Why does Switzerland lead the way in innovation?

Posting date: 29 August 2019

Switzerland has once again been named the world’s most innovative country, claiming the title for the ninth year in a row. The annual Global Innovation Index ranks 129 countries around the world based on 80 parameters, including regulatory environment, gross expenditure on research and development and mobile app creation, making it an extremely thorough overview of which nations are pushing ahead with innovation. And as innovation is one of the key drivers of economic growth and prosperity, it’s in every country’s best interests to strive for ongoing transformation and technological change. Here’s how Switzerland keeps coming out on top:

A history of new inventions

Switzerland has the most patent applications relative to population size anywhere in Europe, thanks largely to the dominant pharmaceuticals and life sciences sectors. Pharmaceutical giant Roche led the way for Swiss patent applications, followed by the ABB, Nestle and Novartis. Filing 956 patents per million inhabitants, Switzerland was leagues ahead of the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, which all filed around 400 patents per million inhabitants.


António Campinos, President of the European Patent Office, says Switzerland’s strong patent growth sets it apart from other European countries. “This emphasizes the outstanding innovation potential of the country, which continues to grow based on the rise of patent applications,” he notes.


The commitment to innovation is demonstrated in the Exhibition of Inventions, an annual event in Geneva where inventors exhibit their products to investors, and in Switzerland’s proud history of bringing new products to market. The nation is responsible for introducing the modern zip (known as the coil zip), Velcro, white chocolate, muesli and the Red Cross to the rest of the world – and don’t forget about the Swiss Army Knife.

Ongoing investment in start-ups and new technologies

Switzerland has always had a firm focus on investment in innovation, particularly when it comes to start-up business and new technologies. A new fund of up to CHF500 million is testament to this focus on entrepreneurship, with backers of the Swiss Entrepreneurs Fund pledging to close the gap between start-up and established company. 2018 saw venture capital investment in start-ups break the 1 billion CHF mark, increasing by 32% from 2017. ICT investment grew by 120%, with biotech, medtech and digital health also receiving significant investment. The finance sector has long been a target for investors, with Zug’s Crypto Valley serving as one of the global blockchain hotspots and a high proportion of both fintech and IT security start-ups.


With more than 300 start-ups founded in Switzerland each year, it’s clear that the nation’s propensity for innovation is only growing stronger. The CHF22 billion investment into R&D each year is further proof of this.

A modern approach to education

Switzerland boasts some of the top universities in the world, with both ETH and EPFL among the best in the world for robotics. The World University Rankings 2019 point to ETH Zurich being the second-best institution for computer science globally, with knowledge readily transferred between universities and the companies that surround them thanks to government funding of research and development.


The focus on education extends as far back as primary school, where new teaching methods are part of the daily routine and there’s an emphasis on teaching skills, as opposed to pure knowledge. Lehrplan 21 is part of this. The curriculum for German-speaking Switzerland specifies not just the content that must be learned, but also the skills that pupils should acquire, with emphasis placed on learning strategies and problem solving. As pupils move through the schooling system, they may encounter the Swiss VET (vocational education and training) system which sees training geared towards demand for vocational qualifications and the jobs available. With one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe, Switzerland’s modern approach to education and training is clearly paying off.

Find your next job in Switzerland with Swisslinx

At Swisslinx, we partner with some of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking companies across the recruitment markets of financial services, digital and technology and healthcare and life sciences. If you’re looking for your next role in one of the most exciting and inventive markets in the world, we’d love to help. Take a look at our latest jobs or get in touch to start a conversation. 

Swisslinx recognised as Best Supplier for the second year in a row

We’re delighted to announce that Swisslinx were once again awarded Best Supplier 2018 for the Roche HTS MSP program. As these roles are challenging to source and most positions are distributed to more than 10 suppliers on this account, this recognition is a huge achievement for us – particularly as it was our second year in a row to win.   The award is significant as the suppliers involved all have an even playing field when sourcing for the roles, most of which require a mix of both life sciences and IT knowledge. This is a niche skillset and the talent pool tends to be limited, which means there is huge competition for every position. While the roles can be difficult to source, we gave every position utmost priority and threw ourselves into the challenge. This included incorporating previous managers’ candidate feedback into our search criteria, treating our candidates fairly and maintaining professionalism and discretion at every step. Our reputation as a reliable, top-tier consultancy means we receive high calibre referrals for candidates we can place in the future.   Winning the accolade comes at an exciting time for our consultancy and contributes to our continued success in the ever-expanding healthcare & life sciences IT market. In today’s data-centred economy, our life sciences IT team is particularly busy sourcing and attracting the best talent in the field to enable our clients to use data to save and improve lives. We’re proud of our success in the hotly contested battle and would like to congratulate our fellow suppliers on what was a successful year for the program.   About Swisslinx’s Healthcare and Life Sciences team   Our Healthcare and Life Sciences team is active with clients all over Switzerland and focuses on the Commercial and Research and Development units in addition to our IT coverage. In the last 12 months we have completed four major projects for firms relocating offices to Switzerland, from talent mapping and compensation benchmarking through to search and selection and advising on employment contracts.     Are you a candidate looking for a job in healthcare and life sciences IT or a manager looking to add talent in your team? Then please contact us to start a conversation. 

