An Interview with Philippe Roesle, new CEO at Swissnex in China

Swissnex in China, the Science Consulate of Switzerland in China, welcomes its new CEO, Philippe Roesle, who will assume responsibilities in March 2022. Philippe Roesle was previously Acting Head of Bilateral Relations at the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERI. In his new role as both CEO of Swissnex in China and Head of the Science, Technology, Education Office at the Embassy of Switzerland in China, he will continue to facilitate the development and cooperation between Switzerland and China in education, research, and innovation.


After four years working in bilateral relations at the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation SERI, you are about to embark on a new journey in China. What are your thoughts?

Back in 2016, I had the chance to spend an entire week with the Swissnex in China team. Waiting for my return flight to Europe, still buzzing from a fascinating week, I concluded that one day I want to return to Shanghai in order to join Swissnex in China. I wanted to further immerse myself in the country´s dynamic research and innovation landscape and to play a role in facilitating and supporting cooperation between Switzerland and China in education, research and innovation. Fast forward six years and I feel incredibly privileged that this pipe dream has become a reality. I look forward to doing all of the above and much more, exploring new programs and activities with our partners.


How did you start working in Switzerland’s innovation and international relations field? 

It all began with startups! I joined the Swiss Embassy in London to help set up the Innosuisse Market Entry Camp, a program designed to support Swiss startups’ internationalization efforts by helping them understand the UK market and plugging them into relevant networks. Fresh out of a PhD, I relished the challenge to collaborate side-by-side with entrepreneurs whose passion for their businesses was truly contagious. In the course of two years, I ended up as de facto country manager for around 16 startups in fields ranging from virtual reality and the Internet of Things to medtech and edtech. This gave me a fantastic overview of Switzerland’s thriving startup landscape. Speaking of which, as Swissnex in China runs the same program, I am also excited to “return to my roots” and work alongside Swiss startups again, showing them the opportunities that China has in store for them.


This is not the first time you have worked at a Swissnex location. Could you share with us your previous Swissnex story?

I was in charge of setting up and then running a pop-up Swissnex. After two years of managing the startup program in the UK, I became Head of Swissnex at Expo 2017 Astana (Nur-Sultan). The main priority was to showcase Swiss research at the Expo and to run events with a view to connecting Swiss higher education institutions with potential partners in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. The focus of the Expo was “Future Energy”, allowing me to dive deep into a very relevant topic for Switzerland and the region. With Swissnex in China I likewise aim to identify topics of strategic importance where cooperation between Switzerland and China can be deepened. When the Swissnex at Expo 2017 Astana ended, I returned to Switzerland to join the headquarters at SERI where I was in charge of implementing and developing Switzerland’s international strategy in education, research and innovation. Among other things, I was directly responsible for bilateral cooperation with China.


How will you approach the mission of Swissnex in China over the next four years?

I am convinced that Swissnex in China has a very important role to play in connecting Switzerland and China in education, research and innovation. Swiss higher education institutions, researchers and startups are continuing to show a strong interest in China, in seeking new partnerships and deepening existing ones. My vision is to establish Swissnex in China as a competence center for collaboration with China, focusing on qualitative, long-term activities and topics of strategic interest to both countries. Of course, this involves connecting the dots and offering a platform for exchange, but it also involves providing context, background information, guidance, scouting and targeted advice. Swissnex in China, in close cooperation with the Science, Technology, Education Office at the Swiss Embassy in Beijing, can position itself as a one-stop-shop for bilateral cooperation for its Swiss partners.


What makes China so special for partners and stakeholders in Switzerland?

Switzerland and China look back on a long relationship in scientific and technological cooperation. The first formal agreement on technical and scientific cooperation was signed back in 1989. Since then, China has invested heavily in education, research and innovation, catapulting itself into a global technology and science power. Switzerland’s own leading position in science and technology synergizes well with China’s transition ito an innovation and knowledge-driven economy. It is in the interest of both countries to deepen mutually beneficial collaboration, particularly in order to find solutions to global challenges such as renewable energy/carbon neutrality, mobility, or biodiversity to name just a few.


What do you think are the biggest challenges Swissnex in China will face over the next four years?

The first thing that comes to mind is the pandemic. At the time of writing, face-to-face meetings between Swiss and Chinese researchers and universities are still very difficult to arrange. The lack of physical meetings also makes it harder for Swiss and Chinese institutions to foster serendipity, to explore new partnerships and to create shared knowledge. But, on the other hand, this also offers an opportunity for Swissnex in China. We are on the ground and we have our fingers on the pulse. We will ensure that partnerships between Switzerland and China continue to thrive during this difficult period and beyond where they are based on excellence, mutual interest, open dialogue and shared principles.


Finally: What are your personal goals in China?

If I never get lost in a city with more than three times the population of Switzerland, I will be proud of myself. I’m also confident that after four years I can have a shot at giving a short speech in Mandarin; I’m less confident that the audience will understand me. And, of course, there is the matter of food: I look forward to exploring China with my taste buds!