A young Swiss engineering firm is building a reputation for itself by providing new technology for wind energy - and roller coasters at Disneyland.
Integral Drive Systems, which has a staff of 30 and is based in Zurich's Technopark, came third in the race for this year's prestigious Swiss Economic Award.
The competition for young enterprises was one of the highlights at the annual Swiss Economic Forum, which attracted more than 1000 participants to Thun - the gateway to the Bernese Oberland.
IDS, founded in 1995, is a technology-oriented company specialising in power conversion and automation systems. Its services cover the whole spectrum from the initial idea and design through to production and sale.
Alexander Stoev, the company's founder and chief executive officer, told swissinfo that IDS has three main business areas.
Money - a major headache
Stoev, who was born in Bulgaria and studied in Dresden, remembers that finding money was a major headache when he was getting the company off the ground.
"It's the most difficult problem for people starting up - even in rich Switzerland - particularly in the industrial area of renewable energy. We found money from other business people. We didn't get any money from banks or the government," he said.
Connecting windmills to the grid
"One is power conversion for renewable energies, wind energy in particular. That means we are connecting windmills to the grid with different power needs in different countries," he explained.
A second arm is the production of drives for linear traction. "The most important are roller coasters but we're also making some magnetic-driven cars, for example the cable cars in San Francisco."
The company also makes electrical drives and automation systems with special solutions in the fields of printing machines, textile machines, vacuum pumps, fans, lifts and hoists.
However, this did not stop the company from making an early impression on the marketplace.
"We reached the level of SFr10 million turnover per year very fast and we've built a very good team which is able to design the software and the hardware and set up all the projects," commented Stoev.
"The most interesting thing is that we have designed gearless systems for ski lifts and windmills which are twice as light as a normal system - the weight of the motor is no longer 40 tonnes but 20 tonnes. This is something completely new in these technologies," he added.
However, the path to success has not always been smooth, with Stoev admitting that mistakes have been made along the way.
Big potential in wind
"We didn't realise very quickly how big the potential was in wind energy ... so if I could start again I would concentrate much more on that. If we had done that from the beginning, we would have maybe SFr20 million turnover now and not SFr10 million," he added.
Turnover in the wind energy sector reached SFr5 million in 2001, with growth of 20-30 per cent expected this year. IDS believes that the wind energy market is set to expand at a rate of about 25 per cent per year over the next decade.
Asked about the main differences between IDS and its competitors, Stoev told swissinfo that small had so far proved beautiful.
"That means we're very flexible and don't have very big overheads but we're realising very large projects. We're producing power converters in the range of one megawatt to 15 megawatts," he said.
"One of these converters can cost around SFr1 million and up till now only large companies like ABB, Siemens or General Electric were able to produce such components," he added.
The company's main markets are Germany, Denmark, Spain and India. However, it is looking to Eastern Europe and the United States to expand business.
"Our basic market is not in Switzerland. We're a very strongly export-oriented company," said Stoev.
He added that entering the competition was a way of helping to publicise the activities of his company.
"What I want to show is that Swiss engineering, even in small companies, can supply components and systems in the area of renewable energy all over the world and can play a very big and important role, even if the Swiss market for renewable energy is very small," he added.
by Robert Brookes