During the early 1990s, Western Switzerland’s economy went through a gloomy period. Yet at the same time, in one of its most prominent labs at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, visionary IT scientists were honing an innovation that would change the face of the planet: the World Wide Web.
Like other regions of the world, Western Switzerland quickly adopted the communication revolution triggered by the Web – and even quicker the frenzy of new commerce, new businesses, new everything that followed. Like elsewhere, the bubble inflated, and then burst. But something of critical importance came to stay: entrepreneurship.
The Internet bubble’s promises were not only technological. There was something of a new social contract embedded in the Web, a change in mindset that said: take risks, be entrepreneurial, pioneer and keep the faith. Unlike in many other places, this entrepreneurial mindset remains in Western Switzerland. It grows even stronger when people start noticing that the region is home to Logitech, the only European company that has made it in the highly competitive hardware business, home too to Nagra-Kudelski, one of the global leaders in IT security – and the new home for the European headquarters of famous IT companies such as Yahoo! or Computer Associates.
Thanks to these powerhouses and to the first start-up successes such as Lysis, Le Shop and WISekey, a generation of entrepreneurs has taken root. Along with the numerous SMEs that for years have had a pioneering presence in local and international markets,as you’ll discover in our company profiles section, this new generation of entrepreneurs is now looking to become leaders in the worldwide development of IT.
Now there is a new opportunity – we are again at a turning point in the information revolution. Just as the PC and client/server architecture replaced the mainframes, the mobile Internet is now giving way to a tectonic shift in the very way information technologies are structured. ‘Thin clients’ like smart phones, tablets and netbooks, hungry for processing and memory resources in the Internet, are paving the way for the development in cloud computing (see page 26). Entrepreneurs now find that IT resources that were once the preserve of large corporations are now accessible in cost-efficient ways. Meanwhile, the ‘Software as a Service’ products they are developing can be deployed on multiple platforms from desktops to mobile phones.
There is a second opportunity for them: Western Switzerland’s research institutions are nurturing original technologies in robotics, human-machine interaction (see Frederic Kaplan on page 36 or IDIAP’s voice research on page 40) and security. That research is giving birth to highly original applications with a sharp competitive edge in the world market.
Their third opportunity comes from the visionary scientists in the region who are now anticipating the outcome of today’s faster-than-ever development of ICT. Energy is the key issue, driven by the continuing Internet-fed growth in data volumes and the need for batteries in mobile devices. These scientists are now launching leading projects in green IT (see page 18). They will become key competitive differentiators, and are already attracting major players. Increasingly, Western Switzerland’s researchers are behaving like risk-taking entrepreneurs, cementing the change in mindset.
Those opportunities are making Western Switzerland a thrice-blessed location for the IT entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow.