Aside from its beautiful mountains and lakes, Switzerland is home to a thriving startup scene, and was ranked as the most innovative country in the world in 2017. Famous for its banks, the country is a leader in fintech and blockchain, with the Zug region having even gained the nickname “Crypto Valley”. However in addition to finance, with a highly educated population and top research institutions, Switzerland is at the forefront of innovation in other high-tech sectors, such as medtech, biotech, and deep tech.
Below find a list of 10 Swiss startups to look out for in 2019 – in verticals including VR, fintech, medtech, and mobility – all founded within the past 2-3 years:
Founded at the end of 2017, Zurich-based proptech startup HEGIAS has developed a browser-based, virtual reality CMS solution with applications for architects, construction companies, homeowners, brokers, and interior designers. Currently, the startup is focusing on the construction industry, where it is used to prevent building errors, as well as in real estate, but plans to be applicable for any VR content in the near future. HEGIAS has recently surpassed €900k in funding, after raising €450k in August 2018 in an ongoing Series A round from a range of investors, in which it expects to raise a total of €2.1 million by March 2019.
Pristem – Founded in 2015, medical equipment maker Pristem SA aims to make radiology more accessible all over the world. According to the World Health Organization, two thirds of the global population still have no access to this vital diagnostic technology. Meanwhile, countries that already have access to radiology systems have seen prices rise drastically, and need to bring healthcare costs under control. Pristem is developing an “all-in-one” radiology system, which it expects to commercialise within the next two years. The system will be high-tech, user-friendly, economical, and durable – making radiology accessible even in remote areas, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Pristem raised a €12.3 million seed round in August 2018, which will enable it to begin manufacturing its prototype.
DeepCode – This spin-off from ETH Zurich is described as Grammarly for developers. It automatically learns from millions of software programs, analysing and improving codes via a language incorporating hundreds of thousands of coding rules, and provides recommendations on how to improve programs. The Zurich-based startup was founded in 2016 and has raised $1.1 million to further empower software developers to be efficient and deliver more reliable code, as well as to transform the industry towards fully autonomous code synthesis.
Colendi – This Zug-based fintech startup provides a democratised credit scoring evaluation method based on blockchain technology that comes attached with an ID that serves as a global financial passport. Its goal is to create a tool for people around the world who don’t have access to banking to have greater access to micro-financing. For this, both small businesses and individuals need a viable credit scoring mechanism that can serve as a trust agent between lenders and borrowers. Founded in 2016, Colendi has raised $2.5 million to date.
Nummo – This personal financial management platform empowers users to live better by helping them manage, maintain and improve their financial health with bank-level security. The platform consolidates and analyses a person’s financial situation and provides tools to better understand and optimise one’s personal finances through reducing unnecessary expenses, saving, and investing. Nummo offers users access to over 49,000 financial institutions, and 17 robo-advisors with over 160 investment portfolios. Based in Zurich and founded in 2016, the startup raised a seed round of $1.9 million in September 2018.
Kido Dynamics – Founded in Lausanne in 2018, Kido Dynamics develops technology for companies to understand people’s mobility patterns using machine learning and big data. The startup integrates meaningful insights derived from millions of data points collected from mobile operators, analysing crowd mobility patterns including origin and destination, routes, average speed, trip distance, stops, means of transportation, and seasonality of behaviour. The data is analysed to produce detailed reports, interactive maps, and simulations that can be used in many industries such as transportation, marketing, tourism, events, and smart cities. Kido raised a seed round of €570k in July 2018.
Scailyte – Single-cell data holds the information needed for early disease detection, but extracting this information is complicated, requiring sophisticated computational approaches. Luzern-based Scailyte has developed AI-based software for the analysis of complex single-cell data to enhance biomedical research, pharmaceutical discovery, and precision diagnostics. The software’s algorithms allow it to associate patterns in single-cell data with disease status, similar to the way methods for object recognition associate pixel patterns with objects. Founded in 2017, Scailyte has already raised €2.4 million in seed funding.
Ledgy has developed a tool to manage and exchange securities in private companies, to free up entrepreneurs from bureaucratic paperwork so they can focus on their business. Ledgy’s goal is to make shares management a breeze for both companies and shareholders. Founded in 2017 in Zurich, Ledgy helps founders stay on top of vesting schedules, options, phantom plans, and convertible loans, and gives them fast insights for financing rounds or exit negotiations using built-in modeling tools. The platform has raised €1 million to date.
Open Mineral makes it easy to competitively buy and sell metal concentrates. Founded in 2017, Open Mineral’s cloud-based exchange platform connects buyers and sellers to trade physical commodities more directly and transparently. The startup uses analytical tools to streamline contract negotiations and execution, increasing efficiency and profitability for the participants. The platform also offers access to additional services to facilitate the trading of commodities – including freight, surveying, financing and insurance. The platform currently covers the zinc, lead, copper, gold and silver concentrate markets. Based in Zug, Open Mineral raised a €4.8 million Series B round in November 2018.
Gamaya – This Lausanne-based startup was founded in 2015 to help farmers improve the efficiency and sustainability of their businesses. It uses drone-based hyperspectral imaging, satellite data, and AI for the mapping and diagnostics of farmland, providing analytics to help farmers make better decisions to increase their yields and reduce their environmental impact. Gamaya has raised $7.5 million to further develop their portfolio, resulting in the launch of a new product in 2018, CaneFit, a unique solution for large industrial sugarcane growers in Brazil.
