Neither “too big” nor “too small”

Tamara Carleton Ph.D., CEO & founder, Innovation Leadership Board LLC, on why Swiss SMEs are very well positioned to innovate their business models.

Tamara Carleton is convinced that SMEs are very well positioned to become innovation leaders for business models.
Tamara Carleton is convinced that SMEs are very well positioned to become innovation leaders for business models.

I first came to Switzerland in 2003, and since then, I have seen tremendous changes occur in the Swiss innovation ecosystem, including with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Swiss SMEs exhibit a strong appreciation for innovation - business, customer, technology, and system - while exhibiting a level of ingenuity that is exceptional across the globe. I enjoy sharing examples of Swiss business innovation with other non-Swiss companies and even back to my colleagues at Silicon Valley, such as:

  • Several years ago, Swiss wine distributor Bataillard adopted advanced factory automation that transformed a traditional logistics model. This mixture of systems and technology adoption into a 100+ year old business allowed them to stay ahead of competitors and bring new value to their customers.
  • Swiss legend Reto Gurtner, founder and chair of Weisse Arena Group, created the Greenstyle vision to describe and inspire the radical innovations needed to make the mountain lifestyle sustainable year-round at the Laax resort. His team has translated this vision into customer-centered development, distribution and promotion, which is now being packaged and delivered to other mountain markets around the world.
  • Flyability, a spin-off from EPFL and a poster child of the Swiss innovation ecosystem, has become a global phenomenon and serious competitor in industrial drones. It is amazing to see the speedy conversion of Flyability from a university research project into a fundable company with a professional management team and unique value proposition.

Innovation is ultimately about creating new value for a customer. Today, Swiss SMEs are superbly positioned to deliver ingenious and high-Quality innovations into a global market that was often considered too costly or complex in prior years. Swiss SMEs have the advantage of size and ingenuity in being innovative. Neither “too big” nor “too small”, a Swiss SME can rapidly attack the four basic innovation challenges:

  • Talk with customers
  • Discover an unmet customer need
  • Define a profitable business which the company can use to satisfy that need
  • Align the team around that new business vision

As established businesses, SMEs have existing customers whom they know well. As a trusted supplier, the Swiss SME can explore unmet needs in earnest collaboration with their customers. While startups typically struggle to raise investor interest or mobilize resources, a SME can draw from its existing staff and resources to build (and rebuild) more advanced prototypes to share with customers, which in turn, helps to refine and test a promising business model. And unlike big companies, a SME can more quickly communicate change across its management team and business units, bringing different groups together as needed to pursue and ultimately deliver on a new innovation solution.

I am glad to see groups like Switzerland Global Enterprise share more success stories about Swiss SME ingenuity. Based on the changes I have seen happen this last decade, I am excited to see what Swiss SMEs will do in the next decade.


This article was first published in our study "Swiss SMEs rely on innovative Business Models" (Download here)


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