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Equity Fair highlights Swiss high-tech potential

The Lucerne-based Technopark was the site of the 2nd Swiss Equity Fair. D4

It was all high-tech and high-growth at the second annual Swiss Equity Fair as entrepreneurs demonstrated the benefits of their products.

There was a clear shift to quality on display with firms from the UK, Germany, and Switzerland, all with market-ready products vying to attract new business partners.

The view from the glass and steel grid structure that is the new D4-Technopark in Lucerne is of cows grazing on the green Alpine slopes amid clusters of steep red-tiled roofed villages, but inside it’s back to the future.

Many of the companies showing of their wares were spin-offs from larger, industrial enterprises.

For example, Swissguide, a yellow pages directory business is a spin-off of Cablecom; Eveni, a groupware vendor, is a spin-off of Netcetera; Antlog AG was spun out of Metallbau Partners AG.

Trying to turn cutting-edge lab technology into market-ready technology is Epispeed, which grew out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Its manufacturing equipment may eventually boost strained silicon wafer manufacturing from 50 to 1000 times the current level.

Xemtec is an emanation from the CSEM. It already has a successful partnership with C-Channel commercialising its optical technology for electronic bill paying applications.

It is now looking to develop new markets, particularly in billing in the utilities industry.

Future on show

On hand were also the tiny millimetre-sized piezo motors of MiniSwys, the smooth chrome-steel candy-coloured aerosol containers of Novocan, and the punk rock-looking metal and bone constructions from Scyon, whose products just might challenge Centerpulse/Zimmer, the former Sulzer Medica spin-off firm, in the hip-replacement sector.

LightWing, an ambitious Ticino based start-up company that is selling a range of ecologically-better airplanes, did not actually have one its light-weight models on hand, but it did have pictures and safety reports.

If any investors had doubts about seeing “world class” technology at the event, they would have been struck throughout the day by the teams’ pedigrees. All capital-seeking participants had to pass through a selection and screening process.

Optical technology

For example, Optegon, a start-up firm whose technology can solve one of the most pressing problems in the process industries (pharmaceutical, biotechnology and food processing) with a novel optical online/inline measurement system, already licensed its optical technology to Agilent for telecommunications applications.

Agilent is the number one supplier of electronic test and measurement products, according to Hoover’s Business Information.

Another firm, Scyon Orthopaedics, has a new, more reliable hip replacement technology for young and active individuals.

It is known in the field as the “Zürich Cementless Hip System”. Scyon’s CTO holds more than 30 patents. He has licensed a version of the system to Kyon, also a Swiss company, one of the leading firms worldwide in hip replacements for dogs.

The German-based, Cytocentrics promises to improve the productivity of scientists hoping to develop new drugs that are based on ion channel research, in the same way that other researchers are targeting proteins as potential targets.

Its scientific board includes a Nobel prizewinner in the same field and one of the inventors of neurochips – the term used to describe semiconductor processors that can analyze electrical activity in living cells.

Beyond borders

Based on comments from entrepreneurs, one characteristic about the investors in this region is that they prefer certain sectors, namely biosciences, photonics, instrumentation, and microtechnology. These are the sectors well understood by early stage investors active in Switzerland.

As a result, firms that are in the information technology (including software), consumer electronics, and transportation have a harder time finding interested investors.

Such firms would do well to take the advice of Alain Nicod, the CEO of Venture Incubator Partners, who told entrepreneurs attending the fair to look beyond national borders.

Venture-backed IT firms that are based in Switzerland, such as the fast-growing esmertec AG, or the young chip-design firm BridgeCo, have successfully raised significant amounts of capital from foreign VCs.

The Swiss Equity Fair was organized by ComReal and Ubrdige partners. The third annual event is planned for October 24, 2004.

by Valerie Thompson

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR