The intention behind the Swiss Innovation Park is to reinforce Switzerland’s leading position as a location for innovation and maintain the country’s economic competitiveness. The innovation park began operations in early 2016, with two hub sites centred on the two federal institutes of technology in Zurich and Lausanne and three network locations in Aargau, Northwest Switzerland and Biel. The Confederation plays a subsidiary role in the innovation park.
The aim of the Swiss Innovation Park is to secure and develop private research and development investment in Switzerland. This represents a valuable addition to the established funding instruments in Switzerland. The new approach seeks to make Switzerland attractive to international research and development players by providing developed parcels of land and floor space with expansion potential in the vicinity of existing higher education institutions and businesses.
Extensive preparatory work
In 2012 Parliament approved the total revision of the Research and Innovation Promotion Act (RIPA, in german), thereby creating the legal framework for providing federal funding for a Swiss Innovation Park, yet leaving plenty of leeway as to how the park should be set up. However, the law does state that the park should be spread over several sites. Furthermore, the cantons, higher education institutions and private sector should determine the competencies and partners (and so influence the form the park takes).
The Federal Council approved the configuration proposed by the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Economic Affairs (VDK) in 2014. Under this proposal, the innovation park would have two hub locations centred on the two federal institutes of technology in Zurich and Lausanne and two network sites in Aargau and Northwest Switzerland, forming a single network. In May 2015 the Federal Council decided to add Biel to this configuration, on the recommendation of a group of independent experts. Launched in 2016, the Swiss Innovation Park is responsible for further developments in the site portfolio.
The current federal funding instruments for research and innovation can also be used for activities at the Swiss Innovation Park's sites. The Confederation intends to take two new measures to finance the Innovation Park:
- Federal guarantee: framework credit of CHF 350 million to be used as collateral for earmarked loans. With this capital on hand, the new foundation will be able to obtain capital funding at advantageous conditions and so provide the various site hosts with the loans needed to finance research infrastructure (equipment, facilities). The guarantee is limited in duration and earmarked for specific purposes; the Federal Council will release funding in stages.
- Land use: In order to support the Innovation Park, federally owned land will be leased with construction rights. However, ground rent must be paid at a rate current with the market.
As it plays a subsidiary role in research and innovation promotion, the Confederation will not be directly involved in the operation of the park, but will conclude an agreement under public law with a national sponsor in accordance with RIPA.
Foundation as umbrella organisation
2015 the Swiss Innovation Park Foundation was set up by private individuals as the park's umbrella organisation. The foundation's tasks are to market the park on the international scene, coordinate and aid networking among the park's sites and promote the sites and their innovation activities. The foundation also acts as a link between the park and the Confederation, and is responsible for loan management and future development of the park.
The foundation, however, does not make any direct decisions regarding the sites. This is the responsibility of the local site sponsors (cantons). Nor does the foundation have any agreements with the Confederation regarding the lease of federally owned land. This is the concern of the relevant federal property agents and the host cantons.