“Hightech Aargau” is a program of the Aargau government to encourage innovation and growth. With that, the canton of Aargau aims to become the leading hub and role model for high-tech innovation and development in Switzerland. In short: the canton of Aargau has the ambition to become the Swiss counterpart of Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley and Switzerland: Peers in Innovation
In the United States, Silicon Valley is a leading hub and a role model for high-tech innovation and development worldwide, accounting for one third of all venture capital investment in the United States. Switzerland, on the other hand, has been rated the most innovative country in the world for the last few years.
Strength in innovation is an important driver of a country’s competitiveness. The key factors here are knowledge and technology. Various studies show that knowledge and technology transfer strengthens a company’s capability to innovate. Businesses that collaborate with scientific institutions are far more successful than others. Their production runs more efficiently and cost-effectively. In addition to that, they are much more export-driven and offer outstandingly innovative products. Nowadays, technology used in production processes of any kind is becoming increasingly complex and demands knowledge of various disciplines. That is why working with scientists means a competitive advantage.
With its leading universities, technology transfer and technology parks, Switzerland’s strengths are clear for all to see. Switzerland’s innovativeness is similar to that of the San Francisco area. It is well positioned in terms of the number of patents and ranks among the top countries in the world. Previously, though, Switzerland found it more difficult to turn ideas into marketable products and services. In contrast to California, the Swiss are still less willing to take the risk of setting up their own companies. Moreover, venture capital does not flow as easily, with only more modest approaches adopted up until now. It is true that there are a relatively high number of start-ups, but these grow more slowly than those in Silicon Valley. Switzerland is therefore more about progressive development than the large capital-intensive technological success stories that are typical of Silicon Valley.
Canton of Aargau – The Land of High-Tech Industry and Cutting-Edge Research
The canton of Aargau is ideally placed within Switzerland. The fourth-largest canton in Switzerland is one of the country’s foremost driving forces in the technology sector. The region is number one in energy and electrical engineering, nanotechnology and plastics. Many companies in the plastics sector develop and manufacture medical devices. Other key sectors in Aargau are the life sciences industry, information and communication technology, and also the machinery and metalworking industry.
How did Aargau come to be a center for high-tech industries? Aargau became industrialized very early on due to its geographical location and abundant supply of water. For example, the Brown Boveri Company (BBC), which was the predecessor of the industrial giant ABB, was founded in the canton in 1891. Many highly specialized industries and clusters soon followed throughout the canton. Even at that time, businesses were exporting goods to the whole world, and many of these are now world leaders in their specific sectors.
The number of people working in research and development in the canton of Aargau is twice the Swiss average. Aargau has more software developers than any other Swiss canton. The University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland with its School of Engineering has been involved in research, innovation and technology transfer for over twenty years. The university conducts more than two-hundred projects with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) every year. A strong focus is on ICT (information and communication technology). The School of Engineering is home to three ICT-related institutes.
Hightech Aargau – A Program to Encourage Research and Innovation
The entire world admires Silicon Valley for its innovation culture and economic success. This is where young researchers with a pioneering spirit can access venture capital and commercial know-how. The region acts as a magnet for talented and ambitious people from across the world. Literature on the subject names five factors that drive California’s success:
• excellent universities conducting applied market-based research
• direct technology transfer from universities to businesses
• technology parks close to research laboratories
• an environment that promotes entrepreneurship
• a venture capital industry with sufficient capital resources
The Governing Council of Aargau is unable to conjure up a Silicon Valley in Aargau. But it can help to ensure that as many factors for success as possible are in place in Aargau. This is the idea behind the “Hightech Aargau” program, which the Governing Council of Aargau launched three years ago.
One of the goals of “Hightech Aargau” is to promote cutting-edge research as carried out at the Paul Scherrer Institute, for example.
PARK innovAARE, The High-Tech Business Park
The Paul Scherrer Institute is the largest research center for natural sciences and engineering in Switzerland. It is a strong advocate of applying research results to the development of new industrial products and procedures. A collaborative project of the canton of Aargau and the Paul Scherrer Institute is PARK innovAARE, a high-tech business park.
PARK innovAARE will be part of the Swiss Innovation Park, a nationwide initiative to promote innovative businesses in Switzerland. PARK innovAARE will be located right on the doorstep of the Paul Scherrer Institute in Villigen. Businesses that settle at PARK innovAARE will benefit from the Institute’s top-flight research and unique infrastructure. The innovation PARK innovAARE aims to intensify the exchange between research and business. Companies that settle there benefit from the proximity and direct access to the PSI’s unique large-scale research facilities, its experts and specialists and their particular and detailed know-how. Moreover, they profit from a widely ramified international network of universities, research institutions, knowledge transfer establishments and internationally active enterprises.
Attractive Production Factors Ensure Growth
Another objective of the “Hightech Aargau” program is to make attractive industrial sites available to businesses that wish to expand or establish themselves here.
A large number of specialist suppliers and competitive production costs – low taxes, wages and real estate prices in comparison with other Swiss cantons – ensure that their innovation projects will progress rapidly.
Moreover, the high-tech canton of Aargau is particularly well located to develop the market. It lies at the heart of Switzerland’s strongest economic region, within easy reach of the international airports in Zurich, Geneva, Berne and Basel. The dense rail and motorway infrastructure that is optimally linked to the European transport network allows companies to benefit from short distances to customers, suppliers and business partners worldwide.
This whole package is rounded off superbly by attractive and safe residential areas with a modern infrastructure. The authorities are business-friendly and will play a supportive role in the project.
Speed to Market Thanks to Highly Efficient Technology Transfer
But the program’s most important aim is to finance specialized technology scouts and innovation consultants. To this end, the Aargau Hightech Center was founded in Brugg in December 2012.
The center’s consultants help businesses turn their innovative ideas into profitable solutions and products. This high-tech consulting center makes it easier for resident SMEs to gain access to know-how, technology, universities and industry partners. It performs innovation check-ups, analyzes innovations, and looks for solutions, appropriate innovation partners and financial support.
This helps SMEs in a number of different ways. On the one hand, they can reduce the risks that the innovation process poses to the business and thereby save on the costs of innovating. On the other hand, they spend less time looking for the knowledge, technology and partners required, and conduct their own initial analysis. Companies can also take advantage of an active network of public and private research facilities and technology providers. The main aim here is to offer businesses the best possible technology and partner. The Hightech Zentrum Aargau also provides access to financial support at either cantonal, national or EU level. The services are equally available to all businesses that are in the process of innovating. Support is given to enterprises of any size, and irrespective of their technological background such as (but not limited to) the fields of engineering, life sciences, medical technology, ICT, micro and nanotechnology, energy and environmental technology.
The key concept here is speed to market.
Starting Up and Growing the Local Network
To help companies and their employees settle, the Economic Promotion Department of the canton of Aargau – Aargau Services – provides a network of valuable industry contacts. The organization acts as a direct link to both cantonal and federal authorities, easing the administrative burden of moving to a new location. There are teams to deal with migration, tax and trade registration issues, as well as consulting partners such as lawyers and tax advisers. Aargau Services supports companies in answering business and location questions and finding the right site. The aim is to enable entrepreneurs to concentrate on their daily business during the process.