Campus - 14.09.2018 - 00:00 

Student today, company founder tomorrow

The spirit of enterprise is part of the University of St.Gallen’s DNA. 117 firms, most of them still young, bear the HSG spin-off label. 64 of them participated in a new survey: they generated a total of more than CHF 100m turnover in 2017 and have created more than 2,800 jobs since they were founded. Dietmar Grichnik, Professor of Entrepreneurship, presented the new corporate survey on the occasion of the 2018 annual media conference of the University of St.Gallen and provided an extensive insight into the issue of entrepreneurship at the HSG.

14 September 2018. Ever since 2017, companies that have been founded in the environment of the University of St.Gallen have been able to apply for the HSG spin-off label. Anyone who runs a company that has already been successfully established or who has been on the market with a start-up for at least twelve months may submit an application for this seal of approval to the Center for Entrepreneurship (CfE-HSG). One of the conditions to be satisfied is that one of the company founders must have a connection with the HSG – as a student, for instance, or as an alumnus, researcher or faculty member. The spin-off label is very popular: by now, no fewer than 117 firms have been awarded the label, 22 of which are based in St.Gallen, 11 in the Cantons of St.Gallen, Thurgau, Schaffhausen and the Grisons, 57 in the rest of Switzerland and 27 abroad. The current list of companies with the spin-off label can be found on the website of the CfE-HSG.

Digitalisation is reflected in the start-ups

The Center for Entrepreneurship conducted a survey among 64 companies with the HSG spin-off label from June to August 2018; this survey was presented by Prof. Dr. Dietmar Grichnik, Professor of Entrepreneurship, at the annual media conference. It was revealed that almost half of these companies operated in the field of software and services (48%). Notable examples in the region of St.Gallen are the IT companies Abacus and Namics, which were set up by HSG graduates and by now employ several hundred people. A further group of companies that emerged from the HSG operate in the field of foodstuffs (12%). The majority of the companies which successfully applied for the HSG spin-off label were only set up within the last five years (73%).





More than one in three companies that were surveyed rely on machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data.






Dietmar Grichnik





The survey among the 64 companies also reveals what technologies these firms use. “More than one in three rely on machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data,” says Professor Dietmar Grichnik. A further 29% also deal with the internet of things, whilst 6% of the companies surveyed use blockchain. Incidentally, research into all these areas is also conducted at the HSG. In addition, four newly appointed professors whose research focuses on Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, Data Science, Interaction- and Communication-Based Systems and Software Systems Programming and Development will take up their academic activities at the HSG in the academic year of 2018/19.

2,800 Jobs and CHF100m turnover

The survey among the companies also demonstrates that about half of them already generate an annual turnover in excess of CHF 500,000 (17% of them even generate a turnover in excess of CHF 5m, some of them a multiple thereof). Approx. 55% of the firms raised external capital to start up their operations. Almost half of these turned to their families and friends, among others, for this purpose (46%), while 35% were granted support by so-called angel investors and 23% had support from venture capitalists. A third of the companies were started up with very little capital. All in all, the 64 companies with the HSG spin-off label that participated in the survey generated a total of more than CHF 100m turnover in 2017 and have created more than 2,800 jobs since they were established (their employees also include more than 150 graduates of the HSG). The companies generated about CHF 240m of investment capital. And although many of them are still very young, about half of them (48%) have already attained full profitability.

Professor Grichnik also presented four specific examples of HSG alumni who successfully started up a company at home and abroad. Iman Nahvi, for instance, and his St.Gallen-based firm Advertima have developed new software with the help of artificial intelligence which links up the real and the digital worlds in firms through touchpoints. Nahvi received the Coolest Start-up Award 2017 for this, among other prizes. The two former HSG doctoral students Philipp Wustrow and Tobias Wolf set up OnlineDoctor, a platform for skin problems, through which users are able to establish contact with dermatologists with a few photos taken by mobile phone and thus obtain medical expertise. The two founders were awarded the Startfeld Diamant founder’s prize in 2018. Christian Bärtsch with his Zurich-based Essento company has marketed foodstuffs made of insects, which by now are available from the shelves of Coop. Then again, Lea von Bidder runs her Ava company from San Francisco; the fertility tracking bracelet earned the company the Start-up Nr. 1 award among others in Switzerland in 2017. In addition, von Bidder even made the “30 under 30” list of the US-American Forbes magazine.

First contact point: Startup@HSG

The young entrepreneurs have one common denominator: like many others, they started their careers as students at the HSG, where the Startup@HSG of the Center for Entrepreneurship is the first contact point for start-ups and entrepreneurship. Its services include coaching, office space, information events and much more for actual and aspiring founders. In 2017, the staff of Startup@HSG conducted almost 400 consultations with students, doctoral students, alumni and HSG staff. Everyone is welcome to a consultation, no matter what stage the start-up project has reached. Support is provided on a broad basis: from an initial assessment of an idea, business plan feedback to pitching sessions or the establishment of contact with possible investors. In addition, Startup@HSG organises the Founders’ Garage series of events with lectures, information events and workshops about a wide variety of topics such as crowd-funding or legal issues twice a year. Also, Startup@HSG has some start-up offices in the “founder containers” on the campus, which HSG start-ups can rent at very favourable conditions. Furthermore, a MakerSpace for workshops and lectures in the University’s Main Building has been part of the premises available from Startup@HSG since autumn 2017.