The new rules of the game in a nutshell
The new Swiss Financial Services Act (FinSA) and the implementing ordinance FinSO (Financial Services Ordinance) are expected to enter into force on January 1, 2020 and will affect for the first time international financial-services providers that furnish financial services on a cross-border basis from outside of Switzerland to Swiss retail, professional and institutional clients. For the first time, the production of financial instruments for the Swiss market by international producers will also be comprehensively regulated. The FinSA aims to create uniform competitive conditions for financial intermediaries, improve client protection and harmonize the authorization rules for financial-services providers.
The new provisions will introduce certain information, documentation and behavioral regulations as well as organizational requirements, such as rules on how to prevent conflicts of interest and handle commissions paid by third parties. These obligations are at their core similar to the ones imposed by the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (MiFID II). However, they vary, often considerably, when all of the details are considered. The new obligations will also affect client advisors on a personal level; they must be entered into a newly established client-advisor register. The obligation to affiliate with an ombudsman applies to financial institutions that provide cross-border financial services in Switzerland.
Extensive obligations also apply to international producers of financial instruments for distribution in the Swiss market. The public offering of securities requires the publication of a prospectus that must be reviewed or approved by the newly established prospectus-reviewing body, as is currently customary in the European Union (EU). The obligation to produce a key investor information document (KIID) applies if financial instruments are distributed to retail clients. It is possible to make use of the PRIIPS (packaged retail and insurance-based investment products) KIID to fulfil the Swiss rules and regulations. The creation of structured products is subject to extensive regulations as well.
Although the new provisions will enter into force on January 1, 2020, transition periods will be applicable to most new obligations. As the obligations under the FinSA are regulatory requirements, it is important to note that they cannot be changed by means of contractual agreements.
The new rules and regulations applicable to the cross-border provision of financial services in more detail
The cross-border rules set forth under the FinSA apply to the provision of cross-border financial services by international banks from abroad to clients in Switzerland—in particular by phone, writing or e-mail. A safe harbour applies,however, if the clients in Switzerland explicitly ask the international bank to provide financial services. On the flip side, any provision of financial services on Swiss territory, even if such provision is made on only a temporary basis (e.g., during a client’s visit on his/her ski holiday in a Swiss ski resort), falls within the scope of the FinSA. The affected financial services are the purchase or sale of financial instruments (equity and debt securities, structured products, funds, derivatives, bonds and structured deposits), the receipt and transmission of orders related to financial instruments, the management of assets (the administration of financial instruments), investment advice (the provision of personal recommendations on transactions with financial instruments) and the granting of loans to financial transactions with financial instruments.
Not all clients are treated equally under the FinSA. That is why financial-services providers must segment their clients into private, professional or institutional clients. The latter enjoy the lowest level of protection. It is important to note that an international financial-services provider already falls within the scope of application of these obligations from the very moment a financial service is offered, even if at that time a contractual relationship between the financial services provider and the client does not yet exist. Relationships with prospects are thus sufficient for the establishment of a client relationship.
International financial-services providers can get caught by the rules in different ways. The most obvious is the direct relationship with a client. International banks that act as outsourcing providers based on outsourcing agreements qualifying as financial services are, however, also affected. A third not so obvious situation is the provision of financial services through a chain of providers—meaning that the Swiss financial-services provider mandates other service providers to offer financial services. Not all is lost, however, for international providers. The obligation to comply with the rules is in these situations imposed on the financial services provider who leads the client relationship unless there are clear indications of false information or breach of duty.
The additional obligations with which the international bankers must comply are aligned with the ones imposed under the European regulation MiFID II. There is an obligation to conduct an appropriateness and suitability test, to provide information (about the financial-services providers’ general and specific activities), to document and render an account (such as related to the financial services agreed upon and provided to clients), and to treat all equally, unless waived by the clients entitled to do so.
The new rules do not affect only the financial-services providers but also their employees. They must be entered into a public client-advisor register, which checks the financial capabilities of the client-advisor and its knowledge of the applicable behavioral rules. There will be a proctored online test available 24/7, which client advisors can take at their convenience and at their locations of choice. Additional requirements are professional liability insurance (or equivalent security), the affiliation of the financial-services provider for which the client advisor is working with an ombudsman, no entry in the criminal register regarding the property, and no industry ban or prohibition issued by FINMA (Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority). Both the client-advisor register and the ombudsman are intended to be operated by Regulatory Service Ltd., a group company of BX Swiss Exchange (see www.regservices.ch). The company is at the time of writing still in the authorization process with the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority and in the recognition process with the Swiss Federal Department of Finance.
Wilful non-compliance with these new requirements can lead to imprisonment of up to three years and non-diligent compliance to a fine of up to CHF 250,000. It is very likely that FINMA will initiate an enforcement procedure in cases of non-compliance.
The new provisions regarding the documentation of financial instruments
The admission to trading and the public offering of financial instruments now generally require a prospectus to be created in line with clearly defined content requirements similar to the ones applicable in the EU, unless an exemption applies. Any prospectus must be reviewed, or in the case of a non-Swiss prospectus be recognized, by a newly established institution called the prospectus-reviewing body. The distribution of financial instruments to private clients requires a KIID, for which purpose the PRIIPS KIID as used in the EU can be employed. Although transition periods are applicable, there is also a backloading obligation for all securities stemming from an ongoing public offering pending on or beyond January 1, 2022.