching In Switzerland? Bern’s The Place To Go!

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Do you want to live in a beautiful city and have endless possibilities of doing business? Then Bern is the right city for you which will not only provide you with entrepreneurial support but also a high standard of living.

Check out the infographic on How To Start A Startup In Bern!

More than 40,000 new companies are started in Switzerland every year. They are important contributors to the economic growth and innovation of the country. As the Capital of Switzerland, Bern is the seat of Switzerland’s government with its House of Parliament (Bundeshaus) home of Swiss Politics. Situated near the Swiss Alps and surrounded by lakes and beautiful nature, being a beautiful and unique UNESCO World Culture Heritage, Bern could be the perfect place to start your business.

Bern is located in the heart of Switzerland and the gateway to the Alps. The capital of Switzerland has many charms. Especially its well-preserved old town with the „longest weather-sheltered shopping promenades in Europe“ thanks to their beautiful arcades. Framed by the Aare river and offering a breathtaking view of the Alps, it’s a place for wellbeing. Bern is consistently ranked as one of the top 20 cities with the highest quality of life, with it’s high level education system. The city is easily reachable with reliable public transport, car and also by air via the Bern-Belp Airport. The canton of Bern is also home of the international watches industry like Rolex, Longines, Swatch, Rado located in Biel-Bienne the 2nd largest bilingual Swiss City.

In The Swiss Capitol: Bern

Advantages Of Starting A Startup In Bern:

  • Switzerland as a tiny country in the heart of Europe, surrounded by Germany, France, Italy and Austria. Within few hours you can travel through Switzerland with Swiss Railways (SBB) and discover different languages and cultures within the same country. Thanks to the dense rail network, you will also have direct connections to the major European cities.
  • It’s known that Switzerland is often used as test market for products of bigger companies, as the country has a good diversity in languages and culture. Products that sell well in Switzerland, should also do well in the neighbor countries.
  • Switzerland has a stable economic system and it is known for its prosperity, wealth and banks but also for it’s innovative culture and high quality Swiss-made products. A label which still has a lot of power,reliability and high standards.
  • Bern is the city where the government of Switzerland resides, a perfect fit if you want get in touch with Swiss Politics and Departments and also a lot of national institutions are there (e.g. Swissmedic)
  • It is a place of the biggest companies (former governmental) like Swisscom(telecommunication), SBB (transport), Post (mail).
  • Bern stands for high living standards, breathtaking nature in tourism regions like Grindelwald, Interlaken and Gstaad
  • Bern has a good education system with university and university for applied sciences with talented and motivated graduates and high level research institutes
  • Switzerland has a high buying power, this means Swiss people are willing to pay more money for good quality and service compared to its neighbor countries.

What Startup Founders Have To Consider:

  • Having four different official languages in Switzerland with a population of 8 million, it is a quite a challenge. As Switzerland is a small market, you need to provide your products/services in at least 2-3 languages (German/French/Italian).
  • Moreover, starting in Bern you will remark, that people on the street, your neighbors, potential customers/partners will be speaking in Swiss German. It might be hard to communicate in the beginning as the various dialects (yes, quite each city/region in the Swiss German part has its own typical dialect) differentiate much from the high German spoken in Germany. But don’t worry Swiss people are used to speak different languages and often they are multilingual in their national languages and they speak good English.
  • The costs of living and salaries are really high in comparison to other countries in Europe, but it’s possible to work in coworking places, to get access to the excellent Swiss Education system to hire smart and talented graduates from Universities for an internship.
  • Although having a high buying power, the Swiss Market still remains small in comparison to its’ European neighbor countries. But it is a good place to start and test your product/service. If you have successfully launched your products including translated material you can easily try to sell in Germany, France, Belgium, Italy as you have already passed the language border.
  • Bern is the capital of Switzerland, although cities like Zürich (tech industry), Basel (chemical industry) and Geneva (international organizations, luxury industry) are bigger than Bern.

Although Bern isn’t the city with the biggest startup community in Switzerland, it has a lot of interesting meetups and events to offer. It’s active startup community has grown a lot during the last years. Each year there are new events and initiatives. A lot of different events, meetups and other things are organized in the Capital of Switzerland and they are open-minded to start new events e.g. the Global Entrepreneurship Week as the first Swiss City. The atmosphere in Bern is friendly. You will get in contact with people easily and get to know the community quite fast. Being a little country like Switzerland a lot of news platforms, accelerators, events and workshops are organized on a national basis. If you want to join events in other major cities like Zürich, Basel on the Swiss-German side or Geneva, Lausanne on the French side, thank to the central location of Bern you can reach those cities within 1-2h with train and boost your possibilities.

