Blog Overview

Innovation in Switzerland: SMEs cut at R&D

Author: Darya Bachevskaya, Villigen
In international comparison, Switzerland maintains its position as one of the countries with the most active enterprises in terms of research and development.
In international comparison, Switzerland maintains its position as one of the countries with the most active enterprises in terms of research and development.

Did you like this article? Please share it.



On Thursday, 12 January, the Swiss Federal Statistics Office (FSO) announced to the press the results of its regular survey on Swiss enterprises’ R&D activities. We were curious to hear the news first-hand and “sneaked” into the Federal Palace Media Centre.

As I crossed the threshold of the conference hall of the Federal Palace Media Centre, I couldn’t help noticing the eagerness of all those present to dive into the topic. Bang on time, the press conference started. Mr. Georges-Simon Ulrich, Director of the FSO, announced the first figures: in 2015, enterprises in Switzerland devoted more than CHF 15.7 billion to their research and development activities, which is 10% more than in 2012, the last time the survey was conducted. A new Swiss record! Good news! So good, in fact, that I didn’t realize when Mr. Ulrich switched from German to French.

The growth of R&D expenditure has been a tendency in Switzerland for almost 10 years according to the previous results from 2008 and 2012. Plus, of this CHF 15.7 billion, CHF 2 billion was from foreign funding. This, despite the strong Franc and unstable economic and political situation in Europe. “Switzerland remains an attractive R&D site”, said Rudolf Minsch, Chief Economist at economiesuisse.

Alarming: SMEs cut down their R&D expenditures

Nice, but isn’t it also a question of how the resources are distributed among Swiss enterprises? It was not a surprise to hear that “Pharmaceuticals” is the industry investing the most in their R&D activities. Alone, it represents 35% (CHF 5.5 billion) of total R&D expenditure. Far behind are “Research and Development", research centers and laboratories providing R&D services (16%) and "Machinery" (10%) industries. Such distribution can be explained by the fact that more big corporations are active in those industries. The survey also showed a reduction of almost 8% in R&D expenditure of enterprises with fewer than 50 employees, the majority of which are active in industries that have shown less growth or even a regression of R&D investments. Quite alarming, since innovation can be seen as a critical success factor, in particular for SMEs.

Revival of basic research

The distribution of the resources also influences the type of research figures. To the great surprise of all those present, the biggest growth in allocated resources was observed in basic research, and not in applied or experimental research, usually preferred by the industry. This sharp rise in basic research – which is more than double compared to the previous data – is mostly due to strong investments by “Pharmaceuticals” and “ICT” industries.

Highly qualified researchers are in demand

Another positive tendency is that 57,000 people in total (plus 10%) are actively involved in industrial R&D activities. However, the staff proportions have changed: the number of highly qualified researchers has grown by 33%, while technical staff has seen a rise of only 7%; the number of other staff active in R&D has declined by no less than 18%.

Thus, taking into consideration the general growth of Swiss enterprises’ R&D expenditures, the need for qualified specialists and the revival of basic research, it is imperative – now more than ever – to encourage the close collaboration between industry and academia, in particular for SMEs. To date, PARK INNOVAARE is about to create an innovation platform providing easy access to the know-how and expertise of the Paul Scherrer Institute. Hopefully, also smaller companies will embrace this opportunity and join us to realize their R&D projects.

Based on the data published by the Swiss Federal Statistics Office (FSO): Research and development in private enterprises 2015