Watchmaker HYT launched a revolution thanks to an invention developed by Preciflex: A colored liquid oves around the watch to show the exact time. The dynamic company based in Neuchâtel registered 20 patents in its first three years, and new ideas just keep coming.
Your slogan is “Mastering Micro-Fluids Motion.” What areas do you apply this concept to?
Lucien Vouillamoz (LV), Erfinder der Flüssigkeitstechnologie und Mitbegründer von Preciflex
Telling the time, for instance. We developed a liquid application that is at the core of HYT’s watches. We quickly realized that we could use similar technologies in many other areas.
Are these also areas where using liquids was once unthinkable?
Grégory Dourde (GD), CEO
Not necessarily. Similar to the watches, there are dashboard displays for vehicles where illuminated, colored liquids are used to show speed or RPM. It’s a little different for medical technology. Liquids have been used in that segment before, but we have developed innovative injectors that can move controlled micro-amounts of fluid. Next year we will test the first prototypes of a special application for diabetic cats.
Cats? Is there a market for that?
GDYes, a very large one. About a million cats are being treated for diabetes in North America and Europe. Anyone who’s owned a cat knows that there are more enjoyable tasks than giving a cat a shot. So this makes our pain-free micro-injectors, which can administer the exact dose of insulin required, a huge help.
Veterinary medicine is very far removed from the watch industry. Won’t your company be spreading itself too thin?
Specific industries are not our key focus, because we supply technologies for various fields of application. As long as the activity is ethically responsible, all industries that require controlled micro-amounts of fluid are interesting to us. Some of our employees wouldn’t have signed on with us if we had “only” been active in the luxury segment. Being able to work in diverse fields is rewarding, and our work in the medical industry has a real purpose. Diversification is interesting from an economic standpoint too: Our products require different times to market. The time is relatively short in the luxury segment because there’s not much regulation. The process for human medicine, including all the clinical studies, takes years, while it’s a little faster in veterinary medicine. If we had worked only in the field of medicine, we would have had a long financial drought at the beginning.durchstehen müssen.
Who comes up with all the ideas for new products?
GDLucien is our Chief Innovation Officer; he comes up with all sorts of ideas.
LVI keep a personal list of all my project ideas and am currently at number 270. Preciflex was number 103 and HYT was 181. But a lot of ideas also come from talking to our team or, even more importantly, from individual team members.
How can innovation be promoted, and how do you address it?
What you definitely can’t do is call a meeting and say: “Okay everyone, be innovative!” That will never work. Innovation is a state of mind and requires a team culture. You need a certain amount of freedom to generate ideas and then implement them. There are no negative consequences if someone has a bad idea. That’s why we try to challenge and encourage our people ...
We also offer our employees further training so that they learn how to bring ideas to life. Chaos is a welcome part of creation, and you’ll often find that chaos is where ideas are born.
That’s true, but you can’t be too chaotic. A company needs some clearly defined processes so that it doesn’t lose its way.
Exactly. You also have to be able to shoot down good ideas if they don’t meet a number of key criteria after an initial analysis – for instance, if their main function is to make the inventor happy. Innovation costs a lot of money and you have to be smart enough to focus on key projects.
We’re not artists, after all. Even if we came from innovation and continue to grow thanks to innovation – at the end of the day, our job is to create value.
What is Switzerland’s significance as the place where Preciflex thinks and works?
As a business location, Switzerland is a critical success factor for us. It allows us to cultivate talented people. Not only is the educational system outstanding in academic terms, but vocational training in Switzerland also produces people who have a solid education and can do very precise work; we depend on employees from both categories. What’s more, salaries are very good at all levels. Thanks in part to these factors, Switzerland has an above-average number of outstanding companies. At the same time, we can’t just sit back and rest on our laurels because there are massive changes ahead, particularly in the watch industry. Every company needs to think about where its innovative power lies. If we don’t keep moving, we might hit a dead end.
I’d like to add that not all of our employees are from Switzerland. Our team consists of 23 people from ten different countries. Particularly when it comes to producing new and highly specialized applications such as ours, skilled specialists are required, and there may be only a few of them in the world. For instance, it wasn’t easy to find a specialist in liquids. The person we found is from Canada, but he studied at ETH Lausanne, as did our chemistry specialist from Argentina, who then got a PhD at the Max Planck Institute. It’s incredibly important that we select our employees carefully – which brings us right back to the topic we just discussed, innovation. Innovation has to come from somewhere, such as by bringing together the brightest minds from diverse sectors.
And these people want to come to Switzerland?
Yes, they want a challenge and the environment here is very appealing. We recently moved from Biel to Neuchâtel. Although we had a very good setup in Biel, most of our employees live in or near Neuchâtel. The city and canton of Neuchâtel also gave us a very warm welcome. So the political and financial frameworks are another factor that makes Switzerland very attractive as a business location.
That’s true, and Switzerland, as a financial center, has companies like Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Capital Ltd. that are truly exceptional and a godsend for us.
What makes Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Capital Ltd. so special?
Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Capital Ltd. is much more than a provider of capital. As a shareholder, it sits on our Board of Directors as an observer and brings an entrepreneurial spirit to it. But it’s not only interested in numbers. The representatives make an active effort to truly understand our business, support us, and of course take part in strategic discussions. This is new to me. I’ve never experienced a partnership like this before and I find it very enriching.
Isn’t there a risk of too many “orders handed down from above”?
No, surprisingly enough, there hasn’t been any of that. On the contrary: As a shareholder and partner, Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Capital Ltd. provides valuable ideas and opinions that can be very helpful. For instance, they told us about an interesting study on the watch industry, and they helped us conduct a thorough analysis of potential business partners. Also important is the prestige factor – the fact that Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Capital Ltd. feels we are worth supporting, and talks about us. Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Capital Ltd. doesn’t just provide money, but also assistance and a network – in short, “smart money.”