Links between Switzerland and the New England region of the United States are to be given a boost on Tuesday with the official opening of the Swiss House, a high-tech consulate in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
It is being billed as the first consulate in the world exclusively dedicated to Science, Research and Education. It is also the first digital consulate, acting as a link between the scientific, academic and high-tech communities of Switzerland and New England.
The Swiss government says this represents a new diplomatic strategy and is a direct response to the global economy and high-tech innovations.
"This project is set in the heart of one of the world's most efficient science and technology hubs," says Charles Kleiber, State Secretary at the Swiss Science Agency.
"Science has always been global, but all too often science policies have remained national." he says. "Our vision is the close link between global and local."
Several fruitful collaborations already exist between companies and universities in Switzerland and those in the Boston area, but a great deal of misunderstanding about Switzerland remains.
When Americans are asked to name a Swiss product they are still more likely to say a Swiss army knife or chocolate than pharmaceuticals, financial services or biotechnology. The Swiss House is looking to change that.
The Swiss House for Advanced Research and Education (Share), to give it its full name, aims to be a focal point for the Swiss academic and business community in the northeast of the United States.
It also says it wants to be a "one-stop shop" for American scientists and high-tech companies that want to develop research and development projects with Swiss partners.
"It's all about creating a network between professors, researchers, students and businessmen from both countries," says Swiss Consul, Xavier Comtesse, who points out that hundreds of Swiss study and work in Boston's universities and high-tech companies.
As well as fostering links between academic institutions, "Share" will also help start-ups and small businesses gain access to both Swiss and American markets, thanks to its "virtual incubator". It will also invite young Swiss entrepreneurs to spend two weeks in Boston to learn about the new economy at first hand.
The Swiss House occupies one floor of a building near Harvard Square in Cambridge. It has been conceived as a "global village", where exchanges can happen physically through brainstorming sessions and networking events, or digitally, thanks to state-of-the-art video conference facilities and the "virtual Swiss House" on the Internet.
It was decided to establish the Swiss House in the Boston area because of the high concentration of universities and high-tech companies there. Massachussetts has over 100 higher education institutes, including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the venture capital industry in the area is second only to Silicon Valley.
by Roy Probert