Venture Leaders 2014: 10-day Bootcamp in Boston & New York City

Since 2000, every year, swissnex Boston and Venturelab jointly organize  “Venture Leaders”- a program consisting of a 10-day business development ‘boot camp’ in Boston. This year, for the first time, the program took also extended to New York City, thanks to a collaboration with swissnex New York.

In this way, the 20 most promising Swiss entrepreneurs had the opportunity to dive into the entrepreneurial ecosystem and business spirit of both cities.

In addition, this program allowed the entrepreneurs to interact with peers and learn from their experience, thus benefitting from a group learning environment. Indeed, the venture leaders share their challenges, develop ideas and motivate one another. They return then to Switzerland with a new outlook and drive to success.

This year’s team encompassed a large array of high-tech startups with activities ranging from recovering paraplegic patients’ locomotion to an insect-inspired micro-drone.

The very exhaustive program included intense business training courses at Babson College, company visits, coaching sessions and workshops with successful local entrepreneurs and investors, pitch competitions and networking.

Babson Training

The venture leaders benefitted from a three-day intensive program at Babson College, one of the top ranked business schools in the world  specializing in management and entrepreneurship. The team attended classes led by Prof. Les Charm and Prof. Ed Marram on team building, decision-making processes, strategy, and leadership.

Expert sessions at CIC

swissnex Boston assembled sessions wherein the 20 entrepreneurs could present their business projects in front of a panel of experts from different backgrounds. The experts provided the entrepreneurs with valuable feed back aimed at helping them refine their business plan. The venture leaders were split into 5 sub-categories according to their fields of activity: medtech, biotech, engineering, tech/cleantech and IT.

The sessions took place at the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), adjacent to the MIT campus, site of the headquarters of more than 600 startups. CIC generates many opportunities and interactions for startups that would like to expand their business.

Meetings with VCs

The venture leaders attended many Venture Capital meetings in Boston and new York. These various VC perspectives allowed the entrepreneurs to better understand how the startups work in the US. The team had the chance to meet the following Ventures:

Third Rock ventures was founded in 2007 with the mission to launch transforming companies. They set out to build a different firm – a firm that was squarely focused on launching exceptional healthcare companies with passionate entrepreneurs working in areas of disruptive science and medicine for the purposes of making a difference in the lives of patients. By working closely with the scientific and business communities, they seek to identify the most promising opportunities for the future of medicine and then build the team and company structure to make this visionary science a business reality.

General Catalyst Partners is specialized in two broad stages of investment: Early Stage and XIR/Growth. They have ten managing partners and tend to be active participants with their portfolio companies, helping with team building, business development and strategy.

Their Early Stage practice focuses on the following type of investments:

Hatch – incubating and funding ideas created through their partners and ecosystem of entrepreneurs

Seed – funding an idea that is brought to them in its earliest, most fragile stage

Highland Capital Partnersis a global venture capital firm founded in 1988 with offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA; Menlo Park, California, USA; Geneva, Switzerland; London, UK and Shanghai, China. Highland has invested in more than 225 companies. Investments include 2UAereoAsk JeevesBromium, Gigamon, Leap MotionLululemon AthleticaLevelUpLycosMapQuest, Nebula, Qihoo 360, Quattro Wireless, Rent the Runway,Starent NetworksSybaseVistaPrint and WePay. Highland also serves as a mentor for future entrepreneurs through Summer@Highland, a program that provides students and university-affiliated startups with the environment and resources to take their initiative to the next level.

New Leaf Venture Partners (NY) is a leading healthcare technology focused venture capital firm with a team of senior partners that has been successfully investing together for nearly 2 decades. NLV focuses on investments in the biopharmaceutical, information convergence (HCIT), medical device, and biological research tools & infrastructure sectors.

Across all sectors and stages, the New Leaf team is focused on building value in companies by creating strong management teams and then collaborating with them to develop, manage, and execute capital efficient business plans.