Step One – Experience The Life Of Bern’s Community

Bern_guide_community

For being up to date what’s going on in the Swiss Startup scene, there are some websites informing about the upcoming events, startup awards / winners and the development of the Swiss Startup Scene.

Find Info About Upcoming Events, Meetups & Other Occasions :

  • startupticker.ch: The Swiss Startup News Channel, providing hot news of the Swiss Startup Scene, a calendar with interesting upcoming events for each region, with interesting articles mostly available in English/German/French depending on the author. Filter the events by city and you will get a lot of news about different industries, awards, expansion, financing and many more topics related to startups in Switzerland.
  • startwerk.ch: The blog for Swiss Startups by the IFJ (institute for young entrepreneurs), it provides news about Swiss Startups and their development and they also write about topics of interest for startups like Marketing, Financing and interesting events. A good platform for founders, investors as well for other interested people.
  • Swiss Start-up Monitor: Their mission is to provide insights on the development of the Swiss Startup Scene. The Startup Directory helps to find Switzerland’s newest start-ups and see where industry clusters evolve.

Regular Events & Meet-ups:

  • entreBERNeur Meet-up: This monthly meet-up (every 2nd Monday in the month) is THE place to meet members of the local Startup Community on a regular basis, listening to inspiring input speeches, a chance to pitch your business idea in front of the community and get some advice or interesting business contacts.
  • Entrepreneur’s Thursday: This initiative of the Entrepreneurship Center of the University of Bern invites you two times each semester to listen to inspiring speeches of Entrepreneurs about their business, giving insights and motivating you to follow your dreams and vision.
  • Institute for Value Based Enterprise: Having the mission to connect University students during their studies with the business world, this institute managed by students organizes two times each semester guest lectures with renowned entrepreneurs and “The Future Leaders Project“ a semester workshop, where you can learn how to write a proper a business plan.
  • ThinkLab Events: The Lemon Brain Store, a city based office that offers innovative workshops for young startups or small companies, organizes innovations workshops for entrepreneurs. With this workshop, you have the chance to boost your idea or to “treat” your business issues going on in your start up. Within a small group of other participating entrepreneurs, you focus on various business and technology patterns to work on your own project and leave with different solutions.

Yearly Or Major Events, Festivals, Conferences:

  • Global Entrepreneurship Week Switzerland: Each year around November a lot of different events (e.g. StartupDay, Failure Assembly, Innovation Workshop) organized in this week have the goal to excite people about innovative ideas, company founding and entrepreneurship.
  • Startup Weekend Bern: The worldwide well-known Startup Weekend also takes place in Bern. Based on Berne’s „own“ mountain called the Gurten, it’s the place to be to develop your business model within 54 hours in your team. Get in touch with inspiring speakers, test your idea, get feedback from experts, finalize your pitch and get started with your own start up.
  • Bernese Business Creation Contest: The BBCW is an initiative of the Entrepreneurship Center of the University of Bern in partnership with the incubator InnoBE and it’s an event in four steps. The Bernese Start-up Evening, the elevator pitch, workshop and coaching and finally the BBCW award.
  • Swiss Innovation Forum: It’s the national platform for promoting innovation, creativity and design and each year it’s a conference held in Basel (1h train from Bern) with keynote speeches, presentations about innovations and trends and chance to apply for winning the leading technology award in Switzerland „Swiss Technology Award“. They provide cheaper tickets for students.
  • Swiss Economic Forum: It’s Switzerland’s leading economic conference. The most important entrepreneurs in Switzerland, will be on-site in Interlaken. It promotes entrepreneurial ideas, connects decision makers from economy, politics and science and campaigns for start-up companies. It puts entrepreneurship in a nutshell. Might be a bit too expensive, but really interesting. Young entrepreneurs are awarded with the Swiss Economic Award with a lot of publicity and 75’000 CHF of money.
  • Swiss Startup Day: Organized by CTI Invest there will be a full day in the Stade de Suisse in Bern about Best practices of Pitching, Pitching Battles, Networking possibilities, input speeches, investors, possibility to promote your startup. There are a lot of other events organized by CTI Invest: e.g. Swiss Venture Day, Swiss Fintech Days, Angelday, Investor Forum and other events. Have a look about their events in the schedule. CTI Invest stages regular events where CTI Start-Up Companies may present themselves exclusively to the members.
  • Venture Kick: Venture Kick is a philanthropic three stage funding model initiated to support Swiss startups with enough funding to kick-start their entrepreneurial success. Startups can qualify to receive up to CHF 130.000 in start capital.
  • Young Enterprise Switzerland: suitable for your kids in school up to Secondary level ll to get them also excited about entrepreneurship 😉 Young people establish and run a real company during a year. They learn how the business world works and the role played by entrepreneurship in our society.
  • Different Swiss Startups Awards: STARTUPS.CH, AXA Winterthur, Axpo and PostFinance are searching the best business ideas and award up to 200’000 CHF seed money. Each award is 50’000 CHF seed money. E.g. The PostFinance Digital Business Award: In this competition you can win with your idea in digital business seed capital of 50’000 CHF.
  • START Summit: Europe´s leading talent conference for entrepreneurship and innovation with more than 1500 international participants aims to connect founders, students, investors and business partners at St. Gallen.

