“We rehearsed with them until far into the night before the winners of the first StartUp Challenge pitched their business cases to the major venture capitalists in Silicon Valley the next day,” recalls Stefan Kuentz, co-founder of the Swisscom StartUp Challenge. That was in 2013. Since then, visiting Silicon Valley has opened up a whole new world for the nearly 40 winners of the funding programme. “We had been in Palo Alto with our Outpost since 1998 and wanted to bring a little Californian entrepreneurial spirit to the Swiss start-up landscape and, of course, find candidates in whom Swisscom Ventures could invest,” says Roger Wüthrich-Hasenböhler, who launched the initiative in 2013 together with Stefan Kuentz, Urs Stender (now Blue Lion) and Beat Schillig of Venturelab.
Since then, around 2,000 start-ups have applied for the Challenge in ten years, and 45 have completed the funding programme. Almost 100 young entrepreneurs have travelled to the Swisscom Outpost and pitched their business cases to major venture capitalists and Internet giants. These include start-ups such as Ava (2015), Creal (2019), Ecorobotix (2017), Geosatis (2014), Gmelius (2019) and Nanolive (2016). Swisscom Ventures, a division of Swisscom, has also invested in all of these companies. Six of the winning start-ups have since sold their companies, including the regtech start-up Qumram (2016) to Dynatrade, or Fashwell, the intelligent image recognition company (2016) to Apple. Several of the Swisscom StartUp Challenge alumni are now among the top 100 young companies in Switzerland. Unfortunately, four of the 45 have already had to break off their entrepreneurial journey. “Compared to the statistics in the US, the failure rate in the Swisscom StartUp Challenge Hall of Fame is much smaller,” explains Beat Schillig of Venturelab. “Either the selection process was very good or we take less risk in Switzerland than start-ups in Silicon Valley and yet still have access to a great deal of untapped innovation potential. After all: who dares wins!”