As the World Economic Forum 2016 concludes, what are the big take-aways? And what might be one of the most promising answers to the question of its Global Agenda: "The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond?"
In early January, World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab summarized the topic as follows:
"An underlying theme in my conversations with global CEOs and senior business executives is that the acceleration of innovation and the velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend or anticipate and that these drivers constitute a source of constant surprise, even for the best connected and most well informed. Indeed, across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution are having a major impact on businesses."
But what are these "drivers that constitute a source of constant surprise" if not entrepreneurs? It is, after all, the entrepreneurs among us who "accelerate innovation" and push forward the "velocity of disruption." It is because of founders Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick that the world's largest taxi company doesn't own any taxis (UBER). It is because of founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk that the largest accommodation provider owns no real estate (AirBnB). And it is because of founder Jack Ma that the world's most valuable retailer owns no inventory (Alibaba). The Digital Transformation that drives the Fourth Industrial Revolution is happening because entrepreneurs have found ways to turn innovation into business.
So back to Klaus Schwab's question: What the Fourth Industrial Revolution means, how to respond? After listening to world leaders for three days, I believe there are two ways to respond: Fight it or improve it. Switzerland has chosen to focus on the latter. It is using its number 1 position as most innovative country in the world to attract entrepreneurs from around the world and build a bright and prosperous economic future.
A very concrete step in this direction happened only hours before the opening dinner of the World Economic Forum. At the Investor Summit at Zurich airport, Kickstart - The Swiss Accelerator launched its application on January 19, 2016.
The idea is simple: Switzerland is bursting with incredible resources for young startups. Starting in July 2016 the Kickstart Accelerator will welcome founders from around the world to live and work in Zurich for three months. They receive up to 25,000 Swiss Francs (approximately $24,606) in seed funding and 1,500 Swiss Francs ($1,476) per month for living expenses as well as mentoring, free office space and fast-track access to relevant industry partners. The program culminates on Demo Day, where each startup presents their company to Swiss venture capitalists, corporate leaders, and journalists.
Initiated by the Kick Foundation, a foundation uniting the country's most successful startup initiatives, in cooperation with DigitalZurich2025, a cross-industry initiative founded by 14 multinationals - among them Google, UBS, EY and Ringier - the city and canton of Zurich as well as the Federal Institute of Technology, Kickstart is the largest and most ambitious international startup program to date in Switzerland.
By focusing Kickstart on those areas where Switzerland is particularly resourceful and has a competitive advantage, the Kick Foundation and DigitalZurich2025 can enable early-stage entrepreneurs like few others can. In particular, Kickstart will have four verticals: FinTech, Smart & Connected Machines, Food, and Future & Emerging Technology. Applications are currently open and close on March 31st, 2016.
Improving the Fourth Industrial Revolution sounds like a herculean task. But let's not forget that in every industrial revolution, it has been the entrepreneurs who found ways to turn innovation into business. And this, in turn, created more jobs, more wealth and ultimately more life quality. So as we leave Davos and return to our respective corners of the world, let's remember that the heart of Europe has opened its gate to business ideas from around the world, inviting entrepreneurs to kickstart their venture in Zurich. And even if we don't all become entrepreneurs this summer, let's meet and greet the Forth Industrial Revolution first and foremost as a great opportunity ahead.