From The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne [EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne] (CH): “EPFL Innovation Park to expand with a focus on co-creation”

From The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne [EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne] (CH)

Gaël Hürlimann

EPFL Innovation Park is turning 30 this year and poised to expand with a new site, called “Ecotope”, where startups, researchers and outside companies will be able to pool their resources in order to explore groundbreaking ideas. The Canton of Vaud is its main partner.

“Ecotope will be a major plus for our canton,” says Philippe Leuba, the head of Vaud’s Department of the Economy, Innovation and Sports. “It will spur innovation – and thus job creation – make EPFL a more competitive school and bolster our economy in general.” Some 30 years after Innovation Park opened its doors plans are under way to double its capacity. “But it’s not just about adding surface area,” says Ursula Oesterle, EPFL’s Vice President for Innovation and the person behind the initiative. “Today, businesses interested in innovation – whether startups or established companies – need a place where they can meet on a daily basis to share ideas. That’s the kind of vibrant, stimulating environment we intend to create with Ecotope.

Meeting an urgent need…

The 30 or so spin-offs that come out of our labs every year are now struggling to find business premises, and the space allocated to large companies for pursuing innovative ideas is full. Innovation Park is already home to over 150 startups and 30 large companies employing over 2,600 people. In view of the need for more space, along with the Park’s appeal, the EPFL Innovation Park Foundation has teamed up with EPFL, the Canton of Vaud and the City of Ecublens to double the Park’s surface area, currently 55,000 m^², within the next ten years.

…while laying a foundation for the future

But the objectives behind Ecotope run deeper. After listening to researchers, startups and other businesses describe the challenges they face, Oesterle and her team wanted to provide more than just additional office space. “We heard a lot of entrepreneurs talk about their companies in terms of its mission, impact and role in society,” she says. “Beyond the expected financial returns, more and more entrepreneurs, small business owners and corporate executives are looking harder at how their enterprises can help build a better future – especially in the current climate of challenges and uncertainty.”

Ecotope is intended to be an ecosystem in its own right, where policymakers, researchers, investors, executives, entrepreneurs, students and citizens can come together for open dialogue and debate. The project specifications given to the architects for the project were therefore demanding. Not only must the new site fit in seamlessly with its natural surroundings, it should also provide occupants with a peaceful work environment along with common spaces and “village square” areas for brainstorming and ideation. It should also encourage people from different backgrounds to pool their strengths in the search for innovative solutions. Much of the new project is about promoting this kind of interaction as well as informal conversation.

In the first phase of construction work for the new site, slated to begin in 2023, some 25,000 m² of offices, labs and collaborative spaces will be built by an architecture firm that was selected in early June through an RFP. Ecotope will be located just one kilometer away from Innovation Park, which is a key part of the project. A clean transportation system will also be put in place, with the support of the City of Ecublens, so that people can move easily between the two R&D hubs.

Addressing strategic priorities

Ecotope is intended to serve as a hotbed of innovation and to support EPFL’s strategy of addressing key societal challenges – like sustainability, the environment, aging, artificial intelligence and healthcare – through a cross-disciplinary approach. The scope of these challenges is so vast that solutions can only be found by drawing on many different fields.

These challenges are also top priorities for public officials. “EPFL’s strategic focus areas, and the industries in which the startups coming out of them operate, are completely in line with our own priorities,” says Leuba. “With Ecotope, our canton has a unique opportunity to create a forum where businesses, engineers, scientists and society at large can unite their efforts in developing responses to the main economic and societal hurdles before us.”

EPFL President Martin Vetterli believes Innovation Park is central to those efforts. “Our School was a pioneer 30 years ago when we brought university researchers and businesses physically together in a single location and forged close ties with the Swiss economy and society,” he says. “We began supporting startups very early on, and this has turned out to be a winning strategy. Personally, when I’m called on to advise young researchers, I encourage them to pursue careers in industry just as much as in academia. We can make a difference in both areas. Ecotope marks an essential step forward along this path, and will help ensure EPFL remains a key player in the local economy and an important driver of our dynamic region.”

Contributing to the success of the Lake Geneva area

Ecotope will also help EPFL and the Lake Geneva area more broadly anchor its leadership position in innovation and new business creation. The new site will uphold the area’s long-standing tradition of close collaboration among partner organizations, such as the University of Lausanne, the Lausanne University of Art and Design (ECAL), the School of Business and Engineering (HEIG), the Institute for Management Development (IMD), La Source, and the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL). This approach has proven its worth: between 2013 and 2021, for example, Lake Geneva businesses raised some CHF 3.6 billion in venture capital, or 30% of the Swiss total (the Zurich area accounted for 36%). And the number of startups spun off from EPFL jumped from 5 in 2005 to 33 last year. These young firms raised a total CHF 25 million in funding in 2005 and CHF 779 million in 2021.