Betaworks (NY) has been building product in its New York Studio since 2008. Their ideas, people, capital and data are united in an imaginative way that enables them to create beautiful and transformative products for the socially connected world. They have also made a number of small seed investments over the years. Their investment portfolio includes Tumblr, Twitter, and Kickstarter. To them, seed investing means “first money in” They usually invest as part of a syndicate of angels and early-stage VCs. Investments must be early-stage, heavily tech-focused, and have a working (public or private) prototype.

Company visits   

Company visits were an integral part of the program and aimed at providing a broader understanding of how the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boston and New York is nurtured with innovation. Key people from successful Boston area and New York companies were invited to give their insights. The venture leaders visit the following companies:

Parexel operates in 75 locations in 50 countries around the world, and has 15,335 employees. For over 30 years, Parexel has proven to be a trusted partner for the complex development journey required of biopharmaceutical and medical device companies. They are also an astute guide, able to simplify that journey for their clients, so safe new products can reach patients more quickly. Parexel strives to be the premier provider to the biopharmaceutical and medical device industries for the development and commercialization of new medical therapies worldwide. Parexel’s mission is to combine the strength of our expertise, experience and innovation to advance the worldwide success of the biopharmaceutical and medical device industries in preventing and curing disease.

As Chairman and CEO of Parexel, Mr. von Rickenbach has taken Parexel from its pioneering beginnings as one of the first clinical research organizations (CROs) in the early 1980s to its place as one of the top three public biopharmaceutical services providers.  He has led Parexel through its IPO, multiple public offerings, and over 35 mergers and acquisitions during the Company’s more than 30-year history, expanding its portfolio to meet changing client needs and market demand.  Under his leadership, Parexel has evolved to provide a broad range of services, including globally integrated clinical development, regulatory affairs consulting, commercialization services and technologies that expedite time-to-market.Foreseeing the globalization of clinical research, Mr. von Rickenbach worked to expand Parexel’s global footprint to 75 locations in 50 countries. This extensive geographical presence and the Company’s 15,335 employees allow Parexel to conduct clinical trials across every continent in more than 100 countries.

Microsoft technology Center (MTCs) (NY) are collaborative environments that provide access to innovative technologies and world-class expertise, enabling you to envision, design, and deploy solutions to meet your exact needs. The MTCs include a spectrum of purpose built environments to ensure world class learning and development experiences. The MTCs staffs are experts in Microsoft technology solutions. They will work side by side with your team to rapidly find solutions to your technology challenges. Their staff’s expertise and in-depth knowledge of Microsoft products and technologies ensure that you benefit from development best practices. The MTCs have formed alliances with industry leaders to provide comprehensive resources, including hardware, software, and services, for the duration of your team’s engagement.

Tumblr (NY) is a media network powered by an army of independent creators and home to an audience of more than 300 million unique visitors. Founded by David Karp in 2007, Tumblr is headquartered in New York City. The company was acquired by Yahoo in 2013.

reddit (NY) was founded by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian in 2005, and is an online community where users submit, vote, and comment on content, stories, and discussions. The hottest stories as determined by the community through discussions and voting rise to the top of the site, while cooler stories sink. Anyone can create a community (called a “subreddit”); each subreddit is independent and moderated by a team of volunteers. reddit is open source, and community members are constantly tinkering and contributing features and translations back to the site. In October 2013, reddit received more than 4.9 Billion page views and 85.9 million unique visitors. In addition, reddit also hosts the world’s largest gift exchange as listed in the Guinness Book of World Records through, and features video and original programming through

Zkipster (NY) is the industry’s fastest, most-reliable guest list app for non-ticketed event check-in at premieres, parties and galas, promotional events and conferences. It’s the first check-in app compatible on iOS, Android and Windows 8 platforms – offering secure real-time guest list management for public relations, meeting and event professionals. Zkipster was developed in cooperation with a group of the world’s foremost event professionals. Zkipster is a Swiss company with operations in New York City, London, Sao Paulo, Hong Kong and Zurich.

