Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The First of my Technical Visits

We had an early start this morning, one that seemed extra early for the amount of sleep given.  Our first stop after a surprising delicious breakfast (complete with hot meat, an omelet bar, fresh fruit, bread and cold bar, and homemade juice) was to StartZentrum.  The START Center is a business incubator that opened in May of 1999 in Zurich.  This is a not for profit, or better yet, "not for loss," organization to help Swiss and neighboring area entrepreneurs.   It was a great compliment to my time at Fort Wayne during my MBA Seminars.  There, we meet at the Northeastern Innovation Center which is a U.S. business incubator for the greater Indiana area.

At StartZentrum, we had the opportunity to meet with Marc Hamburger, CEO of the center.  He explained to us that on average, nearly 50% off new businesses survive the first 5 years of life, whereas with the help of an incubator, more than 90% of the businesses live on.  These statistics are very similar for U.S. incubators.  What these centers do is provide much needed expert coaching, consultation, capital search, infrastructure, as well as office and commercial space in order to help entrepreneurs.  Over its lifetime, the START center has helped more than 125 companies with 300 or more employees.

One of these notable companies is AVIQ an “over the top TV” company.  We had a presentation from Rudy Kiselijak, the CEO and founder of AVIQ.  He explained first of all his product which is a service that provided everything you could digitally want through your TV with an emphasis on web presence.  With the help of START he has been able to expand his company by “revolutionizing the TV experience for viewers and operators."
After this visit, we had the chance to break for lunch.  We headed out to Old Town to find a nice local place to experiment with Swiss food.  After wandering around for nearly an hour and almost getting lost (none of the roads run parallel or have any geometric pattern which makes navigating an interesting experience) we ended back up at a Burger King.  The only thing Swiss with that lunch was the price, nearly $20 for a value meal.

After lunch, we hopped back onto a coach and headed over to Zurich Financial Group.  Founded in 1872, its headquartered in Zurich and has a global presence with offices in Europe, North America, Latin America, and Asia with more than 60,000 employees spread out over 170 countries. Their motto is “we don’t sell assets, we sell promises” and from meeting with the company leaders, they sure seem to keep those promises.  Not only are they a top 5 company in the world for their sector, they are also a very global and human conscious organization making sure not to leave anyone out from their protective services.  Zurich Financial Group  is extremely innovative and unique from their custom white show room to their singing, guitar playing Chief Administrator.  After meeting with the insurance area, we moved over to the other side of town to meet with their financial services.  There we had a conference with their Chief Economist explaining the risk analysis process.  Next we met with one of their lead innovators for their Global Risk Assessment Module.  This is a complex computer and logarithm system that calculates global risks and simulations.  Within a few years, they plan on this being the global standard for risk evaluation much like the CSI World Book is for statistics.

The visits were very interesting, especially for someone as business focused as myself.  A few things that stuck out: Switzerland has a very stern and perfectionist culture.  It is clear that the society here is detail oriented in everything from the way they dress to how their presentations work.  One example is during one of the seminars, the presenter’s mouse did not work.  He made it very clear, in harsh German, that this was not acceptable and made sure that the problem was known and corrected.  Another odd image, at least for me, is that although the buildings hold many trash and recycling bins, none of them ever actually had trash in them.  The halls and offices are very clean and organized.  Finally, I realized how lucky we have it in the U.S. with an entrepreneur friendly mentality.  In Europe, if your business does not succeed, which many do not, the person is branded a failure for life and this can lead to problems with credit and status.  Back in the states, we believe if you haven’t failed yet, then you just are not trying hard enough.  Regardless, it was a very educational day and it’s only the very beginning of the trip.

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