Scientists get entrepreneurial jump-start

For the fourth year in a row, a number of young Swiss scientists have been granted a special award by the Gebert Ruef Foundation in Switzerland.

This content was published on September 15, 2003 - 14:19

They will receive training specifically aimed at helping early-stage entrepreneurs get off on the right foot under a programme called New Entrepreneurs in Technology and Science (NETS).

Some 20 scientists in Switzerland received the award this year. They are all male and many are working on biotechnology or nanotechnology ventures.

They will attend a number of training and networking events in Switzerland and the United States. There is no cash award in the NETS programme.

Past winners have remained in contact with each other and organisers believe NETS creates a valuable network of entrepreneurs that winners can tap into.

“Over the years a strong community of alumni has emerged,” says Pascal Marmier, who organised the US part of the NETS prize at the Swiss House for Advanced Research in Boston.

“Many of them now direct companies with multimillion-dollar sales figures and significant venture capital investments.”

2003 winners

Biotechnology lies at the forefront David Deperthes’s plans, one of this year’s winners. He wants to develop platforms that can be used to create and discover new anti-protease agents for treating certain types of cancer, such as prostate cancer, and diseases, such as emphysema.

Deperthes founded Med Discovery ( While a PhD student at Laval University he made a breakthrough in disease diagnostics.

Laval licensed the platform to an American firm to develop, and it soon became the industry standard for identifying prostate cancer.

This experience helped him to commercialise yet another research breakthrough, this time made while working in Switzerland at the University Hospital in Lausanne.

Another winner, Ulf Grawunder, founder and CEO of Basel-based 4-Antibody, is interested in the development of antibody-producing drugs. He obtained his PhD degree in Cell Biology from the University of Basel in 1994.

After completing postgraduate work in the US, he returned to form a company with his former PhD thesis supervisor and mentor, Fritz Melchers. They have patented a platform enabling the development of therapeutic antibodies and binding proteins.

Crop control

Chemical-free pesticides and herbicides is the goal of Mounir Hassani’s new enterprise, Atlas Agro ( Hassani’s PhD. thesis was on the use of Microbial Biocontrol agents applied against cotton pests.

In November 2002, together with Dr Urs Tuor in Zurich, he founded Atlas Agro to promote and implement biocontrol methods for sustainable pest control and crop protection, rather than using chemicals for pesticides or herbicides.

Nanotechnology is the field for Wendelin Jan Stark ( He has come up with a way to manufacture extremely fine particles, so called nanoparticles.

A course in entrepreneurship at Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich motivated the chemistry and mechanical engineering postgraduate to pursue a market feasibility study on nanoparticles.

Nanonis ( is the name of a start-up company founded by Joerg Rychen who developed as part of his PhD work a vast set of software for metrology tools, such as scanning probe microscopes used to measure the nanoscale.

The company is a spin-off from the Institute of Physics at the University of Basel. Its flagship product is a modular and versatile controller for scanning probe microscopes based on the PXI-Platform and programmed completely in LabVIEW.

Market leader

Nanonis is supplying National Instruments, the marker leader in computer based measurements and industrial automation, as well as SwissProbe, another University of Basel spin-off that makes high-resolution magnetic force microscopes.

There were only a few information technology entrepreneurs this year, but one that stands out is Sergei Startchik’s fledgling security software company.

The University of Geneva graduate founded Anteleon Imaging to commercialise a number of patents in advanced security and multimedia technologies developed at the Computer Vision and Multimedia Laboratory (CVML).

The early stage venture has plans for a product line aimed at the publishing industry’s growing need for digital watermarking and encryption to protect copyright.

The firm also offers consulting services to determine the authenticity of documents or multimedia files.

by Valerie Thompson

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

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