ZURICH (Reuters) – Innovation has been a driving force behind Switzerland’s financial success in recent years, and will be essential for its post COVID-19 economic recovery.
The country has the world’s highest R&D spend per capita and was the top-ranked nation in the Global Innovation Index, based on indicators including investments, patent applications and high-tech exports.
After posting its steepest ever quarter-on-quarter decline in GDP on Thursday, a government economist said innovation will be a key driver for its recovery.
“Switzerland doesn’t have any oil fields, but we have brains,” said Swiss National Science Foundation spokesman Christophe Giovannini. The SNSF distributes 1 billion francs a year to research projects.
“Education, developing the minds and skills of young people, and research and innovation are key to the economic welfare of the country.”
Kraftwerk Tools and Novamem are two companies using their skills to launch new products during the COVID-19 crisis.
Novamem, a maker of separation technology based near Zurich, has adapted the plastic membranes it uses in water filters to use in face masks.
“Launching a new product in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis was a bit of a risk, but we thought we can do this,” said Chief Technology Officer Michael Loepfe.
“We developed and adapted our existing water membrane in one month. We changed the size of the pores within the membrane so that people could breathe through it.”
The filters are fitted to a washable cotton mask, with their light weight filters reducing waste.
Kraftwerk Tools, a Swiss company producing professional hand tools, then started selling the masks.
They currently sell 15,000 filters per week in Switzerland and the company is now targeting Germany, France and Spain, said Kraftwerk Chief Executive Alexander Pieper.
Orders are picking up and Novamem is looking to expand its workforce from nine to 11.
“Corona actually enabled us to build up a second pillar for our company. We are only small at the moment, but who knows what the future will bring,” Loepfe said.
(Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Hugh Lawson)