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The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne [EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne] (CH) is a research institute and university in Lausanne, Switzerland, that specializes in natural sciences and engineering. It is one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, and it has three main missions: education, research and technology transfer.

The QS World University Rankings ranks EPFL(CH) 14th in the world across all fields in their 2020/2021 ranking, whereas Times Higher Education World University Rankings ranks EPFL(CH) as the world’s 19th best school for Engineering and Technology in 2020.

EPFL(CH) is located in the French-speaking part of Switzerland; the sister institution in the German-speaking part of Switzerland is The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zürich [Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich] (CH). Associated with several specialized research institutes, the two universities form The Domain of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH Domain) [ETH-Bereich; Domaine des Écoles Polytechniques Fédérales] (CH) which is directly dependent on the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research. In connection with research and teaching activities, EPFL(CH) operates a nuclear reactor CROCUS; a Tokamak Fusion reactor; a Blue Gene/Q Supercomputer; and P3 bio-hazard facilities.

ETH Zürich, EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne) [École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne](CH), and four associated research institutes form The Domain of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH Domain) [ETH-Bereich; Domaine des Écoles polytechniques fédérales] (CH) with the aim of collaborating on scientific projects.

The roots of modern-day EPFL(CH) can be traced back to the foundation of a private school under the name École Spéciale de Lausanne in 1853 at the initiative of Lois Rivier, a graduate of the École Centrale Paris (FR) and John Gay the then professor and rector of the Académie de Lausanne. At its inception it had only 11 students and the offices were located at Rue du Valentin in Lausanne. In 1869, it became the technical department of the public Académie de Lausanne. When the Académie was reorganized and acquired the status of a university in 1890, the technical faculty changed its name to École d’Ingénieurs de l’Université de Lausanne. In 1946, it was renamed the École polytechnique de l’Université de Lausanne (EPUL). In 1969, the EPUL was separated from the rest of the University of Lausanne and became a federal institute under its current name. EPFL(CH), like ETH Zürich (CH), is thus directly controlled by the Swiss federal government. In contrast, all other universities in Switzerland are controlled by their respective cantonal governments. Following the nomination of Patrick Aebischer as president in 2000, EPFL(CH) has started to develop into the field of life sciences. It absorbed the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC) in 2008.

In 1946, there were 360 students. In 1969, EPFL(CH) had 1,400 students and 55 professors. In the past two decades the university has grown rapidly and as of 2012 roughly 14,000 people study or work on campus, about 9,300 of these being Bachelor, Master or PhD students. The environment at modern day EPFL(CH) is highly international with the school attracting students and researchers from all over the world. More than 125 countries are represented on the campus and the university has two official languages, French and English.


EPFL is organized into eight schools, themselves formed of institutes that group research units (laboratories or chairs) around common themes:

School of Basic Sciences
Institute of Mathematics
Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering
Institute of Physics
European Centre of Atomic and Molecular Computations
Bernoulli Center
Biomedical Imaging Research Center
Interdisciplinary Center for Electron Microscopy
MPG-EPFL Centre for Molecular Nanosciences and Technology
Swiss Plasma Center
Laboratory of Astrophysics

School of Engineering

Institute of Electrical Engineering
Institute of Mechanical Engineering
Institute of Materials
Institute of Microengineering
Institute of Bioengineering

School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Institute of Architecture
Civil Engineering Institute
Institute of Urban and Regional Sciences
Environmental Engineering Institute

School of Computer and Communication Sciences

Algorithms & Theoretical Computer Science
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
Computational Biology
Computer Architecture & Integrated Systems
Data Management & Information Retrieval
Graphics & Vision
Human-Computer Interaction
Information & Communication Theory
Programming Languages & Formal Methods
Security & Cryptography
Signal & Image Processing

School of Life Sciences

Bachelor-Master Teaching Section in Life Sciences and Technologies
Brain Mind Institute
Institute of Bioengineering
Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research
Global Health Institute
Ten Technology Platforms & Core Facilities (PTECH)
Center for Phenogenomics
NCCR Synaptic Bases of Mental Diseases

College of Management of Technology

Swiss Finance Institute at EPFL
Section of Management of Technology and Entrepreneurship
Institute of Technology and Public Policy
Institute of Management of Technology and Entrepreneurship
Section of Financial Engineering

College of Humanities

Human and social sciences teaching program

EPFL Middle East

Section of Energy Management and Sustainability

In addition to the eight schools there are seven closely related institutions

Swiss Cancer Centre
Center for Biomedical Imaging (CIBM)
Centre for Advanced Modelling Science (CADMOS)
École Cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL)
Campus Biotech
Wyss Center for Bio- and Neuro-engineering
Swiss National Supercomputing Centre