“UZH Startup” – this is the label the University of Zurich awards to selected spinoffs and startups. More than 50 businesses already bear this label, and the startup PolygonSoftware has recently joined their ranks. “We’re proud to be one the most recent members of the UZH Innovation Hub. The label adds to our standing as an up-and-coming business,” says Daniel Gächter, UZH alumnus and PolygonSoftware executive. The software development startup was established by UZH informatics students Joel Barmettler, Marius Högger and Frank Huber.
To be awarded the UZH Startup label, a company must have a viable business idea and sound funding. Moreover, at least one of the company founder’s has to be a student, doctoral candidate, employee or alumni of the University of Zurich. PolygonSoftware fulfills both of these requirements. The young business has been self-funded since its foundation two years ago, and its business idea of smart software solutions and web applications has already won them a number of clients. What sets PolygonSoftware apart, however, is that it was not only founded by UZH students or alumni, but that its entire staff is made up of current or former UZH students. Eleven of the company’s 15 employees are currently studying informatics at UZH – seven at the Master’s level, four at the Bachelor’s level. The team members are between the ages of 18 and 28.
This remarkable fact also underpins the startup’s unique selling proposition. “Our team of gifted IT specialists acquires the latest knowledge and technologies at UZH, and this enables us to develop cutting-edge software solutions for our clients,” explains Joel Barmettler. The startup founder believes that studying informatics at UZH provides ample programming skills, which can be put to good use outside of the university. He describes UZH as a pioneer in the field of neuroinformatics and data science. “Our business brings together the most talented data science graduates. There aren’t that many such specialists yet in the Swiss tech industry.” This is why PolygonSoftware, unlike other software development companies, can keep abreast of the rapidly changing technological landscape, believes Barmettler.
The startup specializes in computer-supported data analysis. But it also develops smart software that replaces user interfaces with seamless processes within organizations. For example, PolygonSoftware has developed an application that uses pictures of labels to automatically read and recognize all the information on the labels of parcels and make automated decisions – even if the parcel is askew, crinkled or even partially obscured. The startup’s services also include automated quality control, which it provides to manufacturing companies, for example. Based on machine learning, the business develops automated image evaluation programs for use in production machines; the software enables the machines to “recognize” faulty goods and eliminate them from the production process. “Our broad knowledge allows us to optimize many business processes and provide our clients with tailor-made solutions,” says Daniel Gächter.
At present, the startup’s innovative software solutions are mainly sought by small and medium-sized enterprises as well as other startups. When it comes to acquiring clients, Bambus Software, one of the UZH startup’s earliest business partners, has played a key role. “Bambus Software was one of our very first clients, and we’ve gone on to build up a long‑term cooperation with them. We’ve been able to complete some very exciting projects thanks to this partnership,” says Daniel Gächter. The companies’ employees and skills complement each other perfectly, allowing them to process client requests together as a single team.
Thanks to this partnership, PolygonSoftware can be flexible in managing the workload of its employees, who as students depend on flexible work arrangements to balance work and their studies. “Our startup is very much in tune with the needs of students,” says Joel Barmettler. Staff are given a considerable say and many liberties in their work, for example when it comes to taking time off to write a paper or study for an exam. The offices of the UZH startup are within walking distance of the Department of Informatics, which means employees can move between their workplace and university very quickly. “Our office is also a popular place to meet up to study or work on something together, Covid restrictions permitting,” adds Joel Barmettler.
How does he balance his role as entrepreneur with studying towards a Master’s degree in data science? “Running a startup takes up a lot of time, of course. But for me, the company is also kind of like a hobby,” he says with a smile. “Some people spend four hours binging on Netflix in the evening, whereas I spend four hours programming or developing our business.”