The Swiss Blockchain Ecosystem: Welcome to Crypto Valleys!

The Blockchain Society team, based in Switzerland, recently received a suggestion to talk more about the vibrant Swiss Blockchain Ecosystem by doing a guest post for investincrypto.co. The question was simple:

“Could you try to describe what is happening in Switzerland right now?” .

Well yes, I can try.

Swiss flag and beautiful mountains. Yes, you can’t see a Swiss article without moutains, chocolate, or Swiss knife. We really can’t do it, sorry. Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

I. Introduction

Already pioneered since 2016–2017 by notable companies such as Swisscom, UBS, or Credit Suisse, the ecosystem saw the surge of cryptocurrencies’ global market capitalization in late 2017. The events from November 2017 to January 2018 have largely been documented in the Swiss press, and various profit and non profit actors have awakened in this period. The recent Swiss Blockchain Ecosystem map made by BlockchainHub Zürich in early 2018 gives a first look of the variety of actors:

Swiss Blockchain Ecosystem by BlockchainHub Zürich, January 2018

Now, let’s focus on the incomplete bottom right corner of the map

II. Swiss Universities: where blockchain will democratize

Teachers and Laboratories

A more in-depth look at the Cryptovalley website reveals that 9 universities and laboratories such as ETH Zürich (ETHZ), Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), or St. Gallen University are directly or indirectly linked to blockchain. Indeed, recognized laboratories involved in distributed systems and cryptography allow more in-depth, calmers discussions which mitigate against the “hype news” from media, notably around bitcoin. The spotlight on teachers and technical experts is hoped to have an influence on younger individuals, notably by emphasizing that blockchain is only one piece of digital and economical change, highly promoted in Switzerland. In a fast changing, highly unregulated cryptoassets environment, recognized actors balancing the hot and cold of the technology should be considered as strong positive elements.

Associations

While relatively young, about 20 associations have been mapped on Cryptovalley, along with an astounding total of 430+ startups, service providers and other organizations all linked to blockchain (May 2018). At the Blockchain Society, we think that associations assure the informal link between the public and new technology. Through workshops, practice sessions, meetups, events and discussions with peers, we think that blockchain and associated technologies will be democratized in the coming years. Swiss Universities again play an indirect role, as they currently host the population that will become young creators and could be the first users of smart contracts in the next few years.

III. The Swiss Blockchain Geography

Switzerland map with Cantons and borders

Now le’ts introduce Switzerland, its geography and population. Switzerland is is an Alpine country with 26 cantons and 8.5 million (m) people. Cantons and populations that interest us for the next parts are:

German part — Zürich: about 1.5m people, St. Gallen: 500k, Zug: about 120k

French part — Vaud: about 780k, Geneva: about 500k

Italian part — Ticino: about 350k

Parts that interest us for blockchain topics are mostly situated at the top-top right (Zug-Zurich-St. Gallen up to Liechtenstein) or the bottom left (Geneva-Lausanne). Let’s see what we have in each one of the circled parts, and let’s go for a tour of the country:

Map from https://cryptovalley.directory/ with orange circles to distinguish major sub-ecosystems

1. Zug + Zürich: The low tax, Crypto-FinTech Valleys

Most Swiss actors are concentrated around Zürich and Zug cities and their cantons. The Zug region, also called the “Crypto Valley”, is 35km or about 30min of train from Zürich. The presence of Zürich, the largest city of Switzerland in terms of population, seems to be highly beneficial for Zug.

Zürich is known to be the most active Fintech Hub of Switzerland and the second financial city in Europe after London.

While Zürich is more linked to banking innovations, Zug is the top Swiss city in terms of blockchain. Zug city has been a leader in promoting blockchain adoption, however its regulatory environment providing low taxes is its core asset.

Prime Tower “Skycraper” in Zürich. Don’t expect gigantic towers in Switzerland. Photo by Randy on Unsplash

It is also relevant to note that the panel of speakers of the Blockchain Summit held the 28th April 2018 comprised the Swiss Federal Coucillor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann. After low taxes and the Zürich neiborhood, the third core strength of “Crypto Valley” is its governmental support, which, contrary to many countries, is focused on collaboration with the variety of actors in order to create a vibrant ecosystem. In this regard, the “Crypto Valley association” states on its website that it is a “government-supported association established to take full advantage of Switzerland’s strengths to build the world’s leading blockchain and cryptographic ecosystem”

The Zug+ Zürich sub-ecosystem seems less beneficial to the nearby Luzern and Wintherthur. Despite their high populations, the two cities seem to have very few blockchain actors. The Zug+ Zürich ecosystem appear to be a drain on the activities in Luzern to Zug and from Winthertür to Zürich. One might expect more actors to set up between Zürich and Zug in the future: the closer to fintech, the closer to Zürich, and the closer to blockchain, the closer to Zug.

