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Tech graduates show entrepreneurial spirit

A desire to be independent makes some graduates strike out on their own. epfl

Swiss technology graduates who have gone on to set up their own businesses have created at least 19,000 jobs over the past decade.

A study shows that large numbers of engineers and IT specialists are branching out on their own, belying past criticism that the Swiss lack entrepreneurial spirit..

These graduates were behind the creation of between 19,000 and 24,000 jobs over the past ten years.

The survey, conducted by the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich in collaboration with three consultancy firms, estimates that these entrepreneurs set up between 230 and 290 firms a year during this period.

The study drew a distinction between alumni from the federal technology institutes in Zurich and Lausanne, and those from technical colleges.

About 20 per cent of graduates from the institutes and 12 per cent of college graduates founded their own firms.

These companies fared well: between 40 and 60 per cent were making a profit after two years in business.

Adrian Berwert, one of the study’s authors, told swissinfo that work experience played an important role in encouraging specialists to go into business on their own.

“The desire to found one’s own firm grows with experience. The prospect of taking concrete projects with you when you go also plays an important role,” said Berwert.

On average, individuals took the plunge after gaining seven to nine years of experience.

Success story

An example of one such successful businessman is Andreas Jacob, a former student of the Zurich institute. He founded his own company ten years ago.

Based in Zurich, Avantec is an IT security solution provider with 14 employees, dealing mainly with medium to large-sized companies.

Jacob told swissinfo that the Zurich institute gave him a good grounding in the theoretical basics of setting up a company.

However, in the real world, this was not enough, as his experience with his own employees had shown.

“Our employees are mostly from the institute and, in the beginning, they are very good at their work. Then we find out that they have limited know-how about economics, project management, pricing, budgets and timeframes,” said Jacob.

His opinion was that education establishments should impart more “real world information” to its students.

Berwert agrees, saying students should meet successful businessmen and women on a regular basis and be taught “soft skills”, such as the legal and administrative aspects of setting up a business, project management and communication.

Better grounding

Finding the necessary capital to set up a firm is also a problem, especially for those from technical colleges.

Berwert said the value of the university environment and alumni organisations should not be underestimated.

“The potential for making contacts among [colleagues while studying] is enormous, and a significant number [of graduates] have opened a business with former classmates,” he said.

He pointed out that some higher-education establishments were better at fostering entrepreneurial spirit than others.

“The institutes offer special services [to students wanting to set up their own companies], for example, courses and infrastructure, such as rooms and the means to carry out research,” said Berwert.

However, he noted that this was an area in which all of the institutions concerned could improve, especially the technical colleges.

As to what made people want to branch out in the first place, Berwert explained that many were not driven by the prospects of riches and glory.

“People want to be independent and to be able to make an idea a reality. These aspects are far more important than a higher income or prestige,” he said.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza

The survey questioned 935 people who had graduated between 1985 and 2002.
They had studied either engineering or IT at the federal institutes in Zurich and Lausanne, or at Swiss technical colleges.

A large number of IT and engineering graduates from the federal institutes in Zurich and Lausanne and from Swiss technical colleges have set up their own firms.

They are responsible for the creation of between 19,000 and 24,000 jobs over the past decade.

The main reason for branching out is a desire to be independent.

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