CSEM building in Neuchâtel

History and start-ups

Since 1984, CSEM has been developing disruptive technologies and enabling a vibrant start-up culture in Switzerland

Our story and start-up successes

Neuchâtel, CH, famous for its long tradition of watchmaking and microtechnology is home to CSEM. CSEM was formed in 1984 when three microtechnology institutions the Center of Electronic Horology (CEH), the Swiss Foundation for Research in Microtechnology (FSRM), and the Swiss Laboratory for Watchmaking Research (LSRH) merged to become the Centre Suisse d'Electronique et de Microtechnique (CSEM). Numerous well-known Swiss companies supported the creation of our innovation center from the outset, and many became shareholders and continue to maintain strong links with us.

We are committed to both applied and industry-commissioned R&D. We act as a bridge and catalyst for the efficient transfer of technology and know-how between science and the Swiss economy, continually adapting our research focus to meet industry needs. This constant readaptation has taken us far beyond our historical ties in watchmaking. Beta 1, the world’s first electronic watch (developed by CEH with CSEM now the acting custodian for this breakthrough), paved the way for the use of microtechnology in domains other than watchmaking. These include automotive, medical, machine tools, and space exploration, with an even broader range of technological solutions. 

Key Dates

Jaquet-Droz automatons

1768

The fathers of engineering

Famous Neuchâtel, CH, watchmakers Pierre Jaquet-Droz, son Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz, and adopted son Jean-Frédéric Leschot create three automata: the writer, the draftsman, and the musician. They are still displayed at the MAHN museum in the City of Neuchâtel. Located at rue Jaquet-Droz 1, Neuchâtel, CSEM takes inspiration from these talented engineering fathers and names three meeting rooms after the automata.

Building Laboratoire Suisse de Recherche Horlogère (LSRH) in Neuchâtel, Switzerland

1939

Birth of the LSRH

Creation of the Swiss Laboratory for Horological Research (LSRH) by the watchmaking umbrella organizations of canton Neuchâtel, CH, under an agreement with the University of Neuchâtel that it would create a center for higher education for watch technicians.

Founding of the Center of Electronic Horology

1962

Founding of the Center of Electronic Horology

The Center of Electronic Horology (CEH) is founded to research and develop electronic watches in Switzerland and comprises of a consortium of approx. 20 Swiss watch manufacturers. By 1965 the CEH decides that quartz crystal was the best hope for creating the electronic watch.

First quartz wrist watch: Beta 1 & 2

1967

1st quartz wrist watch: Beta 1 & 2

The CEH successfully produces the world’s first quartz wristwatch (known as Beta 1 and later Beta 2); the resulting watches are more accurate than mechanical timepieces. The official transition from astronomical time to atomic begins.

1975

Founding of EM-Microelectronics Marin

EM-Microelectronics is founded near Neuchâtel in Marin, CH. Its first activities include designing miniaturized integrated circuits with very low power consumption (microchips) for watches. Today, the company is a leading supplier of electronic circuits for battery and magnetic field applications.

Building Fondation Suisse pour la Recherche en Microtechnique (FSRM) in Neuchâtel, Switzerland

1978

Founding of the FSRM

Foundation of the FSRM, on the initiative of the Confederation, 11 cantons, 3 cities, 12 associations, and 24 companies, with the mission of supporting microtechnology and its applications. The FSRM is the third core institute to merge with the CEH and the LSRH to form CSEM in 1984.

First microprocessor used in watches in 1982 - Coolrisc

1982

CoolRisc™

The first microprocessors are used in watches, and technologies such as CoolRisc™, enable this development without impairing battery life. Nearly 40 years and millions of chips later, CSEM’s advanced CoolRisc™ technologies are still integrated into new products.

Logo CSEM 1984

1984

Founding of CSEM

Transfer of the FSRM laboratories and creation of CSEM (Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology), through the merger of 3 Neuchâtel institutes (CEH, FSRM et LRH). The center will focus on researching new microelectronic and microtechnologies considered essential for the future of Swiss industries.

Max Forrer

1984

Max Forrer becomes CSEM's first CEO

Max Forrer gains his diploma in electrical engineering from ETH Zurich, CH, in 1950; he goes on to receive his Doctorate from Stanford University, USA, in 1959. From 1963-1983 Forrer is the Section Head of Circuits at the CEH. In 1968, Forrer takes over as CEO of the CEH. Forrer participates directly in the creation of the world’s first quartz wristwatch. Forrer serves as CSEM’s CEO from 1984-1990 when he is replaced by Peter Pfluger. His dynamic direction allows the CEH and CSEM to make a name for themselves in the ultra-low-power microelectronics domain.

