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Today’s innovations will be tomorrow’s products and jobs. Even now, Switzerland has one of the most innovative economies in the world. It will take systematic efforts to maintain this innovative strength, however. PARK INNOVAARE, the innovation park at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), operates as part of the Switzerland Innovation network. It provides the basis for successfully positioning innovative product ideas from the field of high technology in the global competition.
At first glance, Switzerland seems very well positioned in the international country rankings: it is regularly counted among the top most innovative countries in the relevant studies1. Nevertheless, we would be well advised to take a close look. Compared to the nearby economic zones of its German neighbors having a similar size (such as Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria), Switzerland is actually behind in terms of per capita patents or expenditures for education and research, proportionate to the gross domestic product2. The competition in the immediate neighborhood shows: this is no occasion to rest on one's laurels. In the highly dynamic environment of innovation policy, standing still means going backwards.
Conventional locational advantages no longer a unique selling proposition
The foundations for sustainable economic growth and future-proof jobs in the next two to three decades are being laid in the present. But technology transfer and innovation support are not primarily about simply providing prospective customers with inexpensive building land or office space. And the much-cited locational advantages such as low taxes, efficient administration and suitable areas are simply assumed. It is a difficult task to find decisive unique selling points in this area. While massive marketing measures such as global, cross-sector scouting could be of some use, these would involve exorbitant costs and uncertain refinancing prospects. One single innovation park cannot manage this alone.
Content creates a demand for space
In the early stage of the innovation process, those scientists whose research could result in seminal products are predominantly interested in the content. And this is precisely an emphasis of the current work of PARK INNOVAARE: actual content provided by science (such as focused research questions and corresponding projects) and by business (existing needs for technical solutions or partners) is identified and aligned. This allows existing potential for innovation to take shape.
In other process steps, this potential is critically reviewed and compressed, partners are taken on board, and finally, the potential is developed into product ideas. These then result in the formation of companies that come and settle in the area currently being developed by PARK INNOVAARE. The PARK's deliveryLAB is already home to the first eleven companies – and others are expected to join them. Most of them are spin-offs of the PSI. But there are also a number of industrial companies. Starting in 2020, there will be an area of 36,000 sqm available in the first expansion phase of the new campus. The infrastructure of the new buildings will expand the potential of PSI, custom-fitted to the needs of application-oriented research and development: in addition to offices and workshops, the campus will also be able to house laboratories for biology, physics and wet chemistry. Generously sized capacities for collaborative work and meetings make the options complete. Flexible rental models, called "co-working models", are also offered for laboratories and clean rooms, since this is what companies are looking for.
The approach taken by PARK INNOVAARE is one that requires great patience. Realistically, the time from the beginnings of a product idea and its market launch amounts to several years. But ultimately, this process leads to more sustainable results. In the PSI environment, there will be companies taking shape that use science and research to make the products of the future.
1 For example: Global Innovation Index (GII) 2017
2 Sabo, Müfit, Sylvie Rochat and Annette Kull: Schweizer Forschung und Innovation in der Spitzenliga, in: Die Volkswirtschaft,, Vol. 89, No. 5/2016, p.19
Nils Gebhardt, Managing Director PARK INNOVAARE
This is the first part of a four-part series of articles about the site development at PARK INNOVAARE. The second and third parts of the series will deal with the objectives and strategy. An interview with the author on current developments will conclude the series.