The idea of the solitary genius who invents alone in his laboratory or garage is far removed from the reality of innovation. It is the product of the meeting of ideas and skills, and requires infrastructures, different actors, a certain culture and, ultimately, an entire ecosystem.

A complex system

According to the Universalis encyclopedia, the term ecosystem seems to have been first proposed by Arthur George Tansley (1871-1955) in 1935, in an article published in the journal "Ecology". This British botanist explained in his text that "the most fundamental notion is [...] the whole system [...] including not only the complex of organisms but also the whole complex of physical factors [...], the factors of habitat in the broad sense [...]. The systems thus formed are [...] the basic units of nature [...]. These ecosystems [...] offer the greatest diversity of type and size".

An ecosystem thus includes a place, but also the living beings that live there, as well as all the relationships that can exist and develop within this system. It is a complex and dynamic combination of plants, animals, micro-organisms and their natural environment.

Imported into business vocabulary and applied to innovation, the term ecosystem roots in a place a set of actors: support organizations, companies, start-ups, universities, investors, etc., whose quality of interactions (technology transfer, investments, recruitment, etc.) determines that of the whole. Just like in a biological ecosystem.

Global connection and local rooting

The most striking feature of an innovation ecosystem is that it is both global and local. It is informed by global processes such as scientific research as a source of discovery, innovation processes as a source of technologies and ideas (e.g. through intellectual property, technology watch, the use of other technologies, etc.), as well as the mobility of talent. Downstream, innovation opportunities are most often the global market. Especially since the Vaud and even Swiss market remains limited, even if their relative wealth and sophistication make testing easier.

But at the same time, an ecosystem of innovation takes root in a specific place, because it is humans and their interpersonal networks that make up an ecosystem. And the proper functioning of human networks, despite the advent of communication technologies, remains significantly affected by distance.

Functional ecosystems are also relatively dense and focused, such as Silicon Valley for information technology, Highway 128 in Boston for life sciences, but also London for fintech or Shenzhen for computer hardware.

«Downstream, innovation opportunities are most often the global market»


A simplified model

As part of this study, a simplified model was selected for the analysis of the Vaud innovation ecosystem and comparison with other ecosystems. This model proposes a division into six themes.

Research and development: the main source of new ideas and technologies

Technology transfer: the key step without which an idea could not become an innovation

Companies: the main vehicles for bringing innovation and ideas to market

Financing: a key risk-sharing ingredient to launch the most risky projects

Skills and culture: probably the most important ingredient, as innovation is so much the work of the people who carry it

Framework conditions: because all actors operate in a place governed by rules and within a given geopolitical context.