 European flag

1986

Beginning of international research initiatives

CSEM begins working on international research initiatives such as the European research program EUREKA to develop new designs and technologies of semiconductors with artificial intelligence (IMAGIA).

Building EM-Microelectronics in Marin, Switzerland

1986

CSEM joins EM-Microelectronic in Marin

CSEM acquires a building owned by EM-Microelectronic in Marin, CH, where a community laboratory for microelectronic technology is formed in symbiosis with EM-Microelectronic and in collaboration with higher education bodies.

Swiss flag

1987

Financial support from the Swiss Federal Council

The Swiss Federal Council increases its support for companies involved in new technologies. This monetary injection enables CSEM to adapt its research activities and increase the volume of industrial mandates. By 1987 CSEM employs 216 people, five times more personnel than in 1984.

Peter Pfluger

1990

Peter Pfluger becomes CSEM's second CEO

April 1, 1990, 37-year-old Peter Pfluger, a physicist with a diploma from ETH Zurich, CH, takes over CSEM’s CEO after working in Swiss and large companies abroad, including ABB. Pfluger uses his German language skills to promote CSEM’s national and international reputation in microelectronics. Pfluger is also instrumental in overseeing the development of CSEM’s activities at EM-Microelectronics. He will hold this position until 1997 when he is replaced by Thomas Hinderling.

Atomic Force Microscope

1991

1st commercial standalone AFM

CSEM develops Europe’s first commercial standalone Atomic Force Microscope (AFM). These kinds of microscopes offer an extremely accurate and versatile technique for measuring surface topography at the nanoscale.

The new CSEM building in Neuchâtel is under construction

1992

New headquarters in Neuchâtel

The Grand Council of the Canton Neuchâtel, CH, makes available a plot of land on the corner of the streets La Maladière and Jaquet Droz to build a new headquarters to create a more unified CSEM.

Logitech TrackMan Marble trackball

1995

Logitech® TrackMan® Marble® trackball

Production of the Logitech® TrackMan® Marble® trackball, the first large-volume computer mouse to use precision optical technology instead of mechanical motion to measure movement. The optoelectric system for the mouse was designed and developed by CSEM researchers working on bio-inspired techniques.

First fully integrated CNN chip for OCR applications

1997

1st integrated chip for OCR

CSEM produces the very first fully integrated Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) chip for Optical Character Recognition (OCR) applications. The early beginnings of embedded machine learning!

First universally mobile telecomunication systems demonstrator - UMTS

1997

Birth of 3G

CSEM contributes to a major breakthrough in the telecommunications industry, by creating the world’s first Universally Mobile Telecommunication Systems (UMTS) demonstrator - 3G is born!

1997

CSEM's Zurich site

Integration into CSEM of the former micro-optical laboratories of the Paul Scherrer Institut, Zurich, CH. With the creation of its Zurich office, CSEM expands its technological offerings while strengthening its presence within Switzerland.

Thomas Hinderling

1997

Thomas Hinderling becomes CSEM's third CEO

Thomas Hinderling studies nuclear physics at the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, which he completes with a doctorate. He continues his professional activities for NASA, USA. He then worked in different industries in various management functions in Switzerland and Hong Kong.

2000

1st internally produced OLED

The first organic light-emitting diode (OLED) fully produced at CSEM, starts to shine back in the year 2000. This marks the beginning of a new area of research at CSEM: optoelectronic organic material for microsystem applications.

3D Camera based on Time-of-Flight technology

2001

3D Camera

CSEM develops a 3D camera based on Time-of-Flight technology, integrated with a CSEM-developed artificial retina that provides amazing dynamic performances. In 2004, this 3D camera receives the 2004 IST Grand Prize Award – the most distinguished European award for technological innovation.

CSEM building in Alpnach, Switzerland

2001

CSEM's Alpnach site

CSEM broadens its range of technological products and services by launching a new research center - CSEM Alpnach, CH. Alpnach’s focus centers on developing interaction and synergies in the domain of microrobotics. CSEM’s Microrobotics and Packaging Division is born.

CSEM offices in Technopark, Zurich, Switzerland

2007

CSEM's Zurich branch moves

Having outgrown its Zurich premises after 10 years of occupation, CSEM moves to its Technopark site.