There are also a few Events/Contests organized by big Swiss companies. It’s the beginning of a trend that big Swiss companies seek cooperation with entrepreneurs and start-ups and being open-minded for external innovations. In the moment a lot of companies are working on such exchange programs. There is more to come in future. Here two examples:

  • The Swisscom StartUp Challenge, offers companies a first opportunity to present their business idea to Swisscom (Swiss Telecommunication). The five most exciting and promising Startups will be identified in the Swisscom StartUp Challenge and invited to attend a one-week business trip to Silicon Valley – the world’s most important location for the ICT and high-tech industries. Their Startup program also involves Co-working and Venturing possibilities.
  • You could also work together with SBB (Swiss Railways) if you have a suitable business idea to extend their service for Swiss passengers e.g. with the parking share startup Parkit. They subrent co-working space in Zürich to Startups and organized already a pitch event during the Collaborative Mobility Congress in Bern and moreover also a SBB Rail Pitch Summit in which different startups had the possibility to present their business idea to the public in a train wagon during a journey through Switzerland.

Step Two – Choose A Place To Work In Bern

Bern_guide_coworking

There are some coworking spaces available in Bern. It doesn’t have many coworking spaces like in other cities, but it is always growing and new ones keep on opening. So it’s worth keeping eyes open on the list. Depending on where you live, coworking spaces in Biel and Thun might be worth checking out.

Co-working Spaces In Bern:

  • Work Central Bern: Built in 2015, this newly opened CoWorking space offers a cosy and functional working space within walking distance (2min to the railway station). Beside single spaces, you can make reservations for meeting rooms and team room as well.
  • Innovationsdorf Coworking
  • Urbanfish Coworking Space: Nice and cosy place for working on your startup. Rather small working space but located in the heart of Bern and with a short bus ride to the railway station (5min). Work in a friendly and productive environment, where all types of entrepreneurs come together. There are also workshops taking place monthly at urbanfish.
  • H24-26 COWORKING

There are also a few Co-working spaces in Biel (25 min away from Bern with train)

  • INNOCAMPUS: INNOCAMPUS offers various spaces and coaching as well as incubators nearby. Especially tech startups will find suitable rooms for R&D as well as rooms for business and administration.
  • Coworx
  • Dufour-West

Or also in Thun (20min away from Bern with train)

Step Three – Tank Up Your Finances In Bern

Bern_guide_financing.

As entrepreneurs with a new business idea often do not qualify for a bank loan, they have to search for other financing possibilities. There are a total of 163 organizations, institutions, prices etc. in Switzerland which will help you to find Seed and Early Stage funding. A more complete guide of CTI can be found here.

Incubators:

  • InnoBE: In the canton of Bern there is one main local incubator called InnoBE. They organize events like “Best Practice Innovation”, “Failure Assembly”, partnering with the “Berner Business Plan Wettbewerb” and they provide Startups or new potential founders with help, networking and knowledge. Moreover, they provide already existing companies with consultancy concerning the management of their innovations, their innovation processes and innovation culture. InnoBE has years of experience in this field. With professional coaching InnoBE helps new founders to put their idea from paper to market, step by step by giving advice and guidance. Young entrepreneurs are invited to learn from experts and to test their business ideas. They also provide office spaces and a lot more.
  • BaseCamp4HighTech: If you have a high-tech Startup idea, in the area of ICT, Medicine Technology, Energy or precision engineering, the incubator BaseCamp4HighTech is the right choice for you and you will get coaching to push your highly scalable business. To get tech startups on the right platform and boost their business activities, BaseCamp4HighTech leads a so called high-flyer program, where startups are accompanied and well connected by BaseCamp coaches as well as business partners. BaseCamp is based in Biel (INNOCAMPUS).
  • CTI (Commission for Technology and Innovation) provides workshops (Business Creation, Business Concept, Business Creation, Business Development), coaching process in 4 phases (total coaching from 8 up to 26 months depending on the needs) with the CTI Startup program and help with searching investors with their platform CTI Invest and the Market Entry Camp for testing the pulse of international markets. Requirements: Bio- & Medtech and Life Science, Micro- & Nanotechnologies, ICT, Enabling Engineering