Seed capital for good ideas

The initiative provides founders with monetary support as well: every year, it awards the CHF 10,000 prize of HSG Founder of the Year. Startup@HSG also awards the title of HSG Entrepreneurial Talent to eight promising people every semester; they receive CHF 2,000 seed capital each for the development of their business idea. Furthermore, Startup@HSG and the Center for Entrepreneurship closely cooperate with other partners at the HSG, for instance with Career & Corporate Services, the HSG Alumni organisation and the student initiative START Global, which inter alia invites more than 2,000 founders from all over the world to the START Summit in St.Gallen every spring.

Incidentally, the first St.Galler Start-up Navigator, which was created by the CfE-HSG and published by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has been available since early 2018. The book helps budding entrepreneurs to successfully establish their start-up step by step. It combines evidence-based research with best practice recommendations from founders and executives of world-famous young companies such as Doodle or Airbnb.

86 per cent yes for Joint Medical Master

Stefan Kölliker, President of the Government of the Canton of St.Gallen and Chairman of the University’s Board of Governors, focused his address at the media conference on some highlights in the University year of 2017/18 and looked into the future. He said that he was greatly pleased by the voting public’s clear approval of the Joint Medical Master, which will now bring the first 40 medical students to St.Gallen as early as 2020. “The new degree programme will not only have advantages for Eastern Switzerland, it will also specifically enable the HSG to establish a direct link to the very significant scientific growth area of medicine and health research,” said Stefan Kölliker.





The new degree programme will not only have advantages for Eastern Switzerland, it will also specifically enable the HSG to establish a direct link to the very significant scientific growth area of medicine and health research.






Stefan Kölliker





At present, the Canton of St.Gallen is also involved in two significant construction projects of the University. The smaller of the two is the renovation of the Library, which has not been renovated or extended since its inauguration in 1989. Now it is expected to be extensively renovated in three stages between 2021 and 2023. “Together with the new Learning Center with its 500 to 700 places, which is scheduled to be put into operation next to the Library Building in 2022, the HSG need for up-to-date learning space can be satisfied,” said Stefan Kölliker. The new Learning Center, which will cost CHF 50-60m, will be wholly funded through donations.

New campus on Platztor

A major construction project was constituted by the planned university campus on St.Gallen’s Platztor area, said Stefan Kölliker. With this additional campus, the HSG will return to the city centre, where from 1898 it had its two initial premises in today’s Cantonal School in Burggraben and later in Notkerstrasse. The Canton, the City and the University had already informed the general public about this project in detail on 27 August 2018. The project, which will require a credit line of CHF 160m, will be put to the ballot in June 2019.

Even earlier, however, the voting public will have to make a decision concerning the cantonal IT education offensive. With a new undergraduate and Master’s programme and its own School of Information and Computing Science, the HSG is also intended to make an essential contribution to making Eastern Switzerland’s education landscape fit for the digital age. The Joint Medical Master, the Platztor campus, the IT education offensive and the Learning Center – all these projects were ultimately also about St.Gallen as a university city which includes the University of Applied Sciences, the Pädagogische Hochschule and the HSG, said Stefan Kölliker. “The more successfully we reinforce this location, the more attractive we will be as a city and a canton for young people who aspire to an excellent education. And excellently educated young people, in turn, are elementary for companies, which we are also vying for in the regional, national and international competition between locations.”

“Universities must create added value”

Looking at both the past and the future, one of the issues that President Thomas Bieger spoke about was digital change and its effects on university teaching. Particularly in high-wage countries such as Switzerland, universities had to offer more than what was already available in the net and through machines, he said. “Universities must create added value in comparison with the net and machines, which can only be achieved through personal interaction like a discursive critical examination of new ideas or creative thinking in groups.” In the interest of society and its value creation, the university of the future could not and must not be a pure correspondence course model but must remain a place which may change but where students and teachers will continue to be present and interact, said Thomas Bieger.





Universities must create added value in comparison with the net and machines, which can only be achieved through personal interaction like a discursive critical examination of new ideas or creative thinking in groups.






Thomas Bieger





In keeping with this, contextual studies at the University of St.Gallen have been extensively reformed and will present a new face from this Autumn Semester onwards. As before, it will be compulsory for all students and will represent an important element for the training of integrative thinking. Contextual studies of the University of St.Gallen will now offer the following eight areas of concentration: media, responsibility, creativity, history, technologies, cultures, society and law.

New associated professors

The President of the HSG was also pleased that with the new non-tenured faculty concept, the University was able to create better conditions for up-and-coming researchers. “In this context, we now also appointed the first associated professors last year,” said Thomas Bieger. In contrast to assistant professorships, associated professorships are not limited to a maximum of ten years, and in contrast to full professorships, they are not given a chair. In 2018, the first HSG Impact Award was awarded, too, in recognition of research projects with a direct impact on society, business or politics.

In the academic year of 2017/18, the HSG awarded 821 Bachelor’s, 976 Master’s and 130 Doctor’s degrees, as well as 7 habilitations. At the same time, it came fourth in the 2017 European Business Schools Ranking of the Financial Times, and its EQUIS accreditation – an accreditation that is highly significant for business universities – was extended for five years. In addition, the HSG’s Master in International Management again came first in the worldwide Financial Times ranking of Master’s programmes in Management. The most gratifying student initiatives included the newly inaugurated co-working space “theCo” in the building in Müller-Friedberg-Strasse, as well as the 30th anniversary of the student association, oikos, whose aim it is to promote an awareness of sustainable development among students. oikos was founded at the University of St.Gallen more than 30 years ago; by now, there are oikos associations at more than 40 universities worldwide.

Drawing: Corinne Bromundt

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