First silicon Invar

2007

Silinvar: the world’s first silicon Invar

CSEM announces its groundbreaking method of working with silicon for use in mechanical watchmaking. This method offers watchmakers unprecedented accuracy and reliability while requiring less maintenance.

Observatory of Neuchâtel, Switzerland

2007

Neuchâtel Observatory

Integration of the Neuchâtel Observatory into CSEM. The aim of this takeover is to associate its Time-Frequency laboratory with the University of Neuchâtel and to pursue its fundamental and applied research activities.

CSEM in Landquart, Switzerland - employees in the laboratory

2007

CSEM's Landquart site

Another research center, CSEM Landquart, CH, is created with the support of the cantonal government of Graubunden; its objective is to develop new technologies and competencies in nanomedicine and strengthen the economic fabric of the Rhine Alpine Valley.

Claude Nicollier and Thomas Hinderling

2007

Claude Nicollier joins CSEM

Appointment of Astronaut and physicist Claude Nicollier to the Board of Directors of CSEM, where he sits as Chairperson.

Mario El-Khoury

2009

Mario El-Khoury becomes CSEM's fourth CEO

Mario El-Khoury studies electrical engineering at EPFL, CH, and Carnegie Mellon University, USA. He joins CSEM in 1994. In 2003, he takes over the head of the Systems Engineering Division and is promoted to Director of Operations in September 2008.

Lab scientist working in a clean room

2011

CSEM's Muttenz site

The center continues to strengthen its role at a national level, with CSEM Basel, CH, moving to a new location in Muttenz, with the support of the Canton Basel-Landschaft. The new site was dedicated to polytronics.

MOSFIRE— Reconfigurable SlitMask Mechanism

2012

MOSFIRE project

CSEM works on MOSFIRE, a new instrument that can analyze the infrared radiation emitted by stars and provide data on their composition, temperature, and more. MOSFIRE allows the discovery of the most distant galaxy ever found at the time and measured its distance from Earth.

Genequand watch movement

2014

The Genequand movement

In collaboration with Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, CSEM develops a regulator for watches that is six times more efficient than those used in standard timepieces. This novel way of mechanically measuring time is one of the most important revolutions in the watchmaking industry.

Christophe Ballif and Laure-Emmanuelle Perret-Aebi

2014

Colored photovoltaics panels

CSEM develops the world’s first pure white (and assorted colored) PV panels, thanks to a new technology to make solar modules with no visible cells or connections. This solar cell technology can convert infrared solar light into electricity with a selective scattering filter.

Philae probe on a comet

2014

Rosetta (spacecraft)

CSEM participates in the development of seven high-definition cameras on the Rosetta space probe, which launches in 2004. The craft arrives at comet 67P in August 2014. The high-tech cameras capture the first-ever 360° panoramic images of a comet's surface from the ground.

Woman performing on CSEM's solar facade

2015

Photovoltaic solar panel facade

The Canton of Neuchâtel, Viteos, and CSEM inaugurate a PV innovative facade that catches the eye with both its ultra-design look and its blend of innovative technologies. This marks a turning point in the integration of PV solar panels, paving the way for modern and attractive solar architecture.

Digital drawing of cars in a town with buildings

2016

GPS-free geolocation of connected devices

First commercial solution based on Semtech’s LoRa® tech for GPS-free geolocation of connected devices. This technological breakthrough allows the geographical tracking of end-nodes without any material impact on bill of materials or battery life.

Smallest Bluetooth in the world on a fingertip

2017

The smallest bluetooth chip

CSEM helps develop the world's smallest Bluetooth chip available on the market. The 100% Swiss-made chip is co-designed by EM-Microelectronic, Swatch Group R&D, and CSEM. The ultra-miniaturized electronic component is crucial for the densification of functions needed for portable electronic devices and for the IoT.

RemoveDebris impact

2019

RemoveDEBRIS

The European project RemoveDEBRIS designs and tests technologies for managing space junk. CSEM provides the “eyes” that accurately locate and track debris in space. The project’s “hunter” satellite completes three experiments that prove the long-term reliability of CSEM’s vision-based sensor.

Watch Tissot T-Touch Connect Solar

2020

Tissot T-Touch Connect Solar

Tissot launches its Tissot T-Touch Connect Solar, a Swiss watch that combines tradition with related functionalities and guarantees six months of autonomy. CSEM develops the watch’s unique photovoltaic dial and provides expertise for a customized, ultra-low-power operating system, SwALPs.

