Building an impact driven tech startup in Switzerland – Interview with SEIF Award winner Etienne Jeoffroy

Tech for Impact Award winner 2019 – Interview with FenX Co-Founder and CEO Etienne Jeoffroy

The buildings we live and work in have a fundamental influence on the environment and on our health. Energy consumption, greenhouse gas emission as well as safety and health standards can differ greatly – depending on the insulation material used. The rising popularity of green buildings, the 2015 Paris agreement on Climate Change and the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017 have all contributed to a great demand for non-flammable, non-toxic and environmental-friendly insulation materials.

Addressing this need, ETH Spinoff FenX AG provides sustainable and safe solutions for insulation. They create fully recyclable insulation materials from mineral waste. At the end-of-life, FenX can process the insulation materials and re-employ them in the production of new foams. 

Created in 2019 in Zurich, FenX won the SEIF Tech for Impact Award supported by UBS last year, but what happened next? Read our interview with FenX Co-Founder and CEO Etienne Jeoffroy to find out more about FenX experience as an impact driven tech startup based in Switzerland.

Photo: FenX

How did winning the SEIF Tech for Impact Award in 2019 influence the development of FenX as an impact driven tech startup?

The SEIF Tech for Impact Award had a significant influence on our development, in particular on the fundraising. It publicly showed our ambition to go towards impact driven entrepreneurship and attracted, as a result, impact driven investors. One year after, we are still in touch with several of them.

What has been your biggest challenge, and what important lessons did you learn on your journey so far?

The biggest challenge for us is time management. We are too often distracted by “secondary” goals that significantly slow us down. Prioritization is a hard goal we are working on.

What is your long-term vision for FenX?

Our long-term vision is to maximize the impact we can have with our technology. Therefore, it consists in proposing our insulation solutions to the largest scale. Key partnerships and a pragmatic go-to-market strategy will be crucial to achieve this goal.

FenX Team

You are based in Switzerland. What’s your opinion on creating an impact driven business here?

As a very early-stage startup, we do not have yet the full overview of the creation of an impact driven business in Switzerland. We are hopefully only at the beginning. However, we have experienced the uniqueness of Switzerland to kickoff a startup thanks to important funding programs (ETH Pioneer Fellowship, BRIDGE Proof-of-Concept, Gebert Rüf StiftungInnobooster, Climate KIC, Venture Kick) that focus, for many of them, on impact and sustainable business.

What do you think is missing in the Swiss impact startup scene and how could organizations like SEIF provide the right support to cover the gap?

I think the startup scene is doing well on supporting early-stage impact startups. A great hurdle might be with the larger companies and possibly the customers in the B2B business. Even though they show enthusiasm towards sustainable technologies, they are typically reluctant on taking the first step. This is probably why these fields are defined as “conservative”.

Going towards sustainability means change, which consequently means risk. And risk is something that customers want to minimize to the extreme. Therefore, awareness can be further developed and SEIF could support it involving even more established corporates.

SEIF Awards Ceremony 2019. Photo: Eva Zingg.

What is your best advice for early stage Tech for Impact startups that want to create positive impact?

Hehe… I am not sure if I have many advices as we are very young entrepreneurs. More generally my main advice would be: Surround yourself wisely! Distinguish those who want to create positive impact and those who are rather interested in “greenwashing”.

What would you say to entrepreneurs considering applying for the SEIF Awards this year?

If you are considering applying for the SEIF Awards, first, congrats! That means your idea is related to a global challenge and it is honorable to actively try to change things. Secondly, enjoy it. You will be among inspiring entrepreneurs sharing similar values and you will learn a lot.


TECH FOR IMPACT AWARDS 2020

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The SEIF Awards Tech for Impact target European impact entrepreneurs who develop or make innovative use of technologies to tackle social and/or environmental challenges and contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).