9. Swiss Innovation Forum, Interview with Stefan Linder, Founder of the SIF

Around 1’000 decision-makers and policy-makers as well as experts and professionals from the fields of business, science, education, politics and media will build up a network at Switzerland’s leading innovation conference. In addition to cross-industry exchanges, the exceptional keynote presentations, numerous workshops and a varied programme with „Best Case” examples will provide an inspiring platform for the topics of innovation, creativity and design. The key elements of the event include the Future Expo, where, among other things, selected CTI (Commission for Technology and Innovation) and FH (University of Applied Sciences) projects can be presented, and the Swiss Technology Award, the top technology and innovation award in Switzerland.

The first Swiss Innovation Forum was held in 2006 and due to the great demand and interest in the topics of innovation, creativity and design, it has established itself as an independent and highly successful platform.

Mr. Linder, this will be the ninth time that the Swiss Innovation Forum (SIF) will be held in Basel. This in itself has transformed Basel into the national hotspot for creativity, innovation and design. Could you explain what strengths Basel has as a business location and how things have perhaps changed in recent years?

Stefan Linder: One of Basel’s great strengths is without doubt its infrastructure, which has benefited from a lot of investment over the past few years, and naturally its location. Its proximity to Germany, France and Zurich Airport provides fantastic accessibility for all who come to the town. Basel has always been a hub for trade fairs and exhibitions, and this type of activity has intensified in recent years. The annual events such as Baselworld and Art Basel contribute greatly to the positive image of the town. As recently reported in the media, Basel is to become the host town to another two top events: the Europa League Final in the world of football and the Congress of the European Sleep Research Society. For us, Basel is an excellent location at a national level with an international reputation, where we can organise a demonstrative conference on the topics of innovation, creativity and design.

The Austrian economist J. A. Schumpeter once said: „Innovation is the implementation of a technological or organisational novelty, not just its invention”. What is your own personal interpretation of the concept of innovation and why is this of such great importance for our economy?

Stefan Linder: Innovation is the fuel of the Swiss economy. It has enabled us to attain the high standard of living we now enjoy; it ensures the success of tomorrow and is of the utmost importance for any company regardless of its size. I agree with J. A. Schumpeter’s definition, there are thousands of ideas, but for any of these to prevail it takes people with courage, hard work, ingenuity and creativity to push something new forwards against all the odds and obstacles. Innovation can also be seen as the continuous improvement of something that already exists, it is not only the big nets that pull in sustainable success.

In order to maintain the high level of innovative strength in Switzerland, it is essential to adopt an optimum legal framework and to forge a networking bridge between industry and universities. What has changed since the beginnings of the SIF in the area of technology transfer in Switzerland? What else needs to be done to help companies innovate?

Stefan Linder: Innovation is encouraged and supported very professionally in Switzerland, whether this is in corporations, among Swiss SMEs or even in the support given to colleges and universities. Today, it has become much easier to start a spin-off, to get access to money and investors, and to find experts who are also keen to provide help and advice. Even the Federal Government contributes a great deal with the KTI. But what we do need rather urgently in Switzerland is absolute reliability in political issues. The political initiatives of recent years that can be regarded as harmful to business and the economy engender a large amount of uncertainty in the economy and block important investment decisions. These need to be counteracted as soon as possible.

How has the SIF contributed to this situation?

Stefan Linder: We bring people together, from high-tech entrepreneurs, politicians and scientists to the ambitious young entrepreneurs. The mix within the SIF is unique. Clever people from various sectors, all with different competencies and skills, who would probably never meet otherwise.

The Swiss technology award is one of the most coveted awards in the field of technical innovations. This prize has been awarded for 26 years - 6 of which were within the framework of the SIF. What special benefits does this award bestow on the winners?

Stefan Linder: First and foremost, it is a form of great recognition to receive a national award and also a reward of sorts, for the hard work and courage. The award winners will benefit from an expert report, get great media publicity and it opens up their doors to potential investors. Also, as a welcome side-effect, highly qualified workers become aware of the company. As a direct benefit, we make it possible for the winners to take part in an international trade fair.

The SIF brings out an attractive programme each year. What is the secret of your success?

Stefan Linder: Every year we try to invite speakers who are not often seen on stage. People who really have something to say about innovation, creativity and design. We do not want to only inspire people with our programme, we want to show them which new technologies, innovations and ideas will change our lives, our business model and our habits tomorrow and the day after. The secret to our success is our passion and drive to get the best people to talk about the various topics pertinent to Switzerland, plus our determination to be a little bit better every year and to learn from our mistakes.

What are the highlights at this year's SIF?

Stefan Linder: We have the honour of welcoming Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann, who will open the SIF 2014. Not only is he the Economic and Innovation Minister, but he is also responsible for education and training. The „brains" are the most valuable resource Switzerland has, it is essential that we ensure and preserve this success factor. David Bosshart is an excellent future researcher, Richard Florida from the United States is one of the most creative people in the world, Sean Gourley is one of the most prestigious Big Data specialists and the visionary, doctor and head of the EPFL Lausanne, Patrick Aebischer, will show us why Switzerland is one of the leading innovative countries. In addition, there are some excellent workshops, „Best Case” sessions, Movers & Shakers, as well as a unique networking potential with the coming together of over 1’000 creative minds from the worlds of business, science, politics, and research.