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An overview of Switzerland’s pharmaceuticals industry

The pharmaceutical industry employs 135,000 people in Switzerland and contributes to 30% of its exports — more than the Swiss chocolate, cheese and watches export industries combined, making it a significant economic industry for the nation. It’s no surprise with Switzerland’s forward-thinking and innovative endeavours that two of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, Novartis and Roche, are companies born out of Switzerland. Other famous corporations in pharmaceuticals also employ heavily in Switzerland, including Celgene which ranks eighth in terms of its number of employees in Switzerland. Celgene has recently been acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb for $74 billion, making it one of the top 10 most expensive mergers and acquisitions in history. So why have these pharmaceutical giants chosen Switzerland as an attractive location to set base and how is it significant to their success? Let’s consider the pharmaceutical industry in Switzerland and why it’s such a key player in the global market. Focus on speciality chemicals Despite Switzerland’s lack of natural resources, it still hosts a successful export industry due to its focus on low volume speciality chemicals which constitutes 90% of its product portfolio. Switzerland is known for providing bespoke pharmaceutical solutions through its access to and funding for intensive research and development of these fine chemicals. The global demand for these speciality chemicals is always increasing, which makes Switzerland’s assets valuable. Switzerland has seen many success stories and inventions in the pharmaceutical industries. Roche is credited with inventing Invirase, the world’s first HIV proteinase inhibitor drug in 1995 and later, co-created Funzeon, which stops the HIV virus from entering human cells. In addition, Novartis has been widely recognised for their work on cancer treatment through their aromatase blocker letrozole (Femara) which is used in the treatment of early-stage breast cancer. The Swiss pharmaceutical industry now offers more than 30,000 products and is well-positioned to make significant contributions to healthcare, both in Switzerland and worldwide. Intense research and development From as early as 1896, the region of Basel became the centre of 19th-century pharmaceutical industries since Switzerland had no patent laws. This was in direct contrast with the surrounding European countries and led to a migration of researchers to Switzerland who wished to work without restrictions. Currently, there are 900 pharmaceutical and MedTech companies which employ 50,000 workers in the region of Basel. Though patent laws have changed since the 1890s, Switzerland still hosts a supportive regulatory environment through its fair patent and pricing regulations. In addition, Switzerland’s current proximity to research institutions and sophisticated healthcare system provides an ideal environment for the intensive research of highly specialised products and the ability to test drugs to be sent to market. There is also high access to recruit highly qualified scientists from these globally ranking universities and their research teams. Novartis hired 23,000 science professionals including scientists and doctors to work on over 200 projects in clinical development worldwide, just as Roche employed 22,000 people to work in research and development. Switzerland hosts outstanding scientific and technological workforce with in-demand skills. In addition, there is a lot of financial support from pharmaceutical companies who have invested almost 7 billion Swiss francs into research and development in Switzerland. Supportive framework conditions Switzerland has free trade agreements with the EU and 40 other countries, including innovative key giants such as China and Japan which provide access to essential export markets. After Germany and China, Switzerland has the third most populated network of bilateral investment protection agreements. Switzerland’s pharmaceutical industry is supported by its global reputation for high-quality production standards, for being a strategic test marketer and being able to introduce new medical products at an early stage. This recognition of quality control saves Switzerland’s pharmaceutical industry between 130-300 million Swiss francs yearly when trading with the EU, the EFTA States and Canada. In addition, a single central authority, the Federal Coordination Centre for Biotechnology governs all biotech and gene tech licensing applications which leads to a minimalistic and streamlined bureaucracy procedure. Switzerland continues to rank number one on the Global Innovation Index due to its access to expert workforces, supportive governmental laws and its relation to the global trading market. Switzerland remains an attractive place to live and work, especially in such an important industry to Switzerland’s nationality and GDP as the pharmaceutical industry. Work in Switzerland’s pharmaceutical industry Now that you know more about the exciting contributions Switzerland has made in the history of the pharmaceutical industry, consider landing your next role in this booming industry and innovative country with Swisslinx. We also recruit talented pharmaceutical candidates to work in pharmaceutical hotspots worldwide. Contact us for more information or apply for your next role with Swisslinx today.

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