Increasing number of spin-offs supported by ETH Zurich and EPFL
Since 1996, more than 300 spin-offs were founded at ETH Zurich resulting in the employment of 2500 people and a business volume that amounted to CHF 585 Mio in 2013. ETH Zurich supports the establishment of companies based on their research achievements. The aim is to create marketable products out of research results and generate qualified jobs.
The success-rate is high: investigations showed that 92% of spin-offs survive the first five years. However, most spin-offs remain small-scale enterprises and employ 3 to 15 people on average whereas only 10-20% of them will become as successful as Sensirion. The company which was founded in 1998 as an ETH Zurich spin-off is presently a leading sensor manufacturer and is considered a prototype for an effective spin-off by young entrepreneurs.
Besides the aim to found companies that will grow in the future, many entrepreneurs hope to get taken over by a large company and desire to sell the start-up after the establishment stage. It is assumed that one to three companies achieve this goal per year. The figures for such takeovers are usually not published.
The value of intellectual property is controversial. In the USA, universities try to maximize the profit from a patent, whereas in Switzerland, institutions like ETH Zurich tend to sell patents for a more moderate price. The goal is to support the economy by taking benefits out of a patent and creating jobs on the long run.
Spin-offs enjoy great popularity among Swiss students. The increasing interest in such companies can also be seen in start-up contests, with the number of applications increasing every year. In 2014, at the two Federal Institutes of Technology, ETH Zurich and EPFL, 46 spin-offs were newly founded. The vast majority of them are in the field of computer science, followed by electrical engineering and mechanical engineering.
A recent example of a spin-off company is Insightness GmbH, founded by two Ph.D.-students and a professor of ETH Zurich. Together they developed a chip for cameras and a software that allows fast and efficient visual perception of the environment. The product can be used for flying robots, but many more applications are possible. A comprehensive list of all ETH Zurich supported spin-offs can be found here.