The scientific environment

Science and innovation in the Lake Geneva Region: a brief overview

Two centuries ago, Switzerland was still a true agrarian state, whose national economy was based on factors of production: land, labour and capital. Today education, research and innovation are undoubtedly the most im- portant resources of this small country located in the heart of Europe. Switzerland is a true research laboratory, one of the most fertile innovation ecosystems in the world where academic excellence is combined with an unrivalled ability to attract the best talent and large multinationals, often leaders in their sector, as well as a dense network of small and medium-sized enterprises in all sectors, which enjoy an excellent reputation for quality and innovation. In Switzerland, close collaboration between the academic and the business worlds generates innovative products with many commercial applications.

Switzerland’s largest research centres are the Swiss Insti- tutes of Technology of Zurich (ETHZ) and Lausanne (EPFL), which have achieved worldwide renown thanks to their achievements in engineering and natural sciences. Their scientific efforts are concentrated in sectors with tangible prospects for the future. The branches that stand out most for their dynamic growth are the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, medical technology, biotechnology, environmental technologies, information and communica- tion. Research in higher technical colleges and universities is mainly done in the field of natural science, which includes chemistry, physics and medicine as well as micro and nano- technology. Based on excellence in research and innovation, Switzerland is one of the most competitive countries in the world. The history of Switzerland as a cradle of research and technological development has been recognized worldwide for more than a century.

A global centre of innovation

The Lake Geneva Region has become a global centre of innovation. Thanks to its geostrategic position and historic role as an economic and technical crossroads, the Lausanne region has been chosen as the global or European head- quarters of many big companies such as Tetra Laval, Nestlé, Kudelski, Logitech, Medtronic and New Bobst Group. In addition to this economic fabric, there are banks, trusts and service companies that make the region an important commercial and financial centre.


The city of Lausanne and its surroundings have unprece- dented vivacity in terms of business creation and arrival. This spirit of competition is related in particular to the pres- ence of numerous multinationals, the city’s Olympic capital status – with more than 50 residing international federa- tions and sports organizations – as well as a unique con- centration of training and research centres. The latter have, directly or indirectly, generated a multitude of companies in all sectors. Lausanne brings you to Switzerland’s very own Silicon Valley to meet the new young businesses that could be the Logitechs, Bobsts or Nespressos of tomorrow.

The region’s innovative spirit owes much to the Scientific Park of the EPFL, where numerous start-up companies continually emerge. EPFL is an internationally renowned research and training centre and is, together with its partner, the University of Lausanne (UNIL), among the leading universities in a wide range of research fields such as networks, micro and nanotechnologies, biotechnology, information and communication technologies, transport and energy. It has taken part in several iconic projects such as Breitling Orbiter 3, Alinghi, Hydroptère, Solar Impulse and the Human Brain Project.


In close proximity to Lausanne lies the city of Geneva. Beautifully situated around the bay where the Rhone leaves Lake Geneva behind to continue its journey to the Mediter- ranean, the city is the most international in Switzerland.

Countless organizations have their headquarters there: Geneva has the highest density of international organi- zations and governmental representations anywhere in the world.

A large number of these institutions are linked to the United Nations (UN) and its dependent organisations. These include the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Conference on Disarmament and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also have their headquarters in Geneva, as do the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

When it comes to research, Geneva hosts one of the largest and most respected scientific research centres in the world, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN). CERN’s objective is to understand what makes the universe tick at the level of its most elementary constituents, the fun- damental particles. Scientists at CERN study these particles and the forces at work between them to address questions such as why nature seems to prefer matter to antimatter, or what the 95% of the universe that is invisible to us might be made of. The tools of the trade at CERN are vast instru- ments known as particle accelerators and detectors. The technology developed for these devices has direct benefits for medicine, computing, industry and the environment.

In addition to being host to numerous international orga- nizations, the Lake Geneva Region is considered the third most important neuroscience centre in Europe, following those of Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom. With more than 80 research groups in neuroscience, there is close cooperation and interaction between the univer- sities of Geneva and Lausanne, between their university clinics and with the EPFL.

Science and research in Switzerland

Science and research in Switzerland play a key role in scien- tific innovation and technology. Switzerland is one of the leading countries in the world in innovation and research. According to the global innovation index, the country was at the top of the list in 2016 for the sixth consecutive year, followed by Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Finland.

Investment in R&D

In research and development, Switzerland plays an import- ant role in the international arena and is one of the most competitive countries in the world. It is among the coun- tries with the most dynamic science base. Switzerland invests almost 3% of GDP in research and development. In international comparisons, it is regularly among the countries spending more on research and development in relation to GDP than the average. According to its Federal Statistical Office, Switzerland invests more than 22 billion Swiss Francs in research and development each year, with 68.2% of that coming from private companies. This makes Switzerland one of the countries whose companies are most active in R&D.

Gross domestic expenditure on research and development in Switzerland has grown steadily since the turn of the century. The private sector continues to be the main player in R&D, but the Confederation has also increased its support over time, reflecting the government’s commit- ment to research. R&D staff numbers are continuously rising, and women’s participation in research is on the up. In Switzerland, the financial and personnel effort dedicated to R&D is regularly rewarded for outstanding scientific results and for directly benefiting several economic sectors.


The largest Swiss companies in terms of market capitaliza- tion are Nestlé, the largest multinational food and bever- age company in the world, followed by Roche, a company dedicated to development and production of drugs and Novartis, also big player in the pharmaceutical sector.

With a new export record in 2016, the pharmaceutical in- dustry is more than ever a key pillar of the Swiss economy. The pharmaceutical industry alone accounts for almost 40% of the total value of Swiss exports, and has a history going back almost 150 years. This large percentage, which has never been achieved in the past, has made the Confederation increasingly dependent on its pharmaceutical multinationals, Novartis, Roche, Merck Serono and others, to maintain industrial activities and jobs. In turn, the pharmaceutical industry is highly dependent on research and development. Therefore it contributes to research funding in general and employs a large number of experts in the field.