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Swiss firms in this year's Tornado 100 listing

Svox's management and its CEO Volker Jantzen. One of the Swiss companies singled out for its promise. (Svox)

Six Swiss high-tech firms have been made it to Tornado Insider's 2003 annual listing.

Which businesses succeed in being listed among the "Tornado 100", is calculated by looking at the amount of capital raised in venture capital transactions per country.

The ratio of venture capital investment to top young companies in Switzerland "ranks among the highest in Europe", according to Tim Weeks, senior research analyst at Amsterdam-based Tornado Insider.

"There remains the well-publicized difficulty of harnessing Switzerland's wealth to its vigorous scientific community," says Weeks.

He believes that the "conservative mentality has served the country well" with fewer "derailments" on the track to a mature venture capital environment.

"The slow-blooming success of its high-tech industry comes at a time when more entrepreneurial-savvy markets are suffering from risk aversion and investor fatigue."

The Tornado analyst concluded that the Swiss are not "venture capital cowboys", meaning the private equity investors here are not necessarily big risk-takers, funding firms that are blazing trails where no one has gone before.

Nevertheless startups here are able to attract "quality money" as venture capital.

Winning ways

Three Swiss firms are close to top of the list. BridgeCo, a semiconductor manufacturer that makes chips for connecting personal computers to home entertainment systems; Colibrys, a spin-off of CSEM SA (Centre Suisse d'Electronique et de Microtechnique); and Genedata, based in Basel. The latter is one of Europe's few successful bioinformatics companies, making software for gene analysis and research.

The other up-and-coming firms cited by Tornado Insider's researchers are Esmertec, a company that makes software for mobile phones; Nanosurf, a manufacturer of nanoscale technological equipment; and SVOX, a producer of "text to speech" software for telecommunications services.

"We are very pleased that our efforts have been recognized by Tornado Insider," comments Volker Jantzen, CEO of SVOX.

"Perhaps it is a little premature to say that Silicon Valleys are being cultivated between its mountains, but we don't see the old stereotypes [about Switzerland] fitting so snugly anymore."

Something in common

One common feature of the six Swiss companies selected, besides all having uncommon products, is that they have participated in technology transfer programs with universities in Switzerland.

Another is that they were able to find top name venture capital investors in the past few years, a time when raising capital has been enormously difficult. All, that is, except for Nanosurf, which has steadfastly turned down offers for capital choosing a bootstrapped growth model instead.

Thousands of candidates were nominated for the Tornado 100. The key selection criteria included high standard innovation, a significant or new customer base, contributing to ICT infrastructure, large amount of venture capital, and having the potential to become a global brand or standard.

by Valerie Thompson

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