The reality of start-ups in a documentary

© 2020 Manuel Stagars

© 2020 Manuel Stagars

A Swiss director has filmed a three-part documentary series highlighting the day-to-day operations of a handful of startups. DePoly, an EPFL spin-off, made the final cut for the series, which will premiere online on 16 July.

Switzerland’s startup scene is booming. Yet the many success stories in recent years make it easy to forget all of the hard work these young companies put in on a daily basis. Director Manuel Stagars reveals this side of their work in a documentary series made up of three 30-minute episodes that will be released online on 16 July. He chose to film six Swiss companies at different stages of their development, including EPFL spin-off DePoly.

DePoly, which spun off from the Laboratory of Molecular Simulation on EPFL’s Valais-Wallis campus, has developed a more efficient way of recycling PET containers. A chemical process breaks the polymer down into its basic compounds – ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid. “One of the big advantages is that we can make 100% recycled PET plastic,” says CEO Samantha Andersen. “There’s no way to do that at the moment because a certain amount of the oil-based raw material is still needed.” Another advantage is that PET containers don’t have to be sorted by color or content, meaning they can all be processed together. The spin-off took home the 2019 Venture Award for its work.

Taking part in the documentary was a great experience for Andersen. “There are several reasons why we agreed to do it,” she says. “As far as I know, it’s the first documentary about the reality of startups. So it’ll be interesting for the general public, and for aspiring entrepreneurs as well. It also gives us some visibility, which could prove useful for our next funding rounds, for example.” The filming took place over several days, and sometimes over the weekend, so as not to disturb the other tenants at The Ark, a business incubator in Valais Canton. The film features everyday scenes from within the startups, with no music or commentary. Viewers really feel like they’re in the room when the project is presented to a group of potential investors or at a competition, and during the behind-the-scenes rehearsals and strategic discussions. “The scenes are very real, but we sometimes had to do several re-takes before the director got what he wanted,” says Andersen. The documentary was filmed this past winter, and the startup has achieved several milestones since then. Its next goal is to install a ten kilos demonstrator this coming fall.

Interviews with CEO Samantha Andersen and CTO Bardiya Valizadeh by the director.

Zurich-based director Manuel Stagars has been producing, directing and developing independent documentaries on topics such as creativity, innovation, science and technology since 2005. Before that, he founded and co-founded a number of startups in Switzerland, the US and Japan.