An overview of Switzerland, the world’s leading research and development base, and tips for expansion from Japan

vol.25Head of Invest Promotion at Embassy of Switzerland in Japan

MATSUDA Toshihiro


On November 8 of 2019, X-HUB TOKYO, which supports the overseas expansion of domestic startups, held a seminar on research development and creating an innovation environment. Switzerland has always ranked among the most innovative countries in the world. Speakers came to share the country’s activities and discuss case studies.

The Benefits of Establishing an R&D Hub in Switzerland

Head of Invest Promotion at Embassy of Switzerland in Japan
MATSUDA Toshihiro

To begin, let’s start with a brief overview of Switzerland and open innovation. Switzerland is roughly the same size as Kyushu and is one of the smallest countries in Europe. Of its population of 8.33 million, about 25% is made up of people from abroad, with a majority of those people being entrepreneurs, business managers, and researchers. For example, Nestle, a famous Swiss company, was established by a German named Henri Nestlé. Many other foreigners are active in various fields as well.

Because Switzerland is not a member of the EU, the currency used there, the Swiss Franc, is strong and stable. Regarding the language they speak, there is no Swiss language. Depending on the area, people speak German, French, or Italian, with English used as the common language. For business, English is mostly used. So it is easy for Japanese people to also do business there.


The GDP is steadily growing little by little. The per capita GDP in Switzerland is nearly twice as high as that of Japan. The unemployment rate is about 4%, a rather distinguished rate in Europe. Low inflation and stable prices are also some of the reasons people choose Switzerland as a base for business.


There is a direct flight from Narita International Airport every day to Switzerland, and a direct flight from Kansai International Airport is in the works. Prominent European airlines, Middle East airlines, and Asian airlines also fly to Zurich and Geneva. Limited expresses and highways connect directly to Germany and France as well, so once you enter Switzerland, you have easy access to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.


Switzerland ranks very high in productivity and education systems in various statistics, partly because of its highly competitive workforce. Prices in Switzerland are high, but high-wage is pointed out as the reason for this. Richly experienced and talented people from all over the world come in search of a high salary. Many of them have a high level of proficiency in foreign languages and, on average, speak two to four languages.


Due to its neutrality, Switzerland is politically and economically stable. It is also included in the Schengen Agreement with the EU and other European nations, so you are free to travel to and from other countries within the Schengen Area without dealing with passport control. Switzerland also entered into a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Japan. Because of the advantages the FTA brings, there are about 150 Swiss companies in Japan and about 150 Japanese companies in Switzerland.


One of the features is that they have more flexibility in hiring and firing than in France and Germany. Since both French and German labor unions are strong, it can be difficult for companies to fire an employee. However, in Switzerland it is relatively easy to fire an employee if you give a three to six months notice.

Open Innovation Platform

The main platforms of innovation are universities and research institutions. There are only two Swiss national universities – the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). ETH Zurich ranks 11th and EPFL ranks 35th in the World University Rankings. A major trend in Swiss innovation is to conduct basic research at these two federal universities and then have applied research conducted with other public universities.


Nowadays, top-level European research institutes gather in Switzerland and are producing breakthroughs one after the other. The most famous research institute is CERN, where the Higgs boson was discovered.


In 2016, a plan was announced that the Switzerland Innovation Park, an open innovation platform, would be established in over five locations across the country; Zurich, Western Switzerland, Lausanne, innovAARE, Basel. Basel is a hub for pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Research including Internet of Things (IoT), robot technology, drones, AI, and 5G are conducted in Zurich primarily by ETH Zurich. Switzerland Innovation Park is a platform to conduct collaborative research in conjunction with local universities. Geneva is a hub for biotechnology, Sion is a hub for smart energy, and Western Switzerland will be a hub for smart factories, IoT, and batteries. Truly, world-famous companies are set up in Switzerland. Famous Japanese medical, mechanical, and pharmaceutical companies are also set up in Switzerland.

About Swiss Business Hub Japan

To finish, I would like to introduce our structure. The Ministry of Economy of Switzerland, which is the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan, is a parent organization of Swiss Business Hub Japan. Switzerland Global Enterprise is in Zurich, and this is our head office. Swiss Business Hub Japan is a branch office in Japan, and its office is in the Embassy of Switzerland in Japan. In Switzerland, the corporate tax system and procedures of business approval and licenses are different from cantons. Therefore, it is very important to cooperate with the canton government to establish a company or do business there. We are supporting Japanese companies cooperating with the canton government so that they can expand their businesses in Switzerland. In addition to establishing a company, we are also supporting Japanese companies’ open innovation, universities in Switzerland, startups, and major companies’ open innovation. If you are interested, please feel free to contact us.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Predictive Maintenance Utilizing Deep Learning and its Application in the Manufacturing Field

Head Robotics and Automation CSEM,
Swill Center for Electronics and Microtechnology (CSEM)
Philipp Schmid

Philipp Schmid’s CSEM is a Swiss research institute that develops algorithmic technology for industries, launches startups, is outsourced R&D by clients, and provides technology licenses to clients. In this seminar, he shared the history and current status of CSEM, research on deep learning that they are currently working on, as well as cases dealing with trains.


CEO of Japan Innovation Park (JIP)

Japan Innovation Park was established in September 2019 to promote innovation exchange between Japan and Switzerland. In addition to Japanese companies expanding into Switzerland, Swiss companies will expand into Japan and build relationships that will enable them to expand into Asia and will then promote exchanges that will benefit both countries through innovation. In this seminar, he discussed several examples of companies based in Switzerland expanding into Europe and details of their activities.