«The SEF is one of the best places for networking anywhere in Switzerland», says Detlef Günther. The 59-year-old is a Professor at the Laboratory of Inorganic Chemistry at ETH Zurich and attended the forum for the first time in 2015. «At the time, I had just been appointed as Vice President for Research and Corporate Relations of ETH Zurich, so my participation was kind of a compulsory exercise – and a very pleasant and productive one, as it turned out.»
Basically, he says, the whole of Switzerland comes together at the SEF. «I meet the CEOs of major firms and SMEs that the ETH works with.» But the event is also incredibly valuable for the academic community: «It is really easy to get into discussions with colleagues from other Swiss universities.» Germany may have the Weltmarktführer-Treffen conference for global market leaders, «but the SEF has a much broader scope».
On multiple occasions, the foundations for projects between universities and industry have been laid at the SEF: «There is no snobbery, meaning that the discussions – in the evening at the Victoria Bar, for example – are very open», says Günther. «That makes it really easy to pick up the phone a few days later and say ‘come on, let’s turn our ideas into something concrete».
The SEF also gives researchers in particular a good insight into what industry and Swiss SMEs are currently doing. «Back in 2015, Roche CEO Severin Schwan gave a keynote speech at the SEF on the importance of Big Data», says Günther. “It was a real eye-opener for me, then freshly appointed to my new role. The relevance of data, particularly in personalised medicine, has been growing constantly ever since.»
Günther is looking forward to the next edition, not least because of its informal element: «How many other conferences are there these days where you can still smoke a late-night cigar in convivial company?»
Recorded by Mirko Plüss