If Switzerland was a start-up Switzerland would have been launched by three co-founders: Werner, Walter and Arnold. Back then, in the 13thcentury, entrepreneurs didn’t have garages, incubators or accelerators. Alas, when they connected on August 1st, 1291, they did so on a green meadow – called the Rütli – with a wonderful view of Lake Lucerne.
The three co-founders gathered their community and pitched their novel idea; an idea, that would solve a real-world problem. In today’s terminology, this would sound something like: “how can we create our own exclusive WhatsApp group without having to join the large Facebook group where we’re being invaded by marketers and where we pay with our data?” (Or, in other terms, how can we remain independent from the powerful Austrian Empire which collects our taxes).
Hence, the three “Statepreneurs” launched this little Helvetic start-up as a small WhatsApp group. Over the next two centuries, that WhatsApp group grew as many others wanted to be part of that exclusive social community. However, scalability was an issue and growth was limited by the surrounding Googles, Facebooks and Amazons of that time, that is, the French, Italian and German kingdoms. Hence, for a long time Switzerland remained a bootstrapped start-up surrounded by expanding MNCs (Multinational Corporations).
For a short while, a French VC (Venture Capitalist) named Napoleon Bonaparte played with the idea to invest and eventually acquire that little Helvetic start-up. But Switzerland didn’t make it through the due diligence process and the unfriendly take-over was eventually abandoned. This episode, however, laid the foundation for what would happen in 1848, when the Helvetic start-up went public and was listed on the international stock exchange for modern States. As such, Switzerland received a proper governance structure: the “Terms and Conditions” (our Constitution) were drafted and adopted and the users elected a Board of Directors (our parliament) which, in return, appointed a senior Management team of 7 CXOs (our Federal Councillors).
Fast-forward 170 years later, Switzerland is no longer a start-up, but a very successful SME, highly innovative, internationally connected, and with a strong and recognized brand. Yet, deep in its heart, Switzerland keeps the spirit and values of a start-up: always looking to find its niche, continuously developing young talents and new technologies, and overcoming challenges with agility, innovation and creativity.
Excerpt from the Swiss National Day address by Sebastien Hug, CEO of swissnex India and the Consul General of Switzerland in Bangalore.
Disclaimer: This is a personal view on Switzerland’s history and this analogy might not be historically accurate in all details.