AI expertise in Greater Zurich attracts companies like a magnet

As partners of the ETH AI Center in Zurich, companies enjoy immediate proximity to the talent pool and the beating heart of research concerning artificial intelligence (AI). This has already drawn in players such as Zalando, Ernst & Young, and Viseca to become a part of this dynamic ecosystem.

Klaus Fuchs, Director for Industry Collaborations of the ETH AI Center.
Klaus Fuchs, Director for Industry Collaborations of the ETH AI Center. Image credit: ETH AI Center

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to revolutionize all areas of the economy. More and more companies are hoping to gain a strategic advantage from the latest AI developments. As such, the interest in creating partnerships was high right from the start when the renowned Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) established the ETH AI Center in autumn 2020. With over a hundred professors involved from 16 specialist areas, it is one of the largest AI centers of its kind, where fundamentals are researched and applications are developed in an interdisciplinary environment. To date, over 20 companies have partnered with the center, including heavyweights such as Zalando, Ernst & Young, and even numerous medium-sized enterprises and startups. What makes it special is that the social benefit of research and the idea of an innovative tech ecosystem are always at the forefront. This principle also applies to corporate partners.

Economy and academia connect

Klaus Fuchs, Director for Industry Collaborations at the center, states: “Companies are only suited to becoming our partner if they themselves want to conduct research and understand the scientific community. We hope to create synergies.” In general, a partnership is based on dialog. Companies gain access to highly qualified AI specialists and take part in events on AI issues. Ideally, this unites companies that want to work in-depth on a specific topic together with ETH researchers. An example is a funded Innosuisse project lasting four years. According to Klaus Fuchs, four projects of this type have been launched in 2021 alone.  

AI expertise boosts Greater Zurich as a business location

Consulting companies from across the world are traditionally interested in talent and the exchange of knowledge – Ernst & Young was one of the first partners. However, Greater Zurich’s AI know-how even attracts internet giants such as the German fashion retailer Zalando. In 2020, Zalando acquired the ETH spin-off Fision; its team works on 3D models of bodies and pieces of clothing moving toward a virtual changing room. Zalando now plans to establish a technology center with more than a hundred specialists in Zurich and partnered up with the ETH AI Center. Fuchs adds: “As long as we have plenty to offer in the field of AI, companies are motivated to physically become a part of the ecosystem in Zurich.” This is true of another international partner of the center: the US fitness equipment manufacturer Nautilus bought the ETH spin-off Vay in 2021. Vay deals with intelligent movement analyses and is still operating from Zurich.

Data exchange requires trust

Established companies from the Greater Zurich Area form a key pillar for the center. As such, the trading company Markant from Pfäffikon in the canton of Schwyz has been on board since the early days and is driving forward innovations in the field of computer vision. As examples from the finance sector, the Swiss payment card company Viseca and the associated fintech specialist Contovista have entered into partnerships. The latter provides the ETH with anonymized data. Real data is essential for developing AI solutions. Klaus Fuchs explains: “Anyone providing it to us places great importance on reliability. The advantage for our partners is that our center ensures this by definition.”

By Yvonne von Hunnius

This success story was first published by Greater Zurich Area Ltd (GZA).

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