Last week, we were in Silicon Valley for a week-long business development trip with the five winners of this year’s Swisscom StartUp Challenge. I’m proud to say that it has been one of the most intense weeks of the last years for nearly everybody. Understanding what makes Silicon Valley unique is best achieved when you immerse yourself in it for a couple of days.

Silicon Valley Culture

We only had one week, so it was essential to make the most of it. In total, the start-ups had 60 individual meetings with potential investors, industry experts and potential customers. Can you imagine having more than seven business meetings in a single day!? I am happy to disclose that some of the founders were so full of inspiration in the evening that they could hardly close their eyes – or was it the jet lag that was keeping us awake?

It is always great to see examples of people who succeed. That’s why our meeting with Swiss entrepreneur, Alain Chuard, was clearly a highlight: He sold his company Wildfire to Google for USD 350M in 2012. Yet, he gives a shining example of what you can achieve and still be a humble person!

Another important aspect is the sharing mentality embodied by nearly everybody from San Francisco to San Jose. Simon Heinzle from Crowd valued most that he could talk to people who had had a successful exit and get advice on how to scale a company into size: “I was really surprised by the openness. Those guys all shared some very impressive details with us.” The general spirit is more towards sharing than keeping information close to you. That’s why NDAs are not very common in Silicon Valley until you have a deep technical session.

Philipp Tholen from Ava found his biggest highlight that “I could inhale the Silicon Valley spirit first hand – it is super-exciting and overwhelming at the same time!”


“Meet the Venture Capitalist”

All start-ups adapted (=improved!) their pitching style over the week significantly. To kick off the week, they did a pitch towards a friendly VC from our network: Swiss VC Alex Fries from Ecosystem Ventures bridges the gap between Silicon Valley and Switzerland.

The next days we were out in the open waters: Pitching at Artiman, one of the world’s finest VC firms, made a strong impression, though it was super-challenging at the same time. The VCs in Silicon Valley were perceived as much more aggressive and pushy: “After two minutes you had to answer the question how to conquer the world!”

Some of the investors even gave us feedback that they think the ecosystem in Switzerland has improved significantly. We could see dramatic improvement in the pitches over the week: They became much more tailored to the target group. That’s why Beat Schillig is convinced: “It’s all about Champion’s League here – the start-ups compare well in terms of quality to the ecosystem.”

Business Impact

The business impact of the week was high, especially for Monetas, whose CMO Vitus Ammann concludes: “We managed to meet exactly the people we need to grow the business, even when our vision is quite advanced so that it can sometimes be hard to find. Well done!” I believe that this is part of what makes the Swisscom StartUp Challenge unique: We leverage our network into the tech and investor community in Silicon Valley to make sure that all the meetings are business-relevant for the specific start-up.

For Yosef Akhtman from Gamaya it was the variety of experts that made the trip valuable: “We met the whole spectrum of investors, from seed investors to multi-million crazy investors. We had the chance to interact with the most experienced technology people and the next day have the most superficial conversations. As a highlight, we met with the most knowledgeable person in our field – mind-blowing!”

This post was originally published on the ICT Blog.