EPFL startups raised CHF 470 million in 2023, a record number excluding 2021, an unusual year with three IPOs. In 2023, a total of 23 startups were born, of which more than a third were created by women.
Last year, startups suffered their first crisis in 10 years. For example, due to the global economic slowdown, the amount of new business financing has fallen by 30% in the United States, 35% in Switzerland, and 38% in France. But the startups emerging from EPFL were undeterred and raised a near-record 470 million Swiss francs. This strong performance is partly due to the fact that many of them are deep tech companies, so they are less affected by the economic downturn. “These companies develop products and services based on advanced technology and remain very attractive to investors,” said Andre Catana, Head of Startup Launchpad at EPFL. The active R&D ecosystem in EPFL and the wider Lake Geneva region is contributing to the creation of fertile ground for new businesses. His first EPFL Investor Day in late 2023 was a great success. And a series of other indicators similarly testify to the strength of our innovation, including the number of startups created, the growing interest of our students in entrepreneurship, and the number of startups founded by women.
Increase in startup funds
The incubation period for deep tech startups, the period from when the technology is invented in the lab until it is brought to market, can span several years and go through several stages of development. Many investors believe that scaling up, or moving companies beyond the initial startup stage, is a safe bet. However, EPFL saw a sharp rise in the number of startups receiving funding of less than CHF 1 million in 2023. Companies with large funding rounds were more affected by the economic downturn. Although they still require large amounts of cash, they are far from profitable and investors tend to shy away from them during times of economic uncertainty.
Six EPFL scale-ups completed funding rounds exceeding CHF 20 million in 2023 – Distalmotion (CHF 134 million), Kandou (CHF 72 million), Ecorobotix (CHF 46 million), Lunaphore (CHF 40 million, subsequently acquired by a US-based company) Bio-Techne) – reflects years of growth supported by past investments. These six funding rounds were among the 20 largest in Switzerland last year, alongside those by ClearSpace (CHF 26.6 million) and SWISSto12 (CHF 25 million).
Persuading investors to put money into a startup is a challenge because the startup's technology is typically unknown, its pitch to investors and its business plan untested. Start-up funds play an important role at this stage. “The number of startups that completed their first round of funding has skyrocketed in the last year,” Katana said. “Up from a peak of 94 rounds in 2022, there were 120 rounds of less than CHF 1 million in 2023. It will help build 'for future growth and attracting further investment. ”
Taking into account start-ups based in the EPFL Innovation Park, which are not direct spin-offs but are linked to the school, the total investment in EPFL start-ups in 2023 will be CHF 769 million, including investments by Oculus It also includes a CHF 235.8 million IPO.
More than a third of new EPFL startups will be led by women in 2023
New businesses create jobs, foster innovation and are important drivers of the economy. In Switzerland, universities work together with the cantonal and federal governments to create an environment in which startups can grow. This includes providing financial support to reduce founders' risk, help them build their teams, and accelerate business development. These organizations also run a variety of programs for entrepreneurs, offering coaching, training, experience sharing, and more. Thanks to this assistance, engineers can quickly learn the ins and outs of launching a new business and get off to the right start. EPFL has been accompanying startups for over 20 years and the number of spin-off companies has exceeded his 500, including 23 last year.
Another milestone for 2023 is that more than a third of new businesses were created by women. More female role models are starting to appear at the top of scaled-up and large companies. For example, the founders of DePoly, Xsensio, and Lunaphore are all women. As part of its commitment to supporting talented young women, EPFL awards the Isabelle Musy Prize every two years to a French- or Italian-speaking female entrepreneur in Switzerland. And six years ago, EPFL's vice president for innovation introduced various programs to encourage students interested in entrepreneurship. The number of students participating continues to grow, and 16 of her business ideas that came out of the program ended up being born into new companies.
The rise of clean tech
In recent years, EPFL has seen a sharp increase in the number of cleantech startups working in the field of clean energy and environment. This reflects current social concerns, scientific and technological advances, and his EPFL's strengths in these areas. Nearly a third of his startups founded in 2023 were in the cleantech industry (28%). His other two major industries were IT (29%) and engineering-related deep technology (28%).