Accelerators:

  • In Bern there aren’t many accelerators. There is a nation wide accelerator called Institute for Young Entrepreneurs (IFJ) a private initiative which offers an incorporation service, business plan software, accounting solutions, networking events and workshops like venture challenge. IFJ joined in 1989 as a startup itself, they have supported more than 100.000 entrepreneurs. Since then a unique wealth of experience has been accumulated, which they now share with the next generation of startup founders. IFJ launched the accelerator program venturelab with the mission to focus on the best startup talents with the ambition and the potential to grow internationally. Together with several partners the venture leaders program known as the „Swiss National Startup Team“, bringing the best Swiss startups around the world. Selected startup talents are going through a structured stress test of their entrepreneurial and business readiness, enhancing their entrepreneurial knowledge and skills, and connect them to the community of value adding founders, mentors and industry experts.

An overview of their workshops:

  • Identify high potential startup talents (Startup Casting)
  • Provide structure and tools for stress test and execution, accelerated value creation and investment process (Startup Essentials – Acceleration Workshops)
  • Get field insight from successful founders “in the making” and extend your network (Founders Secrets)
  • Connect with industry leaders (Startup Challenges)
  • Exchange, network and mentoring by successful founders (Founders Circle)
  • Facilitated access and investment from successful startup founders for the most promising startups projects (Founders Cash Pot)
  • IFJ is also mandated to run Venture Kick, an initiative of the Venture Kick Foundation, that helps potential entrepreneurs by giving them the opportunity to win up to CHF 130.000 in pre-seed capital.

Grants & Subventions:

  • Venture Kick in which startups can get early funding of up to CHF 130.000 maximum in 3 stages. (stage 1: 10’000, stage 2: 20’000, stage 3: 100’000) Great starting point if you have an academia project.
  • CTI (Commission for Technology and Innovation): Funding of R&D projects of companies with a proven business track record. CHF 350’000 on average, but can go up to CHF 1 million and above. Funding of R&D costs only.
  • Venture Leaders: Selection of 20 young entrepreneurs with innovative high-tech product ideas for the Swiss National Startup Team. 10 days’ training at Babson College, USA in collaboration with swissnex Boston
  • W.A DE Vigier Foundation prize is a Foundation in Solothurn for Young Entrepreneurs to get awarded up to CHF 100.000 for innovative, future-looking product or service concept. Throughout its 25 years of existence, the Foundation has already awarded over seven million Swiss francs of start-up capital.
  • Swiss Startup Awards:
    • AXA Innovation Award worth CHF 50’000 in cash, CHF 20’000 worth in services/coaching by www.startups.ch and CHF CHF 5’000 worth in insurances from AXA Winterthur. Looking for Startups with innovation in product, process or business model and high ambitions in terms of growing.
    • Condition: Not founded yet.
    • Startups.ch Award with 50’000 CHF seed-money for a creative, original and innovative industrial startup. Condition: Not founded yet. One prize winner in each of the 3 Swiss language regions Swiss-German, Romandie (French) and Tessin (Italian). CHF 50’000 for each of the 3 winners,
of which CHF 30’000 in cash and CHF 20’000 worth in services from the prize partners
    • Axpo Award for startups in the energy production, technic, transfer, saving industry. Founded not more than 3 years ago.
    • PostFinance Digital Business Award for startups with idea in digital business area. Condition: not founded yet.
  • Ypsomed Innovation Award rewards innovative product ideas or methods of teams of individuals studying at an academic institution in the greater Bern region
  • Venture is the leading Swiss-wide start-up competition supporting young entrepreneurs in founding a company. Prize money of CHF 120’000 for the winning business plans and excellent media presence.

