Small firms learn to "break the rules"

An "expert table" at the Swiss Economic Forum Keystone

Representatives of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have arrived at the eighth Swiss Economic Forum (SEF) hoping for insights into unconventional thinking.

This content was published on May 11, 2006 - 11:31

The two-day event in the town of Thun in canton Bern will focus on young businesses, the best of whom will be presented with the Swiss Economic Award.

"Breaking the Rules" is the slogan of the forum, but the 1,200 participants are not being encouraged to engage in shady business activities.

"Breaking the Rules is intended as a call to the Swiss economy to come out of its familiar, safe garden and move to new pastures," said Peter Stähli, who co-founded the forum in 1998.

"If only entrepreneurs were more innovative, they could thrive in today's highly competitive market," he told swissinfo.

The SEF aims to arm delegates with the necessary skills to do this, such as business drive, the contacts and targeted development.

The organisers' recipe for success is a mixture of lectures by top-quality personalities, presentations of case studies of particularly successful Swiss SMEs as well as workshops and panel discussions.

So-called "expert tables" give people the chance to discuss business ideas with experienced professionals and get tailored advice.

Participants will also be able, during breaks and the evenings, to network and build up new contacts.

This strategy has been a hit with the public – Stähli said the 1,200 tickets for this year's forum were snapped up within an hour. Latecomers are able to put their names down on a waiting list, albeit a very long one.


Young companies have traditionally been nurtured in the Bernese Oberland. "They have to fight on all fronts – for finance, for market development and to build a customer base," Stähli said.

He explained that the Swiss Economic Award, which will be presented in three categories – trade, performance and high tech – is intended to give recently founded enterprises a boost to see them through the critical phase.

The precursor of the SEF was the Young Economy Forum, which was launched in 1993 by the Thun Young Chamber of Commerce after the collapse of the Thun savings and lending bank. The aim was to inject some momentum into the then shaken local economy.

The SEF success story has today become an important factor in the region's economy.

"In addition to orders to local SMEs worth SFr1.5 million ($1.2 million), the event also generates a lot of business for local hotels," Stähli said, adding that he expected the overall effect on the region's tourism and economy to be positive as a result of seminars, company trips and holidays.

Despite this success, Stähli said they are intentionally not expanding the event – "because we have always put quality ahead of quantity".

swissinfo, Renat Künzi

In brief

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are companies which employ up to 250 people.

They account for 99.7% of the 307,000 companies in the Swiss private sector and provide jobs for 66.8% of the workforce.

87.9% of SMEs have fewer than ten employees.

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Key facts

The Swiss Economic Award is one of Switzerland's top awards for emerging businesses.
The Swiss Economic Forum is an annual meeting business leaders. Numbers are limited to 1,200.
The forum takes place in Thun in canton Bern, this year from May 11-12.

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