Switzerland is an ageing society. While the proportion of older people in society is growing due to an increase in life expectancy, the proportion of younger people is declining through lower birth rates. What does that mean for us? We talked to Andri Silberschmidt, the youngest member of the Swiss parliament and strong supporter of the Swiss startup ecosystem, about the ageing society and entrepreneurship as a potential way to tackle this challenge.
Hi Andri, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview, despite the demanding times right now. Speaking of: The ongoing spring session of the National Council was cancelled due to the continuous spreading of COVID-19. How does the virus affect your role as co-founder of KAISIN and as a member of the parliament?
The whole situation is really challenging from many points of view. First of all, we decided to close all of our restaurants and send our employees home. As we only operate our delivery in Zurich, we will lose about 80 – 90% of our revenue. For a startup like ours with an ambitious growth plan this year, this situation is everything else than what we expected some weeks ago. Our focus is now to reduce all costs except labor cost to the maximum to make sure that we will survive this crisis. However, I’m optimistic that we will make it and also use this “free time” to develop new ideas.
I get dozens of messages on a daily basis from worried entrepreneurs and investors with similar challenges as we have in our company. Together with Judith Bellaiche, we collected all needs of the startup ecosystem into a letter to the federal council with short term measures to help startups. The letter was sent by the parliamentary group “Startups & Entrepreneurship” and was therefore supported by members of all parties. In this moment, it is crucial to stand together and formulate non-partisan claims.
You are co-initiator of the new parliamentary group “Startups und Unternehmertum”, with the goal of building up a lobby for startups in Bern. At the same time, you are fighting in parliament for a reform of pension funds: Is there a connection between these two aspirations on your part?
The reform of our pension system is something I came up with when I started with politics 8 years ago. The cumulative deficit of the first pillar (AHV) will be 190 billion CHF by 2045. I learned about this when I was an apprentice in a bank, and I didn’t understand why the big financial deficit was not a hot topic in politics. Normally, the Swiss way is to speak about challenges like this and try to solve it. But politics has only short-term sight and no willingness to reform the system and make it financially sustainable.
One contribution to our pension is the return of the pension funds. Here comes the link to the startup ecosystem. Until now, not many pensions invest in illiquid vehicles as they have to follow strict asset allocation limits. My party wants to get rid of asset allocation limits and introduce a “prudent investor rule”. Startups could benefit from this change by getting more investments (especially for bigger investment rounds).
During my first parliamentary session in December 2019, I realized that there is no institutionalized support for startups & entrepreneurs. While each county, industry and NGO has a parliamentary group, there was none for startups. That was a reason enough to co-found it together with Judith Bellaiche. We were able to unite members of all parties behind our group.
Switzerland is getting older thanks to a high level of prosperity, an excellent healthcare system and technological and medical progress. At the same time, the birth rate has settled at a low level. What challenges do you see coming with this so-called “ageing society”?
From a political point of view, we need to reform all our social welfare systems that were created in the last century. Most of them have rigid rules and are not adapting to the new circumstances. It’s key that the retirement age will rise and be more flexible in the future. We are one of the last OECD countries to have not changed it.
From an economic perspective, the ageing society offers new business opportunities for startups, but also a challenge for big corporations to reduce the “brain drain” due to the retirement of the baby boomer generation. It’s getting more and more important to be attractive to young talents.
It can be observed that more and more often young entrepreneurs are taking on pressing social challenges such as climate change, development aid or even the health system. In your opinion, what role does entrepreneurship play in addressing these challenges?
Entrepreneurs are trying to solve existing problems with new ideas and innovation. Therefore, entrepreneurship is crucial to tackle current issues. The new generation of entrepreneurs often asks “WHY” and not “WHAT” when they start their business.
The new “Samsung For Impact” program, launched by Samsung, is designed to support Swiss startups that address issues of our ageing society, such as the physical & mental health, mobility, housing or social cohesion of older people. How do you feel about large companies becoming increasingly involved in social issues?
It’s not a question of “IF”, but “WHEN” big companies start to engage more with impact orientated startups. It’s not that large corporations didn’t care about society in the past, but their structures and hierarchies are not as flexible as the ones of startups. It makes total sense to combine the strengths of both types of firms.
Where do you personally see the greatest potential for innovative and entrepreneurial approaches in the field of ageing society?
The biggest potential is probably in the health care system, where digitization and innovation will enable totally new ways of treatments for elderly people. On another note, rising loneliness of elderly people has to be taken seriously. Innovation can help to connect generations with each other to tackle mental health issues.
Business AND impact: contradiction or future trend?
Business always has impact. The question is, what kind of impact? Due to the current climate debates, it’s getting more important to set up sustainable business models without external costs.
What measures should be taken at a political level to further promote entrepreneurship in Switzerland?
Access to talent and capital are two very important topics almost all startups will face. In a motion, I asked the federal council to make it easier to hire specialists from non-EU countries. Another topic we will discuss within our parliamentary group is the tax consequences of employee shares. In the nearest future, our focus will definitely be to help startups overcome the COVID-19 recession.
You have gained entrepreneurial experience yourself and built up a successful startup – what advice can you share with prospective entrepreneurs?
If you don’t need a lot of capital to test your idea, just start it without a detailed business case and learn from each experience you get. Always start with “WHY” and think big after learning from your first experiences. Talk to entrepreneurs and learn from their failures to not repeat them again but make new learnings.