2. St. Gallen and Liechtenstein: Watch out for the borders!

Vaduz Castle, official residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein. Beautiful, isn’t it ? Photo by Henrique Ferreira on Unsplash

The Italian and Liechtenstein borders (south of Ticino, bottom of the map, and east of St. Gallen cantons) appear open also to blockchain-related projects.

St. Gallen city itself seems left out of the ecosystem for now, but its strategic location between Liechtenstein and Zürich is interesting. Liechtenstein appear sparticularly vibrant on this map. Indeed, due to its particularly low taxes, blockchain entities are moving from St. Gallen to Liechtenstein, and St. Gallen might not be the dead zone it seems to be. There is one particular case to watch out for: the Liechtenstein phenomenon is not as famous as the Zug one, but could be the next “Crypto Valley” of the Alps. If I had a penny to put on a Swiss border or city, I would definitely think twice between Zug and Liechtenstein.

3. Ticino: Italian arbitrage?

Lake Cadagno, Ticino. Despite a moderate blockchain acitivity, Ticino seems quite attractive for tourists. That might help. Photo by Boris Baldinger on Unsplash

Ticino is also an interesting case. For now, it is hard to see if the canton is overperforming or not in terms of blockchain. However, the Ticino canton is an Italian-speaking one, and a so called “politico-economical arbitrage” could appear between Italy (60m people country) and Ticino in the future. It is a region I would definitely watch out for depending on the Italian blockchain ecosystem and regulation. The map shown above does not indicate that Ticino is a “dead blockchain” zone, but rather that it could be an interesting part of Switzerland in the future.

4. Geneva + Lausanne: The extended Health Valley

If you happen to visit the French speaking part for blockchain business, go on a tour around the Geneva Lake. It really worths it. Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Another part to watch out is the French-speaking part of Switzerland between Lausanne and Geneva (South of Vaud and Geneva cantons). Similarly to the German-part universities, the presence of the EPFL appears relevant to blockchain-related projects births and talent retention. EPFL attracts talents coming from Western Europe, notably France, and North Africa, and foreign students often stress out their will to stay in the Geneva or Vaud cantons after studying.

At this point, it is relevant to note that Swiss start-ups received about $1bn in venture capital in 2016 and 2017 (publicly disclosed). Of this total round number, $450m were invested in 2016 in Vaud, and $300m in 2017. Those two figures suggest that investors are highly interested in the Swiss “Health Valley” and its associated technology. Zürich witnessed a growth from $110m in 2016 to $270m in 2017, mostly due to FinTech. This reinforces the idea that Lausanne and Zug-Zürich regions attract different types of activities. Keep an eye on blockchain applications not related to finance that might emerge from the Lausanne region! Notably, blockchain applications linked to medicine or life sciences might have more chance to emerge from Lausanne than Zürich.

Finally, Geneva brings an indisputable financial brick to the Vaud canton. Geneva-Lausanne are about 60km or 45min by train from each other, which also makes a small Swiss sub-ecosystem. While no remarkable tax incentives exist at the bottom left part of Switzerland, Geneva is said to be becoming a great FinTech hub (just after Singapore … and Zürich!). Lausanne could be discarded as an effective blockchain hub alone, but its coupling with Geneva increases its attractiveness for investors.

IV. Takeaways:

  • Except for the underperforming Bern, Basel and St. Gallen and overperforming Zug, Zürich, and Eastern St. Gal canton, it can be noted that the blockchain actors map is roughly similar to the population repartition of Switzerland.
  • With 400k people within the town, Zürich is two times bigger than Geneva, and three times bigger than Lausanne. Innovation has potentially more chance to appear in a large city such as Zürich, which is highly connected by air and ground to the rest of the continent.
  • Zug + Zürich are a potentially great crypto+fintech combo. As for the Swiss flag, Zug taxes are a big + for this ecosystem.
  • Lausanne + Geneva is the “Health Valley”. Blockchain applications notably linked to this field could appear. It is also the first French-speaking partin Switzerland pushing for innovation.
  • Ticino might attract Italian talents and companies if Swiss blockchain regulations are better than the Italian ones (Note: this might already exist).
  • Liechtenstein might become the next “Zug” of the Alps. Put a penny on this small ecosystem, it might explode in the next years.

V. In 3 sentences ?

Switzerland appears to be growing four blockchain sub-ecosystems, which are Zug+Zürich, Liechtenstein border, Geneva+Lausanne, and Ticino + Italian border.

Zug+Zürich posseses the majority of these actors and is first choice for blockchain, but Liechtenstein is an emerging concurrent region with low taxes.

Finally, Geneva+Lausanne seems to posses technical talents and financial resources for a healthy environment, and Ticino could become a major Italian-speaking blockchain hub.

Thank you for reading! Any questions, remarks, or suggestion?

Made with love by Arthur Baetens and the Blockchain Society for our friends from https://www.investincrypto.co/, May 8th 2018