Crowd Investing Platforms:

  • Wemakeit.ch is the largest crowdfunding platform in Switzerland. 70% of all campaigns concluded successfully with the help of over 60’000 active users.
  • 100-days.net provides a platform for the Initiators (musicians, artists, designers) to display their projects and leave them there for up to 100 days (free to choose the project duration) to be funded by Boosters (friends, acquaintances, companies, benefactors) receiving some exclusive goodies in return to witness the realization of the project.
  • Cashare is the oldest Crowdfunding Platform in Switzerland. They are specialized in Crowdlending.
  • Kickstarter is not a Swiss platform, but with the help of the big US-Crowdfunding Site already a lot of Swiss projects got funded. Focused on creative ideas.
  • C-Crowd has the mission to introduce innovative entrepreneurs to investors.

Angel Investors:

  • Business Angels Switzerland is an association with over 70 members giving young entrepreneurs the opportunity to present their projects and start-up companies to seasoned investors and successful entrepreneurs. Based in Zürich they have a monthly dinner meeting. Please note that 2-3 start-up presentations can be made in English but that the language spoken during their gatherings is German. Focus: Software, Biotech, Medtech, Cleantech, Micro-, Nano Technology, Electronics, Mechanics, Materials, Chemicals
  • b-to-v Partners is an international orientated network of investors, focussing on high-tech and high return startups.
  • A list of CTI Investors which can be contacted directly. Focus: High Tech Startups
  • Go Beyond is focussing on early stage investing and active in different countries
  • StartAngels Network is a platform for Business Angel investors. Their mission is to offer their members access to attractive investment opportunities in early-stage Swiss companies.
  • Swiss ICT Investor Club (SICTIC) is a Switzerland based association that connects smart money investors to seed and early stage Internet startups. Their members invest in small groups between CHF 200’000.- to CHF 1’500’000.- directly in Internet startups based in Switzerland.

Venture Capital Investors:

  • STI: Stiftung für Technologische Innovation provides seed financing for technology startups. To apply for it you have to contact BaseCamp4HighTech.
  • Zühlke Ventures provide early stage investments and following investments to help startups go to market. Focussed on High-Tech-Ventures.
  • Vinci Capital is focussed on lead investments of Swiss Startups and reaching higher financing rounds of 10-30 millions.
  • VI Partners is a Swiss venture capital firm that supports university spin-offs as well as other promising start-up companies with capital, coaching, consulting and networks.
  • SVC Risikokaptial provides risk capital for startups to grow. Requirement: sustainable business model.
  • Redalpine Venture Partners is a european seed and early stage venture investor. They invest in disruptive technologies with focus on highly scalable ICT and Life Science models. Investments between 0,2-5 million of CHF.
  • Index Ventures is an internationally active VC with seed and growth investments. The invested in over 100 Startups from different industries.
  • Blue Ocean Ventures is focussing on High-Tech Startups with international potential for seed and first round investments of typical 300’000-600’000 CHF.
  • Affentranger Associates is looking for technology startups in the life science up to cleantech industry. Venture capital from 1-10 million CHF.
  • Creathor invests up to € 10 million in any stage startups within the scope of Biotech, Cleantech, Financial services, Internet, Software, Medtech.
  • Investiere Venture Capital invests between CHF 0.5 – 2.5 million in early stage startups in the fields of High Tech, Medtech, Cleantech, and ICT.
  • Swisscom is one of the world’s top 10 telecom venture capitalists. Early stage: CHF 0.1 million to CHF 0.5 million, strategic fund: USD 0.5 million to USD 5 million.

Step Four – Get Additional Advice In Bern

Bern_mentors

In general this site of the Swiss Government (German/French/Italian) or gruenden.ch (available in English) are very helpful overviews when it comes to starting a business in Switzerland. Have a closer look into topics of taxation, self-employment, entrepreneurial scope of non-Swiss nationals, legal forms (AG and GmbH), registration in the commercial register.

Once you have got an overview of how to start your business you might need further advice, for which InnoBE and BaseCamp4HighTech the local incubators will provide you with all needed information for the next steps.

If you need some support in areas such as Business Creation, Business Concept, Business Creation, Business Development, discover the workshops of CTI. You have some patents or other intellectual property to protect? Contact the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property.

You are ready to create your own company? With StartBiz, a service of SECO, will make it easier for you to register your company including trade register, VAT, Social insurance, Accident insurance and provides other important information.

Are you ready to kick off your startup in Bern?

 

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Many thanks for contributing to this City Guide to Fridolin Wendel

Last updated: August 2st, 2016

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