Alexandre Pauchard

2021

Alexandre Pauchard becomes CSEM's fifth CEO

Alexandre Pauchard graduates in physics from ETH Zurich and obtains a PhD in microtechnology from EPFL. He has held several positions of responsibility in start-ups and SMEs including Synova SA, ID Quantique, Nova Crystals, and most recently, BOBST.

CSEM's Bern site

2022

CSEM's Bern site

CSEM opens its new office, located close to University Hospital Bern, and illustrates its continued growth and commitment to develop in the domain of digital health, specifically in wearable medical devices.

Start-up creations

1990

Logo Microsens SA

CSEM founds MICROSENS SA for the design, development and manufacture of integrated chemical sensors. The goal is the detection of toxic or explosive gases as well as pH and specific ion concentration measurements.

1994

Logo Photronics SA

Company created in close collaboration with EM Microelectronic-Marin for the manufacture of photomasks, as the demand for CSEM's photomasks has increased over the years. Photomasks play an important role in the manufacture of semiconductor chips.

1996: Buyout from Photronics SA.

1997

Logo Semtech Corporation

Fabless developer of ultra-low-power analog, radio frequency (RF) and digital integrated circuits (IC) .

2005: Buy out from Semtech Corp. to be referred as Semtech's Wireless and Sensing Products business unit.

1998

Logo Anton Paar GmbH

Development and production of the AFM (Atomic Force Microscope) along with several other of CSEM’s equipment development.

2013: Buy out from Anton Paar GmbH.

1999

Logo Sercalo Microtechnology

Development and commercialization of high quality and top performance MOEMS (Micro-Opto- Electro-Mechanical Systems) components

2000

Logo Uditis SA

Spin-off of CSEM and active in the field of information technology & system developments, and SAP solutions.

2000

Logo II-IV Laser Entreprise

Production of VCSEL chips, arrays and subassemblies for sensing and datacom applications.

2006: Buy out from Bookham. 2013: Buy out from II-IV Laser Enterprise.

2001

Logo Posic SA

Development, manufacturing and commercialization of microcoil inductive position sensors for motion control applications

2001

Logo SPECTROsolutions AG

Development, manufacturing and commercialization of miniature spectrometers for industrial spectral sensing.

2001

Logo Xemtec SA

Development of highly innovative "retina-inspired" optical character recognition (OCR) solutions

2001

Logo Safran Colibrys

CSEM’s largest spin-off to date, Colibrys SA, starts with the transfer of 110 of its employees. Created to develop, produce and sell advanced microsystems, customs MEMS and related services.
2013: Buy out from Sagem (Safran)

2001

Logo Photonfocus AG

Development and delivering of advanced image sensing devices : CMOS image sensors and CMOS camera technologies for the machine vision industry.

2002

Logo Micro-Cameras & Space Exploration SA

Development of specific systems in the field of scientific instrumentation for space exploration, especially imaging systems.

2004

Development and marketing of products for the biochip and textile markets.

2011: Acquisition of the company ENDETEC (Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies).

2015: An agreement between Veolia and CSEM is reached to relocate the technology within the CSEM nanotechnology team in Landquart.

2004

Logo Innobridge SA

An innovation-consulting subsidiary of CSEM. Delivery of hands-on experience of technology commercialization, innovation, international business development and new venture creation.

2004

Logo Opti-Ken

Start-up based in Buckenhof (Germany), offering optical consulting, simulation, and design, with a focus on the design of injection molded optical components.

2005

Logo Heliotis

Parallel optical low-coherence tomography (pOCT) for 3D machine vision and low-cost biomedical imaging. It began with a patent portfolio transferred from CSEM.

2006

Logo Space Exploration Institute

Development of space exploration activities, in particular research activities linked to planetary space exploration.

2006

Logo AMS

Development and commercialization of cameras based on the time-of-flight (TOF) principle.
2014: Buy out from Heptagon to extend its portfolio in customized camera solutions. 2016: Buy out from AMS to become clear worldwide leader in optical sensing.

2007

Logo Asyril

Development of miniaturized mechatronic devices for automation in the fields of micro- and nano-technologies, biotechnologies, and medicine. Asyril SA is part of CPA Group SA.

2007

Logo SDK Biotechnologies

Development and commercialization of advanced yet affordable label-free biosensor instruments and platforms for fast kinetic molecular interaction analysis of proteins, antibodies or compounds against a wide range of targets.

2011: Buy out from SDK Biotechnologies.

2007

Logo Actismile

Development and design of a portable biofeedback device that records the physical activity of its user, to monitor personal health and promote a healthy lifestyle.

