Text: Benoît Dubuis
Photo: DR

Benoît Dubuis's Column

Support programmes must accommodate entrepreneurial diversity.


Why isn’t Switzerland more welcoming of diversity? Every time someone delivers a high-handed opinion about an innovation support programme or questions the value of such-and-such an initiative, I’m surprised by the ill-founded nature of their reasoning and their limited knowledge of these programmes. Is it out of laziness? A lack of perspective? A stubborn determination to defend their “baby”?

Let’s get one thing straight: diversity is a boon for both Switzerland and the entrepreneurs who expect its support. Indeed, this lead us to the very heart of the question: what do Swiss entrepreneurs truly need right now? By definition, their needs are as varied as their projects and the wide range of circumstances they come from. When we try to fine-tune support opportunities too much, we turn a blind eye to the diverse nature of entrepreneurs’ needs and end up supporting a small fraction of initiatives that don’t represent the full reality of the entrepreneurial environment in Switzerland.

I can’t help but be amused by the dozens of approaches trying to dictate the future of innovation. Taken individually, these ideas are intriguing, and yet not a single one can be applied to every instance. One of these approaches involves the recent trend towards “frugal innovation”. This concept consists of addressing a need as simply and effectively as possible using a minimum amount of resources.

But what is truly new about looking for a simple, efficient and cheap solution to a problem?

But what is truly new about looking for a simple, efficient and cheap solution to a problem? Isn’t this the basic rationale of every entrepreneur, who must overcome challenges while looking for funding and use their resources as sparingly as possible? Is this approach truly revolutionary? Not in the slightest. At most, it’s an interesting basic principle that could become a new focus in the debate surrounding innovation, as long as it’s not used to make sweeping generalisations.

This viewpoint has been brilliantly defended by Carlos Ghosn through the principle of the low-cost car, a concept that closely resembles the Indian technique of Jugaad, which, intellectually, appears promising. However, is frugal innovation alone enough to justify the creation of a new economy? No. In fact, through further discussion of the topic with its originator, Navi Radjou himself acknowledges that frugal innovation is just one approach among many that make the new economy so diverse and powerful.

What’s true for approaches to innovation is also true for support programmes, whether in the form of incubators, accelerators, vertical and horizontal assistance schemes, long-term and short-term funding, or programmes focused on all manner of topics. No single solution can meet the needs of all of the country’s entrepreneurs. Each programme targets a specific set of needs involving entrepreneurs who have a wide range of financial capabilities, availability, training and experience.

Therefore, instead of standardising these support programmes, isn’t it much wiser to encourage a synergistic and complementary approach so everyone can have access to the type of environment that will allow him or her to flourish and succeed? A mosaic isn’t beautiful because every tile is the same, but because each part is unique. /




Benoît Dubuis is President of Inartis Foundation.