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Swiss SMEs follow Austrian route

Swiss SMEs must keep up with global competition swissinfo C Helmle

A new initiative to boost the competitiveness of small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) has been launched on Wednesday.

This content was published on February 15, 2006 - 17:30

The SME Campus concept is based on a successful model that has been running in Austria for the past ten years. It stimulates innovation by promoting learning exchanges.

The concept, backed by the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs, large Swiss companies and multinationals active in Switzerland, is designed to improve competitiveness in an increasingly globalised world.

SMEs will have the opportunity to visit numerous successful companies in Switzerland, southern Germany and Austria's Vorarlberg region, and take part in training programmes and have access to one-on-one coaching.

The first exchanges are scheduled to begin in June.

SMEs play a particularly significant role in the Swiss economy, accounting for more than 99 per cent of all businesses and some 67 per cent of the country's workforce, according to the most recent figures.

But the sector has been recently criticised by some experts for a lack of innovation and for failing to tap into the international market.

"When I ask people what they think is innovative about their product I rarely get an answer," Rudolf Vontobel of IBM's Zurich office told swissinfo in a recent interview.

"We must do more to promote the innovation of our small and medium sized companies abroad if we are to improve our credibility."

Networking

SME Campus will tackle both issues by generating ideas through networking and bringing in top businessmen from abroad to address Swiss companies.

"The concrete benefit for participants is that they get first-hand information and knowledge that they can use the next day," said SME Campus spokesman Reinhard Frei.

"There is a need for this style of project because you get a lot more out of seeing solutions working in companies than you can in a room listening to a seminar."

SME Campus is not a direct copy of Austria's well-established scheme, but an improvement on the Austrian model, according to Frei.

Coaching

The Swiss adaptation will copy Austria's idea of company visits while adding the elements of coaching and bi-annual three-day workshops.

Switzerland's biggest bank UBS is the main sponsor of the scheme. UBS spokesman Philipp Roos would not say if Swiss SMEs had fallen behind their counterparts in Europe.

But he admitted to swissinfo that many companies had some way to go to keep up with global competition.

"Increased global competition means that businesses must adapt, develop and build experience in order to survive," he said.

"In Switzerland we have a lot of SMEs that have proved they can grow in the global market and reach a strong position. Some less prominent companies are not there yet, but this programme should help them to compete.

"We are not in a position, like we were in the 1970s, when we could say we have achieved what we want, we can freeze things as they are and carry on."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

SME Campus is supported by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs and the foundation, "produktive Schweiz".
The foundation is headed by multinationals active in Switzerland, including Microsoft, Orange Communications and Siemens.
The main sponsor of SME Campus is bank, UBS.

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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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