“EPFL has been supporting start-ups for 20 years and now we are beginning to see interesting results”

17.03.2015 09:33

Last week the Innovation Forum Lausanne was launched with an inaugural event. One of the speakers was Adrienne Corboud Fumagalli, Vice-Présidente Innovation et Valorisation at EPFL. Startupticker took the opportunity to ask her some questions about EPFL and start-ups.

Mrs Corboud, how important are start‐ups for EPFL from a strategical point of view? 
Adrienne Corboud Fumagalli: Start‐Ups are very important to EPFL, as important as SMEs and established companies. Our researchers and students create 10‐20 start‐ups per year or about 1 per month, and last year, they raised about CHF 200M with private investors. Our Technology Transfer Office is more than 15 years old and has the same licensing policy as the best American universities.

What instruments does EPFL use to measure the impact of start‐ups and to identify challenges for start‐ups?
From a statistical point of view, we count the number of creation, fund raising and follow exits. We also support a rich ecosystem in the most open manner as we know entrepreneurs need a very diverse support system.

What challenges do you see at the moment and what does EPFL do to help start‐ups master those challenges?
The main challenges have been consistent over the years: access to capital, access to talent and internationalization. But there is a limit to what EPFL can do: entrepreneurs need to solve these issues and we try to help.

Are there any role models for tech transfer via start‐ups that have been or are important for the way EPFL is dealing with this topic?
Obviously Logitech is the EPFL success story. But we have many more recent examples in it (Nexthink, Typesafe) and Medtech/Biotech (Aleva and Anokion). With our events (Venture Ideas, EPFL Entrepreneurship Days) we invite such role models to share their experience with our community.

At the moment a lot of organisations are supporting start‐ups and the number is still increasing. How does EPFL envisage its own role in this environment? Is the role of EPFL more to support effective support programs?
We are a neutral friend to all initiatives. We are at the origin of the creation through tech transfer and licensing. The more mature the start‐up, the smaller our involvement. We need to be arm‐length to guarantee equal opportunities to all entrepreneurs.

Do you see any gaps in the existing start‐up support? 
Financing is a challenge but there is money around, and if not in Switzerland, elsewhere. Of course, the closer the better. Access to talent is also a challenge, so we need to be sure we can still invite people to come in CH…internationalization is also something we work on, at the early stage with boot camps, at a later stage with the Swissnex system.

What can a university like EPFL do on the side of the researchers to encourage students and researchers to start a business?
Work on the culture again and again. Show role models and be friendly with great framework conditions.

The start‐ups scene around EPFL has become much stronger over the last few years. What do you think are the reasons?
EPFL has a history of support which began 20 years ago and the efforts were never slowed down, on the contrary, they were reinforced. This is a long term commitment, and yes, we begin to see interesting outcome.

Can a university like EPFL do anything to prevent that a successful spin‐off leaves Switzerland?
You cannot prevent anyone from leaving. We could offer conditions which are so attractive that people would not even think about leaving. A friendly and efficient ecosystem contributes to this.

More information about the start-up support at EPFL can be found on the website of the Technology Transfer Office.

More Information about the Innovation Forum Lausanne can be found on the website of the Forum.  An interesting report about the launch event was published by Le Temps.

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