Art of Innovation with Swiss Federal Councillor Johann Schneider-Ammann

Text by Kassandra Bucher

Standing inside the industrial, raw, historical Pier 17 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront on July 6, 2015, Swiss Federal Councilor Johann N. Schneider-Ammann, the head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research EAER, welcomed a hand-picked delegation of visitors and special guests from tech, academia, and business to the Art of Innovation dinner, organized by swissnex San Francisco, the Swiss Consulate in San Francisco, and the Swiss Business Hub.

At the tables were centerpieces representing the tools and materials of making: drills, bricks, computer motherboards. In the air was a discussion about what it takes to innovate, and how a physical location such as Pier 17 can foster a culture of innovators.

Art of Innovation Dinner

Economic and Scientific Mission

Schneider-Ammann, who in one of the seven-member executive council and rotates through the Presidency, was in town as part of a business trip to Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. to discuss innovation, education, and job growth between nations.

In California, the Federal Councillor and his Swiss delegation, which included the Ambassador of Switzerland to the US Martin Dahinden along with Ambassador Mauro Moruzzi, Head of International Relations at the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation, as well as Swiss business and scientific leaders, met representatives from Google and Stanford University and toured factories and startup accelerators around the region. They participated in workshops on innovative thinking, and Schneider-Ammann sat down with California Governor Jerry Brown to discuss how the relationship between the Golden State and Switzerland could be deepened.

In Washington, D.C., the delegation met with US government representatives and members of Congress to focus on Switzerland’s trade relations and vocational education.

Looking Ahead With Innovation

A key moment in the Federal Councillor’s visit to the Bay Area, however, was the Art of Innovation dinner at the Pier. This event commemorated a future Swiss House inside Pier 17 that will bring together local Swiss entities including swissnex San Francisco under one roof to further strengthen Switzerland’s commitment to San Francisco and its surrounding area.

After welcoming the guests, which included some of the Bay Area’s most well-known thought leaders, the Federal Councillor joined in an experiment led by swissnex San Francisco CEO Christian Simm.

Over a three-course meal, guests were asked three questions about what innovation is, how it is fostered, and how the new innovation hub at Pier 17 can benefit this ecosystem. As each table discussed and debated their answers, a facilitator tweeted some of the conversation using a hashtag #swisspier, and the content was analyzed in real-time by Quid.

The next morning, the Federal Councillor and Ambassador Moruzzi and the swissnex San Francisco team talked over breakfast about the best ways to strengthen Switzerland’s presence abroad.

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