Many transformative technology companies can trace their beginnings back to technical universities such as ETH Zurich, Stanford or MIT. Historically, though, startups coming out of these institutions face problems when they go to raise outside capital and make the move to become standalone entities. One path to ensuring a higher success rate for these so-called university ‘spin-outs’ is to connect with corporate partners and financial sponsors early in their lives to give the startups guidance and, for the companies with high degree of strategic fit, deliver revenue-producing pilot projects or direct equity funding.
To begin conversations with some of the more relevant startups spun out from ETH over recent years, ABB executives recently met nine university spin-offs – eight of which spun out from the ETH research labs – at the ABB Corporate Research Center for a full day innovation showcase. The goal was to find synergies and establish potential collaborations within areas of mutual strategic interest to both ABB and the ETH spin-offs.
Grant Allen, Head of Ventures, ABB Technology Ventures commented, “ABB Technology Ventures is, in large part, a technology scout for ABB, identifying high potential startups relevant to ABB. This ETH Innovation Day, which I hope will be the first of many, was enormously educational and highlighted some promising young companies operating both close to ABB’s domains and, quite literally, located nearby. It’s clear there are many shared opportunities between ABB and the ETH spin-offs and I look forward to seeing where the conversations initiated during the Innovation Day take us.”
Senior representatives from ABB’s corporate research unit and four business divisions were also present throughout the day and contributed to deep technical and business discussions with the spin-offs. John Finney, head of Technology and Business Development, BU Grid Automation, noted, “ETH is clearly a leader not only in technology development, but in fostering commercial adoption via spin-offs. Today’s event was very effective in that ABB’s business and technology leaders were able to screen, learn from, and advise several young firms building solutions and technology useful to our energy delivery and automation customers. I look forward not only to following up with a select few of them on how to work together to mutual benefit, but participating in such an event again.”
Nine total spin-offs were able to engage in one-on-one discussions with ABB research, business and venture representatives. One of the founders Felix Adamczyk, CEO of ETH born IoT startup qiio expressed, "The event impressed with its realization efficiency. You might be scared working with big cooperates because starting with them might consume a lot of time in trying to connect with the right person, but ABB and ETH transfer managed to put several ABB Business Unit decision makers in one room with us. That is amazing. We got two active leads, which are already in further discussion. Thank you ETH!"
ETH spin-offs selected to participate in the ABB visit included:
University of Zurich spin-off invited to participate in the event: