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Tech firm breaks new ground in chemical analysis

Chemspeed's machines do away with this kind of manual chemical testing

(Keystone)

A small Swiss company which has developed technology to help speed up chemical analysis has had its efforts recognised by the Swiss Economic Forum.

In the fiercely competitive world of pharmaceuticals, Chemspeed - which is based in Augst near Basel - took second prize at this year's prestigious Swiss Economic Award ceremony.

The winner was announced on Friday evening at the Swiss Economic Forum in the Bernese Oberland resort of Interlaken.

Chemspeed makes automated parallel synthesis workstations, essentially powerful, multi-purpose machines used by researchers to speed up the analysis of chemical compounds.

First on the scene

Interest in such technology has increased of late, as pharmaceutical companies strive to be first on the scene with a product that will bring in high returns.

Scientists working in such diverse fields as medicinal chemistry, agrochemicals, material sciences and catalyst research have all benefited from Chemspeed technology.

The company's origins date back to the mid 1990s, when a group of chemists from the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Roche, developed tools to automate the process of testing and analysing chemical substances.

In 1997, the same team left Roche to found Chemspeed with a start-up capital of just SFr150,000 ($95,600).

Limited capital

Rolf Güller, one of the founders and current CEO of the company, told swissinfo the company's limited capital had been its greatest asset in the early days.

"One of the advantages is that you are obliged at an early stage to save money," Güller says.

"A second advantage is that because we started with such a small amount, the majority of the company still belongs to the management, to the co-workers of Chemspeed," he adds.

The company now employs a staff of 60 and has an annual turnover of SFr11 million, with exports accounting for 90 per cent of sales.

Despite the global economic slowdown, Güller told swissinfo that Chemspeed hopes to grow by an average of 50 per cent per year over the coming years.

"We are still a relatively small company and the market is big so we believe we can achieve this goal," he comments.

International success

Chemspeed cites the 125 systems it has in operation around the globe as proof that the company is achieving international success.

"It's because we are technology leaders that we have the right arguments when it comes to research and development - that means being better than the competition," Güller says.

The latest issue of the monthly economics magazine, "Bilanz", included Chemspeed on its list of the top 50 Small and Medium-sized Swiss Enterprises (SMEs).

Güller told swissinfo he "strongly believed" the conditions for operating SMEs in Switzerland were good.

"From our point of view it is extremely important that you have well-educated people, people who are willing to go for success, and you find these people in Switzerland. But there are other advantages, for example as far as taxes are concerned."

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