Adventures in entrepreneurism A British entrepeneur makes waves in the Bernese Oberland

Issue: 3 / 2014
Salaries in Switzerland are some of the highest in the world and unemployment is low. Yet expats relocating to Switzerland are not always guaranteed a suitable job. Neil Parmenter, a British expat, discovered that sometimes the best way is to go it alone.

Today Neil Parmenter runs two successful businesses. One is Aaretubing, based in Thun. Every summer it sends thousands of happy people down the River Aare towards Bern on a multitude of watercraft. Neil's other business is Origin Paddleboards, an international stand up paddle (SUP) brand.

Neil believes that if you can spot an opportunity, then you will be able to do something exciting. "When I moved to Switzerland 10 years ago as a freshly graduated university student, I perhaps naively believed I would find a job with ease. It took seven months before I found a job in adventure tourism in the Bernese Oberland."

But that proved to be his first step towards entrepreneurship. Neil realised he could offer tourists the chance to experience the stretch of the River Aare between Thun and Bern on specially designed river tubes, and decided to go it alone. "The first year wasn't easy. I expected to take hundreds of people on the river, so it came as a shock to only manage around fifty".

Seven years on, Aaretubing now sees around 2000 customers every summer. Neil says the key is adaptability: "It was a new market and the initial idea wasn't perfect, so it needed to be changed."

The success of Neil's first business opened the door to a much larger project. Origin Paddleboards has become a global brand of inflatable stand up paddleboards. "This project was a lot more complex but the Swiss system made it very easy to set up. The first step in starting a business in Switzerland is to start a company. offer a great advisory service which is even available in English."

Financing a new business is the next challenge. Neil found finance to be readily available. Once he had a solid business plan, even smaller banks were receptive to his idea.

Neil is convinced. "An expat with an open mind and the ability to be flexible will find Switzerland to be an open country that can offer more than an 8-5 daily grind. There are opportunities everywhere and the support to make them a reality is readily available. All it takes is an idea and the confidence to believe in it".

Photos: Neil Parmenter Aaretubing / Origin Paddleboards

Author: Mike Tomsett - Hello Switzerland

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