2008

Logo Neurobat

Development of products that complement the heat-curve controllers used to regulate heat energy in buildings. This series of ground-breaking products won the 2012 Swiss Environment Prize, awarded to projects that demonstrate technology, process or product innovation in the environmental area.

2008

Logo Adamant Innotech

Design and prototyping of new materials, surface functionalization, MEMS and bio-electrochemical devices.

2008

Logo Osmotex

Development and production of the most advanced pumps for the emerging science and technology of microfluidics.

2008

Founded by CSEM and SUI, an international sports marketing agency, to develop and commercialize wearable biomedical monitoring devices. The technology enables the continuous and remote capture of physiological data of clinical quality, using innovative methods of measurement.

2008

Logo Limmex

Development, manufacturing, and commercialization of solutions for personal safety. By developing the Limmex Emergency Watch the company launches a revolutionary world debut.

2009

Logo Sentec AG

Development of innovative medical devices to monitor the lung and heart functions of patients in intensive-care units and those undergoing general anaesthetia.

2018: Buy out from Sentec AG.

2009

Logo Endetec

Autonomous, green, silicon-based sensors and solutions for gas & water quality or security. Neroxis SA is part of ENDETEC™, the global sensor platform of Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies.

2011

Logo 3Brain

Development of large-scale, high-resolution microelectrode array systems that allow fast, accurate intra-tissue measurement through the integration of micro-needles.CSEM’s expertise enables modeling of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

2011

Logo Analog Digital

Complementary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor vision-sensors. This unique surveillance system is described as a low-power, low-bandwidth solution with a highly reliable video-analysis feature for challenging outdoor operations.

2016: Buy out from Analog Digital.

2012

Logo NeoCoat SA

Development and commercialization of CVD diamond coatings and doped-diamond electrodes for various applications (tribology, water treatment & sensing, metrology, tools, etc.), as well as innovative CVD reactors and processes.

2012

Logo Cognex

Development and commercialization of ground-breaking learning-based vision software for the automatic inspection challenges of today's industry.

2017: Buy out from Cognex Corporation.

2014

Logo Precilabs

Development and integration of generic and multi-dimensional encoder technology, featuring contactless absolute position measurement.

2014

Logo Ava SA

Fertility bracelet for real-time detection of a woman’s fertility window improving the chances of conceiving without medical intervention. The company is awarded the title of best Swiss start-up in 2017 & 2018.

2015

Logo Solaxess

Manufacturing and commercialization of a nanotechnology based film for the use in photovoltaic modules in order to render them in different surface colors.

2017

Logo Biospectal Sa

Development of a breakthrough smartphone application and platform to tackle the global problem of hypertension.

2018

Logo Wiserock AG

Consulting service, installation, and operation of wireless sensors systems to protect people and infrastructure by monitoring natural hazards in the Alps 24 hours a day – even in the most remote areas.

2018

Logo Aktiia SA

Commercialization of proprietary cuffless optical Blood Pressure Monitoring technology (oBPM™) in order to contribute to the prevention of high blood pressure, to save lives and to help reduce healthcare costs worldwide.

2019

Logo MyStetho SA

Commercialization of a stethoscope with artificial intelligence, adapted to telemedicine for the diagnosis of respiratory disorders.

2022

Logo MATIS

Founding of the start-up MATIS, which offers a multispectral camera as well as an image processing algorithm to make hidden information in paintings visible in a fast and easy-to-understand way. This helps art experts identify paintings quickly and cost-effectively.

2022

Logo Alpamayo

Founding of the start-up Alpamayo, whose mission is to make AI-powered capabilities accessible to the vast number of hidden technology champions in manufacturing.







CSEM is currently working on hundreds of technology projects to benefit industrial partners. Approximately 10% of these projects are based on start-up ideas, formed in collaboration with universities and with the Swiss federal institutes of technology. To help foster the creation of start-ups within our ecosystem, we have launched a new initiative called ACCELERATE, which encourages and supports emerging, innovative companies by providing them with access to our knowledge and infrastructure.

That’s how we help mature their ideas so that these companies are ready to begin their start-up journey to success. We work with entrepreneurs to establish start-ups as a means of reinforcing our mission, driving technology transfer, and supporting job creation in Switzerland. We have created more than 50 start-up companies and spin-offs over the past 40 years, with several successful buyouts from renowned companies such as Analog Devices, Cognex, Semtech, Anton Paar, Safran, Veolia Water Technologies, and AMS.