Already back in the 1990s researchers in Zurich were banking on artificial intelligence (AI). Thanks to this visionary attitude, a dynamic ecosystem developed in Zurich – and in turn, a decisive competitive advantage for the region.
The Institute of Neuromatics (INI) was established in Zurich in 1995, creating a place where scientists from two of the world’s leading universities work together. The University of Zurich (UZH) contributes its scientific expertise in fields such as biology, while the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich brings its engineering expertise, such as microelectronics.
The fact that such different disciplines can be explored and developed under one roof was and remains unique. As Giacomo Indiveri, INI director and co-founder of the AI company aiCTX, says: “The entrepreneurial culture at the two universities is also outstanding, and startups in the region can find strong financial startup assistance. All of this paves the way for many spin-offs at the institute.”
And their track record is impressive: these spin-offs attract international investors and tech corporations interested in investing in or cooperating with them, or even outright acquiring them.
Ultra-fast solutions for the AI future
One example of this is the Zurich spin-off iniVation. Not only does it collaborate with Samsung, but it just won a prize for the best innovation at CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics trade fair, in Las Vegas at the start of 2020. Its prize-winning innovation is the first neuromorphic camera, which can emulate key aspects of the human retina.
INI’s spin-off company aiCTX contributed to this success through its collaboration with iniVation. aiCTX also presented a product at CES and is developing a new type of ultrafast, energy-saving processors for applications involving AI and the Internet of Things.
“It is the basis for the most efficient interactions with the world around us. It could be a medtech solution where a sensor controls the heart or a smart city application for traffic,” explains Indiveri.
Top-notch research attracts investors
Founded in 2017, aiCTX had already completed two financing rounds with Chinese investors, including internet giant Baidu, by 2018. One advantage lies in the fact that the investors have a Chinese contact person: long-standing INI scientist and aiCTX CEO Ning Qiao.
“The investors intentionally looked for investment opportunities connected to the two world-class universities,” says Indiveri. Switzerland’s neutrality was also a factor – an argument that shouldn’t be underestimated in the tech competition between the U.S. and China.
For innovative companies like iniVation and aiCTX, the region is a good place to be when you think not only about the lively medtech cluster but also the world-renowned drone scene. It, too, is closely connected with the Institute of Neuromatics and depends on the fastest possible processors and the best imaging solutions around.