Taking Down Industry Giants: How Former Swiss Banker Mike Baur Beat His Goliath


The process of launching an entrepreneurial venture can be fraught with challenges that appear insurmountable, devastating crises, and risk that makes the prospects of success appear hopeless at times. However, the best entrepreneurs are able to retain their resolve by understanding that their competitors face the same challenges with an inferior business concept. Even when competitors are large and established, they still had to start small at some point. Triumphing over both large and small competitors to achieve a big win is, therefore, a core element in every entrepreneur’s path to success.

The Illusion of Hopelessness

Everything that exists in the world was produced by some person at some point in time. Private fortunes, large corporations, and even governments are the product of individual minds organizing human effort with greater efficiency than their competitors.

However, the lessons of history teach that no power has ever retained its position for an indefinite period of time. Large organizations can begin to stagnate over time as key leaders move on and past victories generate hubris in future decision-making. By exploiting the weaknesses of established competitors, ambitious entrepreneurs can carve out their own niche and gradually become a large competitor themselves.

When launching an entrepreneurial venture from the early stages, the prospect of competing against established firms can generate hopelessness among entrepreneurs and their team. The reality is that markets compensate entrepreneurs in accordance with the degree of risk that they incur and the level of adversity that had to be overcome along the way.

Confronting competitive pressure with an understanding that doing so is the process through which all great accomplishments are realized can help to give entrepreneurs hope during the worst times. The number of startups that grew into large corporations over the last 30 years proves how entrepreneurs willing to face strong rivals can achieve extraordinary success with persistent effort and a willingness to take risks.


Ex Clariden Leu Swiss Banker Mike Baur on Taking Down Industry Giants

Mike Baur’s Story of Success

When seeking to overcome adversity, entrepreneurs should look to the example of individuals who have succeeded at getting through similar situations. The story of Mike Baur is an excellent example of how entrepreneurial vision and the courage to challenge strong rivals can lead to extraordinary success.

Like many entrepreneurs, Mike Baur has felt a strong desire to be a great entrepreneur from a young age. However, since entrepreneurial ventures were more difficult to start before the Internet revolution, Baur focused on finishing school. After earning an apprenticeship at UBS, Baur gradually worked his way up to a high position at the company. By 2000, Baur was working in the private banking division of UBS as the assistant to the managing director.

From Baur’s position at the top levels of finance, he was able to see business opportunities in banking from a unique perspective. Consequently, Baur became recognized by the CEO of Clariden Leu, who hired him on to manage the firm’s operations in the Zurich area. Baur attributes the fact that he was hired to his entrepreneurial talents since he was given extensive freedom to nurture entrepreneurial solutions to challenges faced by Clariden Leu.

During the financial crisis, Baur became frustrated with his associates who were afraid to seize opportunities that arose as a consequence of the market turmoil. Although Baur stayed on in his position, he began to see the problem at established firms with complacent managers who fail to adapt and take decisive action. Baur believed that the banking industry was especially complacent, and he saw strong demand for an entrepreneurial firm that would be proactive and eager to adapt to changes.

The Swiss Startup Factory

When Clariden Leu was acquired outright by Credit Suisse in 2011, Baur knew that his ability to act in an entrepreneurial way would be stifled by bureaucracy. Therefore, Baur began to conceive a plan for the Swiss Startup Factory, a business incubator based in Zurich that would be supported only by private parties. Although there were many incubators available in Switzerland, very few of them were not subsidized by the government in some way. By keeping the Swiss Startup Factory in private hands, entrepreneurs could maximize their freedom to innovate without restrictive rules or bureaucratic inefficiency.

Mike Baur started by putting together a thoroughly researched business plan with the help of his mentor, Jean-Claude Biver. After obtaining support from his wife and two partners, Baur took the leap and officially launched the Swiss Startup Factory.

Launching the Swiss Startup Factory was difficult at first for Baur because he had to juggle several responsibilities at once. Launching the Swiss Startup Factory required all of Baur’s time. However, Baur also had to dedicate about 35 percent of his time as a strategic adviser for large Swiss banking firms. Meanwhile, it was also critical for Baur to visit universities to spread the message about his new business accelerator to ambitious entrepreneurs.

Despite the challenges that were initially presented to Baur, he was able to overcome them from an early stage. About 30 percent of the new businesses that joined the Swiss Startup Factory were in finance, but Baur managed to attract companies in a wide range of industries. Today, the Swiss Startup Factory is one of the most successful business incubators in Switzerland.

Lessons from Baur’s Journey

The road to success as an entrepreneur is never straightforward and can rarely be planned for from the beginning. Instead, the most successful entrepreneurs follow Baur’s strategy of seizing opportunities in a decisive fashion as they arise. When Baur saw the opportunity to launch his incubator as Credit Suisse was taking over Clariden Leu, he could have sat on his hands and let the opportunity go by; instead, he took the risk and managed to build a successful incubator within a couple of years.

Another important lesson to learn from Mike Baur is that acting as an entrapreneur while employed at a company can be a fast path to advancement. Despite his young age, Baur became assistant to the managing director of private banking at his firm because of the entrepreneurial talents that he had demonstrated as an apprentice. Aspiring entrepreneurs who are not ready to go out on their own can start by exercising their talents for innovation and leadership within their current organization. Demonstrating entrepreneurial skills can help future entrepreneurs rise to higher levels while preparing them for the future management of their own firm.

Many entrepreneurs are independent people who desire the autonomy associated with owning their own company. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs fail because they are too isolated and unwilling to take on partners. Mike Baur would not have realized the success that he did without the assistance of his mentors, business partners, and the network of contacts that he established throughout his career. Entrepreneurs who work with a variety of people when launching their new companies can significantly increase their chances of realizing success.

Mike Baur: Bio

Mike Baur has more than 20 years of experience working in private banking in Switzerland. Baur has worked for UBS and formerly served as director of private banking for Clariden Leu. In 2014, Baur founded the Swiss Startup Factory with two partners. Today, Baur is an active partner at the Swiss Startup Factory, where he focuses on coaching and mentoring new companies through the process of obtaining funding.

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