Swiss women take on tech
Ever heard of Alisée de Tonnac, Abir Oreibi, Emilie Joly or Lea von Bidder? You should have. These Swiss women are the CEOs of businesses leading the way in tech research, entrepreneurship and promotion.
Women are using the expansion of social media and viral communication to make inroads in the tech and internet industries. In Switzerland only 14.5% of companies are founded by women – not a great score for a country which ranks among the world's most innovative, with women entrepreneurs playing a pivotal role. A number of Swiss initiatives are supporting the rise of female tech talents.
With more than 1500 members, Women in Digital Switzerland is a strong group which gives Swiss women active in the digital sector a platform to exchange ideas and network.
At the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), the Equal Opportunities Office is instilling a taste for entrepreneurship in the 3,000 women – undergraduate and post-graduate students and post-doctoral researchers – who make up a third of the university's campus. The EPFL has also just launched the Isabelle Musy Prize awarded to the best start-up idea developed by a female entrepreneur. Luckily numerous women haven't waited for a prize in their honour to take the plunge. Let us tell you about four of them.
Lea von Bidder – putting women in touch with their health
At 26, Zurich entrepreneur Lea von Bidder has already made it onto Forbes' 100 most important founders list. Her start-up, Ava, is making an impact in women's health from its headquarters in San Francisco. Ava is the story of a ground-breaking product: a connected tracker bracelet which uses technology developed at Swiss electronics and microtechnics research centre CESM in partnership with the Swiss federal materials science and technology institute Empa and Zurich University Hospital. What does it do? It helps women trying to get pregnant to detect their fertile window.
While you sleep, the bracelet, which connects with an app, collects millions of data points on your breathing, sleep quality, pulse rate and other parameters which correlate with an increase in reproductive hormones. Since the product's launch in the US in July 2016, the start-up has barely kept up with demand. "Technology allows us to do everything. But women have been using the same technique – the temperature method – to predict their cycle since the 1920s, and it's far from reliable," Lea von Bidder told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps in October 2016. "We need to bring fertility into the 21st century".
Abir Oreibi – lady of tech
Every year Abir Oreibi flexes her entrepreneurial muscle to transform Geneva into an incubator for web-based innovation, cutting edge technologies, the digital arts and the internet economy. The 47-year-old director of Lift Conference, a major annual event for digital innovators, knows how to get things moving. Under her leadership, Lift has expanded to host events in Basel, Mumbai, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Bangalore.
Oreibi speaks a French peppered with Anglicisms – a linguistic tick shared by many innovators and one which betrays the international focus of her life and career. Born in Libya, the Swiss dual national arrived in Geneva at the age of five. With a degree in political science from the University of Geneva, she left the country at 22 for Hong Kong, where she worked at the Institute for International Research (IIR). Following spells in Bangkok and Shanghai, Oreibi moved to the UK to inaugurate Alibaba's London office. She was recently appointed by the Federal Council to the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) to advise on start-ups and entrepreneurship.
Alisée de Tonnac has the ear of investors the world over
HEC Lausanne graduate Alisée de Tonnac is CEO of Seedstars World, a competition launched in 2013 which promotes start-ups from emerging countries. To discover start-ups and help them get their ideas onto the market quickly, Seedstars hosts regional competitions which culminate in an annual summit in Lausanne. With the ear of investors the world over, Seedstars has come to be considered a global movement for entrepreneurial excellence.
As a child, this Swiss national named by Forbes as one of thirty under 30's changing the face of Europe today moved around the globe following her father's international career. At university back in Switzerland, de Tonnac co-founded Seedstars World four years ago, convinced that innovation is everywhere and that technology can break down borders. It all comes down to exchange – of seed money as well as ideas. No wonder de Tonnac took up residence for a time in Nigeria, where several start-ups are working on payment by smartphone and innovations in banking and finance.
Emilie Joly – nothing beats interactive VR
It is in the male-dominated world of gaming that Emilie Joly is making her mark. Her field? Interaction design – the art and science of telling stories using new technologies. The 30-year-old is the co-founder of apelab studio in Geneva. Her start-up launched in 2014 has captured the attention of the gaming industry with Sequenced, a 360° animated comic series in nine episodes. Armed with a headset, the player interacts with a virtual environment. The narrative changes as the characters and environment react to the user's focus and movements.
In 2015, apelab was one of the attractions at the New Frontier exhibition organised by the Sundance Film Festival. The event helped the young development studio gain a foothold in the US. "It was an essential step in the communication and marketing of our technologies". From its new base in Los Angeles, in 2015 apelab set out to conquer the US gaming market with support from swissnex and the Pro Helvetia foundation for Swiss arts and culture.