Switzerland could lose competitiveness in research and innovation

Switzerland could lose competitiveness in research and innovation

In Switzerland, small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) make up over 99% of the companies and create two-thirds of the jobs, according to the Structural Business Statistics (STATENT) of the Federal Statistical Office (FSO)[1]. For a number of these small-medium businesses that are delivering innovative products, applications and services working at the forefront of research and innovation, important financial support has traditionally come from international R&I programmes, in particular, the European framework funding programmes. Especially during Horizon 2020, many funding opportunities were available for Swiss organisations including innovative SMEs and start-ups. This has changed unfortunately with the withdrawal of the Swiss authorities from the negotiation of bilateral agreements with the European Union in May 2021.

Now Swiss organisations can only participate to Horizon Europe, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation 2021-2027, as third country entities, which entails several limitations and drawbacks.

“Even though Swiss SMEs like Martel can continue participating in Horizon Europe, they cannot coordinate projects and cannot participate to coordination and support actions, which are strategic instruments in the long-term perspective to ensure we are part of the dialogue with the European Commission, to shape future investments’ decisions. It is not only the funding on itself we cannot get any more, what concerns us the most is not to be part anymore of the decision-making process about future research and innovation directions. Moreover, other funding instruments, such as the European Research Council (ERC) and the European Innovation Council Accelerator, that are specific for innovative small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups, cannot be accessed by the Swiss organisations. This is a disaster financially but most of all strategically. We risk isolating Swiss SMEs and technology start-ups, we are putting in danger the reputation and position that many organisations have established at a pan-European level, and we will have a harder time to attract top researchers and innovators to come to Switzerland., says Martel CEO Dr Monique Calisti who has been working as an entrepreneur in the Swiss-European research and innovation landscape for more than 20 years.

Horizon Europe – a huge “missed” opportunity for Swiss SMEs?

Horizon Europe is the largest research and innovation funding programme in the world, with a total budget of 95.5 billion Euros (98.4 billion CHF). Not to be part of it as Associated Country is for the Swiss research and innovation organisations a major risk and drawback. While the decision on how to fix the relations between Switzerland and the European Union is very much related to a number of political reasons and economic factors, there are very direct consequences already on how several Swiss organisations have decided to follow up on Horizon Europe.

“In our case, we opened a subsidiary in the Netherlands which gives us the possibility to participate to Horizon Europe without any limitation, but this means we hired people and we moved a number of strategic and operational activities outside of Switzerland. Horizon Europe is an opportunity for Swiss SMEs to have access to ground-breaking Research and Innovation programmes, to access finance, to establish strategic international partnerships, to develop and expand their activities abroad, to enter new markets and, ultimately, to create new jobs here in Switzerland. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity. We hope and we are confident that the Swiss politicians and decision makers will consider our needs and find a way to converge with the European Union representatives.”, says Dr Calisti.

About Dr Monique Calisti

Dr Monique Calisti, CEO of Martel Innovate, is a passionate entrepreneur and ICT expert, specialized in European Commission funding, with extensive domain knowledge in Artificial Intelligence and Next Generation Internet technologies (IoT, 5G, Cloud/Edge, etc). Dr. Calisti holds a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of Lausanne, Switzerland, and a Ph.D. in Telecommunications Engineering from the University of Bologna, Italy.

About Martel

Martel is a dynamic Swiss-based digital innovation agency with more than 25 years’ experience empowering organisations across Europe and worldwide, throughout their journey from novel ideas to technological implementation, media and market strategy. After more than one hundred cutting edge projects, Martel has grown from its origins as a small consulting agency into a thriving organisation with offices in Zurich and Lugano in Switzerland, and Amsterdam in the Netherlands.