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. 

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