In their book "The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley", Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt explain that entrepreneurial innovation is by nature chaotic and that it is the diversity and density of connections between its actors that make an ecosystem rich. In the end, it is from these chance encounters that innovation is largely born.
From this point of view, the canton of Vaud offers a fertile diversity. It is at the crossroads of several traditional industries: microtechnology, finance, agri-food, health, information technology, etc. Encouraged over the past 20 years, the cross-fertilization between these different sectors and, at the academic level, these different disciplines, favours what the Anglo-Saxons call serendipity, i.e. finding something other than what one was looking for.
«The diversity and density of connections between its actors that make an ecosystem»
The diversity of the ecosystem is also encouraged by its demographic evolution. The foreign founders of EPFL spin-offs, for example, have risen from 25% in the 1990s to nearly 70% in recent years. The economic fabric of innovation in Vaud thus becomes an attractive force, as in the case of Jean-Marc Tasseto, former boss of Google France, who came to Lausanne to create Coorpacademy. This attractiveness initiates a virtuous circle, because the success of an ecosystem is naturally conditioned by the individuals who compose it and enrich it.
The inspiration of "role models" is also important. An ecosystem needs leaders - entrepreneurs - but also guardian figures. It is no coincidence that Edouard Bugnon, co-founder of WMware 20 years ago, holds one of EPFL's vice-presidencies. We can also mention, without being exhaustive, Didier Guzzoni, the creator of Siri, who joined Apple, Tej Tadi at the head of the first Swiss unicorn MindMaze, Jurgi Camblong with Sophia Genetics, not to mention the pioneer Daniel Borel, founder of Logitech. These become poles of attraction and therefore vectors of serendipity essential to the proper functioning of the ecosystem.
«An ecosystem needs leaders - entrepreneurs - but also guardian figures»
A step is taken when certain start-ups, or even executives of technology companies, turn into serial entrepreneurs or investors. A former Medtronic alumnus, Jean-Marc Wismer, for example, founded Neocast, then Sensimed. He is currently the Chief Operating Officer of MindMaze. Rodney Reis, former CEO of Combagroup, recently created Avalia Systems. Co-founders of senseFly, Jean-Christophe Zufferey and Antoine Beyeler are now on the board of a new UAV company: Rigi Technologies. And the list continues to grow day by day, also contributing to the virtuous circle.
The innovation ecosystem in Vaud is thus reaching a form of maturity. The latter can be seen in these flows of investment, as well as talent and experience. We can start talking about a network effect.
In the reference ecosystem of Silicon Valley, you can visit the Buck's and Wagon Wheel coffee shops, essential in the success stories of start-ups, from Fairchild Semiconductors to Google. These socialization sites highlight the extent to which interactions between actors determine the success of an ecosystem, at least as much as the money raised or the technologies.
Does the restaurant Gina, opposite the SwissTech Convention Center, or the Biopôle Café already play this role in the canton of Vaud? The future will tell us.
«The innovation ecosystem in Vaud is thus reaching a form of maturity»