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StartUp Challenge 2019 winners in Silicon Valley

Swisscom Startup Challenge

Three lessons from Silicon Valley

Everyone thinks they know all about Silicon Valley. That included me. But I have come to realise that I didn’t understand the myth at all. Silicon Valley is much more than just a hotspot for the technology giants; it's a whole way of life. The Swisscom StartUp Challenge allowed me to join the five winners for a week and immerse myself in Silicon Valley mythology. And the experience taught me three surprising lessons.
Tobias Frehner, Corporate Journalist
22 November 2019

For seven years now, the five winners of the Swisscom StartUp Challenge have enjoyed a one-week development programme in Silicon Valley. The aims and expectations of the winners could hardly be more different. But they all share the common goal of wanting to compete and make their mark in the Champions League of start-ups. I was able to join up with the start-ups during this week and drew three interesting lessons from the experience.

Ideal conditions

There are some significant differences between Switzerland and Silicon Valley. It is much more difficult to get money from an investor in Switzerland, for instance, because each investment has to be very meticulously planned and 100% secured. It's a totally different situation in Silicon Valley. “People here are a lot more open and, above all else, willing to take risks,” says Christoph Küffer, founder and CEO at People Analytix. Start-ups in Silicon Valley find it much easier to find investors and develop something big. The collaboration between the two top universities Stanford and Berkeley and the big tech companies also helps to create ideal conditions for success. “This ecosystem is unique; you won't find it anywhere else in the world,” says Roger Wüthrich Hasenböhler, Chief Digital Officer at Swisscom. Education, economics and research work in perfect harmony in Silicon Valley. This creates the right conditions for the emergence of new trends, revolutionary ideas and exciting innovations within this ecosystem.

Fake it till you make it

Everything is bigger, better and faster in Silicon Valley. But it's not always a question of revolutionary technology: it's mainly due to a smart marketing strategy. Selling yourself short does you no favours in Silicon Valley. This approach poses a huge challenge for Swiss firms, which tend to be quite modest in how they rate their own value. The approach in Silicon Valley is more like “fake it till you make it” – something we Europeans struggle with.

“The Swiss generally lack the focus to be truly successful,” explains Simon Zwahlen, Deputy CEO of Swisscom Outpost. The participatory system in Switzerland offers its citizens countless different opportunities to get involved in society beyond the workplace, whether it's in politics, volunteering with the fire service or joining the local sports club. This diverse range of options makes it difficult to maintain focus. It creates a significant difference. Anyone founding a start-up in Silicon Valley focuses 100% on the company. If the plan doesn't work, these people are out on the street looking for a new idea. Simon Zwahlen says: “It’s not such a bad thing that the Swiss don't just focus on one project.” Instead they value education and ongoing training, which makes a lot of sense.

Working with the winners of the Swisscom StartUp Challenge was incredibly inspiring. I was also very surprised that start-ups work in such diverse areas. It is good to see that Switzerland has a robust start-up culture, backed up by significant know-how, talented people and excellent development projects. Switzerland is certainly very competitive on the international market.

Our highlights film and picture gallery provide a good insight into this interesting week – enjoy!

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Swisscom Startup Challenge

Interested in taking part in the StartUp Challenge 2020? You can find out about the Swisscom StartUp Challenge 2020 at the beginning of next year.