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3 questions to Iris Gaudras, director key accounts & blockchain coordinator at the Greater Geneva Bern area

Tuesday 11 December 2018

This article was originally published on on 10 December 2018

They are our clients, our friends, good contacts or just people we met in the crypto-community. They have new vision, they are running great projects, they are developing new services or they just want to share their story. Once a week (maybe more or maybe less depending of your feedback!), Havas Blockchain will interview key people of the blockchain ecosystem.

We are today with Iris Gaudras, Director Key Accounts & Blockchain Coordinator at the GGBa

1. First of all, can you present us GGBa and why you focused on blockchain in your activities?

Our agency

The Greater Geneva Bern area (GGBa) is the official foreign investment promotion agency for Western Switzerland, bringing together the cantons of Bern, Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel, Geneva and Valais. Our mission is to advise and assist non-Swiss companies active in innovative sectors, including blockchain, in setting up a presence in the region. Since its inception in 2010, the GGBa has guided hundreds of companies from around the world in launching successful business operations in the region, in collaboration with the cantonal economic development offices.

Our region

Western Switzerland covers almost 50% of the Swiss territory, is home to one-third of the total population and generates one-third of the country’s GDP. With French and German as the two official languages in the region, the companies based here enjoy privileged access to the two largest linguistic and cultural communities in Europe. English, of course, is widely spoken in business and everyday life. The region is fully integrated into the EU market thanks to a free trade agreement and numerous bilateral agreements covering the free movement of goods and services. It also benefits from a series of free trade agreements with partners outside of the European Union, most notably with China. Western Switzerland stands out for its pro-business framework that creates the best possible conditions for large and small firms to thrive. Entrepreneurs the world over appreciate our flexible labor laws, competitive tax rates, predictable political environment and strong social stability. The region has a large talent pool, fueled by the presence of world-class academic institutions and by a hard-to-beat quality of life. All this, combined with the powerful innovation infrastructure in place, has given rise to the development of unique skills and expertise in the fields of information and communications technologies, micro and nanotechnologies, life sciences and cleantech. For decades now, Western Switzerland has been able to attract companies and institutions active in these high added-value business sectors.

Our support

Since each project is unique, at the GGBa we offer tailor-made assistance to each investor. We provide information and advice on the business environment in Switzerland, the tax system and the public incentives available. We act as a door opener and facilitate contacts with public and private sector partners, as well as academic and R&D institutions. We also assist with all administrative procedures linked to company creation and employee relocation. Our services are 100% confidential and free of charge.

Our blockchain ecosystem

If Switzerland is usually referred to as the “crypto nation”, we at the GGBa believe that our region has all it takes — technologically, legally and politically speaking — to attract the best blockchain businesses out there. We maintain that blockchain is a very promising technology, especially when applied to the high-tech industries in which Western Switzerland excels. Over the last twelve months, a flourishing blockchain ecosystem has developed in our region. It is comprised of supportive service providers, world-class education institutions and a dynamic business and start-up community comprised of around 70 companies — and counting. We receive more and more inquiries from companies interested in joining this ecosystem. Unfortunately, the blockchain and crypto space is plagued with scam projects. Filtering out the questionable requests is key. Once we have established that a company has a serious, viable project, we are ready to provide our full support, hand in hand with our cantonal colleagues.

2. What are the strengths and the weaknesses of Western Switzerland for blockchain entrepreneurs?

Western Switzerland boasts a comprehensive network of blockchain-savvy service providers, from banks and law firms, to accounting, audit and tax experts. The GGBa works with a number of these, as well as with commercial and private banks offering services to blockchain clients. We also rely on a pool of competent and experienced advisors and consultants, who are specialized in blockchain and DLT projects, as well as marketing and event planning. In a virtuous circle, the presence of multiple service providers with excellent reputation has spurred the creation and the arrival of new companies. This, in turn, has fostered the development of innovation hubs, incubators and support programs dedicated to blockchain entrepreneurs. The offer of higher education has also adapted and evolved accordingly. As of January 2019, the University of Geneva and the CREA School will offer continuing education programs in blockchain and DLT. The Blockchain Lab of the HES-SO Valais/Wallis works on various research projects in the eHealth, eServices, and eEnergy sectors. The Center for Digital Trust (C4DT) combines EPFL’s renowned expertise in cybersecurity, sensitive data protection and blockchain and smart-contracting technology with the capabilities of 12 institutional and industrial partners. The Swiss Blockchain Winter School, organized jointly by EPFL, ETHZ and IC3, will be held in Interlaken during the week of February 10–15, 2019. For entrepreneurs, this plethora of quality programs and institutions means not only that they can easily find the blockchain talent they need, but also that they can develop better products and solutions as a result of R&D partnerships. Last but not least, Western Switzerland bustles with large conferences and informal meetups to complement and enhance the day-to-day business of its dynamic blockchain community. Next in the series of blockchain-focused events is the Geneva Annual Blockchain Congress, that will take place on January 21, 2019. It will present blockchain solutions applicable to four fields of activity: identity and e-government, education, financial technologies, and commodity trading.

Unfortunately — and this is perhaps Western Switzerland’s greatest weakness as far as blockchain goes — all this is still little known. In international media, the spotlight is always on Zug’s Crypto Valley, but that cluster of blockchain companies and foundations today extends far beyond the borders of the small town where it originated. In fact, the Crypto Valley encompasses the whole country: The Swiss legislation is designed to help the blockchain and crypto industry to thrive, be it in Zug or elsewhere. In February 2018, the national financial market authority, FINMA, became the first regulator in the world to publish clear guidelines on ICOs. The guidelines recognize the innovative potential of blockchain technology, clarify the application of financial market legislation in handling enquiries from ICO organizers and classify tokens issued during ICOs based on their economic function (payment, utility and asset tokens). In Geneva, the cantonal authorities even released a pioneering guide dedicated to supporting ICO project promoters. As you can see, Switzerland’s blockchain-friendly regulatory, legal and tax framework applies to the whole country.

3. A word on the blockchain companies settled in Western Switzerland?

As Western Switzerland’s foreign investment promotion agency, we are currently assisting many companies active in blockchain in setting up camp in our region. Unfortunately, we cannot disclose their names yet, however, we can mention a couple of projects that we have recently supported. French asset management company Trecento has chosen Geneva to establish its branch specialized in blockchain and launch its ICO; Zenum, a U.S. company that is developing a new modular multi-layer biometric identification solution, has opened an office in Fribourg; Parisian M&A advisory firm Largillière Finance has established Psion Finance in Geneva, a consultancy offering end-to-end tokenization services (ICOs, STOs). These recent additions join a fast-growing community of over 70 companies involved in blockchain. Among them are well-established cryptofinance platforms such as Bity, promising start-ups, such as ARCATrust involved in storing digital assets, Cerealia offering an agri-commodity trading platform, or financial services providers such as Mt Pelerin or Tokenestate. Not to mention renowned large players such as Kudelski Security, SICPA, Temenos and WISeKey. We also witness an increasing number of high-tech industrial companies carrying out ICOs or STOs out of Western Switzerland. LakeDiamond, an EPFL spin-off producing ultrapure diamonds for high-tech applications, is one of the latest examples.

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