Young entrepreneurs as well as small and medium-sized companies will be at the focus of attention at this week's Swiss Economic Forum in Thun.
The two-day event on Thursday and Friday will highlight the fact that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) form the backbone of the Swiss economy and that much depends on their success for the country's continued prosperity.
"SMEs are the most important part of the Swiss economy", says Christian Weber, head of the SME Task Force at the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) in Bern.
Provisional figures from the Federal Office for Statistics confirm that view. Sixty per cent of the Swiss work force is employed in companies with fewer than 50 staff. There are 2.1 million employees in SMEs, out of the total country's working population of 3.6 million.
In its annual yearbook, the Office says that people generally think about large companies, multinationals and the globalisation when they read or hear the word "economy".
"The Swiss economy, however, presents a very different picture from this image," it adds.
More than 99 per cent of Swiss companies are SMEs, and the majority are micro-enterprises with fewer than ten employees.
It also notes that the situation is similar in the rest of Europe, where large companies form only about one per cent of the total number of businesses.
The government and cantons are keen to encourage SMEs. Seco, which is part of the economics ministry, provides advice to young entrepreneurs on founding a company, the complexities of the commercial register, on value added tax and perhaps most importantly on where to obtain capital (see link below).
The cantons - keen to foster new companies to create employment and boost tax revenues - also have offices which help young businesses to find their feet.
Networking on water
In Thun, young entrepreneurs and SMEs will have the chance to build up their own network of contacts among the 1,000 participants from the worlds of business, politics and science.
The organisers of the event have also rented a lake steamer with room for all so that contacts can be made in a relaxed atmosphere. The "networking" ship includes a lounge for smokers and whisky connoisseurs, with musical entertainment thrown in.
Keynote speakers in Thun include the Swiss economics minister Pascal Couchepin, the CEO of Swisscom, Jens Alder, style guru Tyler Brûlé and the chief economic advisor of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Rosemary Radcliffe.
The climax of the Swiss Economic Forum is on Friday evening when the Swiss Economic Award 2002 will be presented to a small company that has shown the most promising performance.
The three finalists are:
· Chemspeed of Augst, which is a technology leader for automated synthesis workstations in medicinal research;
· IDS Integral Drive Systems of Zurich, which produces advanced power converter systems;
· Prionics of Schlieren, which has made a name for itself in the field of fast and reliable BSE (mad cow disease) tests.
According to the results of a study carried out for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, published on May 24, the three most respected Swiss SMEs are Phonak (advanced hearing systems), Kudelski (TV access control systems) and Kaba (security technology).
The survey was carried out among 250 Swiss business leaders at the end of last year.
by Robert Brookes