He has been researching the Swiss entrepreneurial culture for years: Rico Baldegger is director of the School of Management Fribourg and heads the team that publishes the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Switzerland (GEM) every year.
Mr. Baldegger, in Switzerland, not only are about 300 startups founded per year, but statistics for 2017 show a total of more than 40,000 new companies. Are the Swiss inherently entrepreneurial?
In relation to our neighbouring countries, we have a high startup rate. This is gratifying because people who start their own business are constantly renewing the business population. But if we consider other countries – for example, the US or the Baltic states – we are less well off. There, a much larger proportion of the working population opts for life as an entrepreneur.
Is it due to the much-cited conditions?
No, Switzerland’s regulatory and fiscal framework is first-rate. But I identify two deficits in the support services available in Switzerland: first, there is a lack of contact points for entrepreneurs in the low and no-tech sectors, and, second, we tend to address young people.
Let’s start with the topic of age. What do you base your diagnosis on?
For the Global University Entrepreneurial Spirit Student’ Survey (GUESSS), we interviewed graduates and professionals five years after graduation. Of the first group, 5.4 % expressed the intent to pursue an entrepreneurial career; in the second group, it was a good five times more, just under 30 %. The sense of entrepreneurship increases with professional and life experience. This is also shown by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Switzerland: of the 18 to 24-year-olds, only 15.8 % of respondents recognise entrepreneurial opportunities in their environment. For the 35 to 54-year-olds, it is 49.9 %. I conclude from this that our support offer, which takes place not only but particularly in and around the universities, actually addresses the wrong age group. The idea of the young entrepreneurial genius, the Mozart myth, is misleading.
The technical universities also offer CAS and extra-occupational master’s courses in the field of entrepreneurship…
These courses are relatively expensive. In Switzerland, the degree courses are virtually free, while further education costs money. This bargain offer may not actually be of much use if it comes too early.
You mentioned support of low and no-tech foundations. What could be improved here?
Many private and public entrepreneurship programmes are firmly oriented towards knowledge and technology transfer, but business opportunities also exist outside ICT and the life sciences.
Is the desired growth potential also there?
Absolutely! Take the example of franchising; in the US, entrepreneurs from the service and commerce sectors build up great job machines with this concept. In contrast, franchising here ekes out a shadowy existence; it has to do with our aversion to everything serial and standardised.
How do you generally encourage people to become entrepreneurs?
You have to show them what it really means to run a business. At the School of Business Management Fribourg, we try to show the entrepreneurial reality. For example, in the first semester of 2019, we are starting a Master’s course on ‘Entrepreneurial negotiations’.
What can third parties, such as the government, do?
I’m not calling for political intervention. This is an obligation I see primarily of the universities and their alumni. In the US, the leading universities operate extensive and closely supervised alumni networks that include successful entrepreneurs, managers and investors. They form exactly the sort of structures on which an entrepreneur relies in the early years. I am absolutely sure that Switzerland still has a lot of unexploited potential in this area.
Interview: Jost Dubacher
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