WEF shows how Swiss fail to capitalise on ideas

Star attraction in the form of Bill Clinton, but Switzerland struggles to bring its ideas to market Keystone

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a good example of how Switzerland fails to realise the true value of innovative ideas, according to experts.

This content was published on January 30, 2006

Rudolf Vontobel of IBM's Zurich office told swissinfo the WEF should be exploited for Switzerland before someone else develops the idea.

Speaking at the first Swiss Innovation Forum in Baden on Friday, Vontobel likened the WEF to Zurich's much-vaunted car-sharing scheme, Mobility, which has been copied around the world.

"Car sharing was invented in Zurich, but it was created because it was a nice thing to do rather than as a business concept," he told swissinfo.

"Nobody thought to develop the technology or market the idea abroad so an opportunity was lost to expand the concept and make money."

Vontobel's sentiments were echoed by parliamentarian, Ruedi Noser, who also addressed the forum.

He told swissinfo that the Swiss need to do more to make the outside world see beyond Switzerland's image of chocolate, banking secrecy and mountains.

"There is too much ideology in our thinking. When we look for a solution in our country it is more important that everyone agrees rather than making sure it is the best solution.

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

Commercial potential

Vontobel believes the WEF's organisers should be tapping into its commercial potential to boost the Swiss tourist industry.

"WEF is an innovative service that brings people together from all over the world to discuss international issues. But it also generates a lot of money for Davos and the surrounding area," he said.

"At the same time Switzerland's tourism and skiing industries are losing ground because there are cheaper places to visit.

"[Meetings like] WEF represents an ideal opportunity to replace tourism as the main industry in this part of Switzerland. But it needs further innovation to expand the concept and make this happen."

Vontobel believes that much Swiss innovation is motivated by the need to repair something that is broken or to find a solution to a problem.

But he is frequently frustrated by a general failure to build on initial ideas or even to recognise the true business worth of ideas.

"When I ask people what they think is innovative about their product I rarely get an answer," he said.

Switzerland is very highly advanced in terms of innovation, but people do not feel they are innovative. They think things just happen.

"Perhaps we do not feel economic pain enough because we are relatively wealthy here. But Switzerland needs to be hungrier to generate the growth we need to remain wealthy."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Baden

Key facts

The Zurich Mobility car-sharing scheme was the first of its kind when it was created in 1987.
Some 30 people shared two cars in the first year, but the number of car sharers has now reached 63,500.
The first Swiss Innovation Forum attracted 550 participants who witnessed presentations and workshops from top innovators from around the globe.

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In brief

The World Economic Forum (WEF), formerly the European Management Symposium in Davos, was founded in 1971 and is held in Davos every year with the exception of 2002 when it was staged in New York.

The 2006 WEF summit attracted about 2,400 participants, including 735 top business leaders, 15 heads of state and prime ministers, as well as stars of the US film industry, such as Angelina Jolie and Michael Douglas.

A recent EU report into innovation, called Innovation Scoreboard 2005, placed Switzerland in second place behind Sweden in a comparison of innovation performance in 33 countries. The report also mentioned, however, that the Swiss struggled to turn ideas into products.

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