On 16 November 2017, Switzerland’s leading innovation conference took place for the twelfth time at the Congress Centre in Basel. The Swiss Innovation Forum (SIF) is a national platform for promoting creativity, design and innovation. This year’s event was held under the theme of “DREAM” and showed how innovative business ideas can originate from visions and dreams.
At its Future Expo, the SIF hosted a unique exhibition presenting state-of-the-art knowledge and know-how from a broad range of sectors: futuristic prototypes, promising projects and new technologies. Some 40 exhibitors from Switzerland and abroad gave insight into the world of tomorrow. The integrated Networking Zone allowed visitors to make new contacts. University-based scientists and academics were on hand in addition to successful new entrepreneurs and innovative start-ups. This setting enabled cross-sector networking, pro-active opinion-sharing and fresh stimulation for new business ideas.
Swiss Innovation Award
Each year, outstanding technology-based innovations and developments from start-ups, universities and technical institutions as well as established businesses take part in the competition for the Swiss Technology Award. Prizes are awarded in three categories: inventors, start-ups, and innovation leaders. This prize is considered the most important distinction for innovation and technology transfer in Switzerland, and the 2017 winners are GratXRay AG, Inositec AG and Endress+Hauser Flowtec AG.
Dreams as a vehicle to innovate
Keynote speaker Teju Ravilochan, co-founder and CEO of Uncharted, was clearly one of the highlights from a sustainability viewpoint. The young social entrepreneur spoke on stage and in an interview with Successful Green founder Andrea Schaller about what it takes to convert dreams into reality.
He began with an anecdote from his early childhood when his mission was to do his own laundry – which ended up being in the toilet, since the washing machine was too high to reach. It suggests that even as small children we know what it takes to convert our dreams into innovation.
„It´s just about trying!“ he said. „The thing that stands in our way is the fear of making a mess. So what can we do to get past that fear?“
One question that stayed with him since childhood was „If we can have a school for medicine, can we have a school for poverty or climate change?“ That was behind the concept for Uncharted, a non-profit incubator or accelerator for start-ups. They start with a specific problem that needs to be solved. Next, they find entrepreneurs who are best equipped to address this problem. Then they surround them with mentors, funders, and the resources they need to get the job done.
The results have been a success: Uncharted has supported 171 entrepreneurs in 24 different countries, who have earned a collective US $229 million and grown in funding 7.5 times within the first two years, impacting 25 million lives. For example, they helped start the largest home solar lender in the US, which lends money for purchasing solar panels. They also work with organizations turning waste into a replacement for coal, bringing clean drinking water to people, and education.
They also support an interactive education platform in Kenya, which provides kids with US $10 mobile phones. An app allows them to get tutoring and feedback as they´re doing homework or studying for a test, in absence of a teacher. Two million kids have been reached so far, and it´s the fastest growing mobile education in Africa.
Just keep trying
In order to succeed with your innovation, Ravilochan offered three recommenations. First of all, relentless trial and error is a must. Entrepreneurs have the advantage of the pace at which they can try new things out. Also, meeting and talking to a lot of people will help you grow your network. Every company, foundation, and government is different, so it´s worth investing time to get to know many of them in order to connect with the right people for the right project.
Secondly, reduce the cost of trying. Don´t start with building costly prototypes, but rather with a cheaper near-real experience of what you´re trying to create. This will save both money and time. And lastly, pick up the pace of trying. Tasks can often be split up and delegated, building a movement of people to collectively answer the question at hand.
Next year´s SIF is scheduled for 22 November 2018, when once more over 1,000 business people, CEOs, politicians, researchers, experts, students and other leading members of society will gather in Basel to network and hear innovative speakers from around the world.