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Switzerland: Making a Splash in the World of R&D

One of the most important pillars of the relationship between the so-called “sister republics” of Switzerland and the United States is Switzerland’s strong economic footprint in the U.S. Did you know that this year the Global Innovation Index ranked Switzerland as the champion in innovation for the ninth year in a row? Yes, both Switzerland and the U.S. top the rankings as some of the most innovative and competitive economies in the world. You might be surprised to learn that 20% of all foreign research & development investment in the United States originates from Switzerland, making it the number one foreign investor in R&D in the U.S. with nearly $11 billion spent in 2016!

There you have it: despite its relatively small size, Switzerland punches above its weight in the American economy. The impact of Switzerland’s investment in R&D, in particular, extends beyond its borders. Let us highlight some of the success that Swiss investment in R&D in the U.S. has yielded…

Inspired by Mother Nature
Researchers in R&D increasingly find inspiration in nature; it only makes sense to take a lesson or two from the earth’s billion years of experience. Let’s look at two examples in R&D where nature showed us how to get the job done.

What happened when the Swiss École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland (EPFL) teamed up with Stanford University? Small drones were developed that can move objects up to 40 times their weight. That means obstacles like closed doors no longer pose a barrier, as the micro drones can anchor themselves to surfaces and tug objects in a desired direction. In addition to opening doors, the FlyCroTugs, as they are called, could also be used in search and rescue missions by moving debris. These powerful drones were designed by taking a cue from nature: the researchers began their work by analyzing how wasps capture and transport prey much heavier than their own body weight; and the advanced gripping technology was inspired by the feet of geckos and insects!

Now let’s talk about colors! Have you ever wondered how nothing comes close to the brilliance and luminescence that we find in the colors of flowers, butterflies and this planet’s other creations? That is because, in nature, color effects are created by complex structures that cause certain wavelengths of white light to be superimposed and eliminated. One R&D collaboration between the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and multiple American powerhouses in education including Princeton University aims to investigate what’s behind colors in nature, with the goal of creating bioinspired pigments more vibrant than any chemical composition could fabricate.

R&D for a Better World
Did you know that corporate social responsibility (CSR) actually falls under the category of R&D and innovation and is one of the many essential business competencies for both Swiss and American companies?

Before we delve further into the topic and learn about how Swiss companies have incorporated the model into their business, let’s take a closer look at the actual meaning of CSR, which goes by several different names, including corporate sustainability, sustainable business, or corporate conscience. CSR is a business model that helps an organization to be socially accountable to itself, society and the environment. Depending on the size of the business and the industry, companies assume different types of social responsibility. Environmental sustainability initiatives, direct philanthropic giving, ethical business practices toward employees and partners and economic responsibility all fall under the category of CSR. Ultimately the goal is to create a win-win situation for both society and business.

Now let’s put Switzerland under a microscope. The Swiss Confederation considers CSR to be a contribution to sustainable development made by companies, according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. Incorporating CSR into business strategies helps improve sustainable development and provide answers to social, environmental and ethical issues, thereby preserving the long-term viability of the business model. Swiss companies are expected to take responsibility in agreement with CSR guidelines for all of their activities both in Switzerland and abroad.

As the use of CSR continues to expand and captures the public’s attention, many Swiss and American companies have implemented solid and innovative programs. They are focused on the betterment of our social environment and our planet and of course are determined to raise awareness and to have a positive impact.

Companies such as The Bühler Group have found innovative ways to incorporate CSR into their business while showcasing collaborations between Switzerland and the United States. This Swiss global technology company, which focuses on methods for processing grain into flour and feed, has partnered up with Microsoft to feed 9 billion people by 2050 while finding ways to leverage digital to drive efficiency in the food value chain.

Robotics: The Future Is Now
Robotics. It’s a word that has always been associated with the future, but has become a booming industry for quite some time now. In fact, investments in robotics R&D have been predicted to grow more than 17% between 2016 and 2020. Researchers estimate that the robotics industry is growing faster than expected and that the market could reach $87 billion by 2025.

When it comes to Switzerland and robotics our alpine nation has emerged as a key hub in the industry,even being dubbed the Silicon Valley of robotics. Switzerland’s success in the robotics industry is largely due to innovators studying and working at the science and engineering university, ETH Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). Innovation is deeply rooted in the Swiss economy and this has not gone unnoticed. American companies such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft have conducted research in Switzerland, many of them in partnership with Swiss universities and research programs. 

The deeply rooted connection to innovation becomes apparent when you take a look at companies such as ABB. The Swiss-Swedish corporation “is a leading supplier of industrial robots and robot software, equipment and of complete application solutions.”  There are plenty of benefits from investing in robots, including higher levels of output, product quality and flexibility. ABB scientists and technologists are thus continually innovating products, systems and services that increase energy efficiency, reliability and productivity.

How R&D is Saving Lives
Swiss investment in R&D in the U.S. has yielded great success in many different sectors – one of which is the healthcare industry.

Roche/Genentech, with locations in both Basel, Switzerland, and San Francisco, have created one of the strongest R&D pipelines in the industry. With their investment of approximately $11 billion a year in R&D, they help to discover, develop, manufacture and commercialize medication to treat patients with serious or life-threatening medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The history of Alzheimer’s spans over a century. Yet the world is still in need of an effective treatment. Roche/Genentech scientists and researchers are creating new technologies in order to learn more about how Alzheimer’s begins and progresses. Their ambition is bold: to help solve one of the biggest public health problems of our time.

What Does the Future Hold?
There you go: R&D has given us breakthroughs in technology and has brought new products and services to the market. The success stories of Swiss investments in R&D in the U.S. have given us a first glimpse into what is yet to come. We definitely are looking forward to seeing what the future holds and are excited to watch the two “sister republics” work together to make it happen.

Compliments of  Switzerland Trade and Invest, a member of the EACCNY