Art Sy (NY) has the mission to make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. They are an online platform for discovering, learning about, and collecting art. Their growing collection comprises 90,000+ artworks by 15,000+ artists from leading art fairs, galleries, museums, and art institutions. Artsy provides one of the largest collections of contemporary art available online. Powered by The Art Genome Project—a way of providing pathways for discovery for experts and non-experts alike—Artsy hopes to foster new generations of art lovers, museum-goers, collectors, and patrons. They are honored to partner with 1,500+ leading galleries, as well as 200 institutional partners including museums and foundations from around the globe.

Harlem Biospace (Hb) (NY) is a new biotech incubator, the first of its kind in New York City, to offer affordable shared wet-lab space for early-stage biotech companies. It offers a beautiful wet lab outfitted with modern biotech equipment, exciting classes and events, and business support – creating a community to turn ideas into inventions that solve real health problems. Harlem Biospace is situated at the heart of three academic campuses (Columbia University, City College of New York, and Columbia’s Manhattanville campus), with easy access to other major universities, the life science community, and the vibrancy of New York City.

Chromocell (NY) is a life sciences company which improves consumer products and patient lives through breakthrough science and technologies. We are focused on the discovery and development of flavors and nutritional ingredients, and therapeutics through our pioneering Chromovert® technology. Chromovert® enables us to use naturally occurring cells and receptors in high performance discovery platforms.


swissnex Boston organized a series of events around the venture leaders program. Two receptions took place in Boston. One at swissnex Boston: the Swiss American Startup Meetup with local entrepreneurs, and another at the Swiss Residence: the venture leaders’ BBQ, an event where Boston Consul and swissnex Boston CEO, Dr Felix Moesner, welcomed 80 guests from the local innovation economy for an evening of informal exchange.

The last and hallmark event in Boston was the Global Pitchfest, which took place at Boston’s District Hall. This pitch competition was organized together with MassChallenge, the world’s largest startup accelerator. The competition consisted of Swiss entrepreneurs competing alongside local entrepreneurs for the best pitch. Each startup had to convince both the live audience and the panel Swiss and American startup jurors that their business was the best venture to invest in. The rules were simple: one minute and one slide per pitch. The audience present could vote live through an SMS-based polling system, while the jury made their selections based on a number of criteria. This year, the audience and the jury were unanimous and selected the same startup as winner: One Drop Diagnostics, an EPFL spinoff that developed a mobile medical diagnostics device that can revolutionize medicine by providing laboratory quality diagnostics in a more mobile fashion, at the doctor’s office or patient’s home.

The Pitchfest winner and the participating audience had the opportunity to win various prizes that were awarded by lottery, and generously sponsored by Swiss International Airlines, Victorinox and Lindt.

In New York, the venture leaders had the opportunity to partake in another pitch competition, the Swiss Tech Night, which took place at WeWork and was co-organized withVentureOutNY. Each entrepreneur had 1 minute and 1 slide with which to pitch their company to the audience, but this time only the expert jury panel could select the overall winner, with the audience selecting the top 5  pitches of the night. The winner was Versantis, an ETHZ spinoff developing versatile antidotes, capable of removing diverse toxic agents from the organism and saving patients from metabolic, medicine and drug overdoses. Throughout the bootcamp, the venture leaders perfected their business pitches and this event allowed them to show their progress in pitching.

The last event held was the Tell Award at Bloomberg. This event, named for Swiss folk hero William Tell, recognizes US companies in a wide range of industries, of all sizes and in various stages of business development that have conquered the European/EMEA market from their operations based in Switzerland, the global leader for innovation and competitiveness. During the awards program, leaders of the awarded companies discussed the projects that are working and the strategies they employ to make them a success. This year Google, MSA Safety and Novocure were honored.

The Venture Leaders program received broad coverage in the media. A selection of news reports and articles is below: