What Makes Switzerland One of the Friendliest Nations for Entrepreneurs?

An Interview with Martin Dahinden, Ambassador of Switzerland to the United States of America

Switzerland typically ranks among the top ten countries in the world for entrepreneurship. The country has a lower-than-average small-business-failure rate. And, Swiss entrepreneurs are more likely to start their businesses as a way to innovate an industry. (Check out the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor for all of these statistics and more).

So what is it about the Swiss culture or policy that encourages such entrepreneurial dynamism? How does this small country encourage and nurture so many entrepreneurs? With these questions in mind, I sought out the expert opinion of the Swiss Ambassador to the United States, Martin Dahinden. The ambassador agreed to share his insights into the economy, entrepreneurship, the importance of education and equity, along with his own fascinating career.

Steve Mariotti: What motivated you to enter into diplomatic service? How did your Ph.D. in Economics benefit you?

Ambassador Dahinden: to serve my country. And I was intrigued about working in foreign countries and discovering other cultures and many areas of work. Economic thinking rather than the Ph.D. title has been important throughout my career and has shaped my thinking—not only when I worked with trade-related issues, but also in coping with management tasks and in better understanding the fundamentals of foreign countries.

Ambassador of Switzerland Martin Dahinden
Ambassador of Switzerland Martin Dahinden

SM: What do you see as your primary mission as Ambassador of Switzerland to the U.S.?

Amb. D: Representing the Swiss government in the United States and interacting with U.S. authorities. One of my missions is to cast light on how close our two countries are—so close, in fact, that they used to be called “Sister Republics.” It is my ambition to encourage even more political, economic, scientific, educational and cultural exchanges.

Our economic ties, for instance, are outstanding. Switzerland is the 7th largest foreign investor in the United States with $224 billion of cumulative investment. Swiss affiliates account for more of the total foreign direct investment in the U.S. than China, Brazil, India, and Russia combined.

SM: Switzerland typically ranks among the top ten countries in the world for entrepreneurship, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. Switzerland also enjoys a lower-than-average small-business-failure rate. What steps does Switzerland take to encourage entrepreneurship and nurture an entrepreneurial eco-system?

Amb. D: Despite its traditional image, Switzerland is one of the most innovative countries in the world, regularly topping international rankings. That is due to many factors. First of all, Swiss companies spend nearly twice as much on research and development than their competitors in other European countries. Furthermore, strong public-private cooperation makes research very efficient.

Swiss universities rank among the top schools in the world. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zürich) is ranked ninth by the Times Higher Education, for instance; it assuredly creates a dynamic environment for their students and researchers. In Switzerland, excellent education is accessible at an affordable price.

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zürich)
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zürich)

SM: How does the education system contribute to the Swiss entrepreneurial spirit?

Amb. D: We have some of the world’s best universities. But not everyone pursues academic studies. Apprenticeships are very popular in Switzerland as well. It is an advantage that the educational system is very permeable and provides for a lot of pathways between the tracks.

It comes as no surprise that around two-thirds of Swiss high school graduates choose vocational or professional education instead of the academic path to start their careers. Thereby they gain profound workplace experience at a very young age. That young and capable workforce has all the tools to start their own companies and to contribute to Switzerland’s economy and society.

Chefs-to-be at a Swiss school
Chefs-to-be at a Swiss school

SM: How does this lively Swiss economy translate in the U.S.?

Amb. D: Swiss foreign direct investment is extremely important in the United States. More than 500 Swiss companies do business in the fifty states; they create more than 500,000 jobs directly and 1.8 million indirectly. Furthermore, the U.S. is the second most important Swiss export market. In 2015, for instance, 11% of total Swiss exports in goods went to the U.S.

The Swiss company Daetwyler, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, has had an apprenticeship program for more than twenty years
The Swiss company Daetwyler, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, has had an apprenticeship program for more than twenty years.
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