Overview

Do you want to start your own business in Geneva?

For your project to become a reality, you will need to draw up a business plan, choose the appropriate legal form for your company and comply with legal obligations in terms of employment or taxation.

You could also get support or financial assistance to start your own business.

The Guide to start a business gathers all the necessary information to create a company in detail.

Prepare a solid business case

Regardless of the activity you are planning to develop, the first thing to do is to write a business plan. You will also need to check whether this activity is subject to a practice authorization.

Business plan

To ensure that your project meets a demand and market conditions, it is wise to detail your idea in the form of a business plan.

This document generally takes the form of a 10- to 30-page file. It describes the entire project of a company or a self-employed person project: the activity, the market, the marketing strategy, the human resources management, etc. It includes all programmed expenditures and resources planned for the short term (1 year) and medium term (5 years).

Writing a business plan helps to better structure your approach. This will allow you to identify existing or foreseeable obstacles or opportunities. It will help you to present your project to potential partners, suppliers or investors.

Authorization to practice

Before starting your business, you should check whether it is part of the professions or activities regulated at the cantonal or federal level and whether it requires a prior authorization request.

Regulated professions require, in particular, specific training validated by a diploma (e. g. doctor, engineer, taxi driver) or some professional experience.

The granting of the authorization is based on criteria such as the reputation of the operator, the implementation of a control or the existence of a numerus clausus.

I am not a Swiss national

If you wish to start a business in Geneva, do not have Swiss nationality and do not already have a residence permit, you must apply for a work permit.

Choose a legal form

Once you have written your business plan and verified that you have the necessary authorizations, you must choose a legal form for your company. The choice of the latter depends on the activity envisaged, the size and organization of the company, as well as the financial resources at your disposal.

In Switzerland, the three most common forms for companies are:

  • The sole proprietorship

The sole proprietorship (not to be confused with the simple partnership) is founded simply by a single person and does not require any special formalities, apart from registration in a compensation fund and for an annual turnover of more than CHF 100,000, registration in the commercial register. Thus, the activity starts quickly. On the other hand, the entrepreneur assumes any debts of his company with his personal assets.

  • The general partnership (SNC)

A general partnership is a partnership composed of at least two persons and does not have its own legal personality. Thus, its partners assume the company's debts jointly and severally.

A general partnership is formed by the signature of a contract between the partners and its inscription in the commercial register is mandatory.

  • The public limited corporation (SA)

A public limited company (SA) is a capital company with its own legal personality (legal person). The company's share capital must be at least CHF 100,000. The shareholders' liability is limited to their shareholding in the capital. The company must be able to be represented by a person domiciled in Switzerland. This may be a member of the Management Board or a Director. The company is created by a notary and its inscription in the commercial register is mandatory and constitutive.

  • The limited liability company (Sàrl)

A limited liability company (GmbH) offers similar advantages to a public limited company (AG). The company's capital must be at least CHF 20,000. The company is created by a notary and its registration in the commercial register is mandatory and constitutive.

Social security contributions and taxation differ depending on the legal form chosen. For example, a self-employed person on an individual basis is not insured against unemployment and membership of a pension fund is optional.

There are other types of companies such as foundations, associations or cooperatives designed to meet specific objectives: management of own assets, non-profit-making, defence of members' interests, etc. These companies are also enrolled in the commercial register.

Obtain aid to start your business

There is a network of organizations in Geneva to help entrepreneurs develop their projects. These organizations offer advice, coaching, funding assistance, encouragement of innovation and R&D, promotion and networking.

The Directorate General for Economic Development, Research and Innovation is the gateway to carry out the first analysis of an entrepreneurship file and direct the project leader to the competent cantonal body, according to the needs identified.

Coaching, coaching and incubators

  • Genilem (incubator, innovation, start-up)
  • Eclosion (incubator, life sciences, innovation, start-up)
  • FONGIT (incubator, ICT, tech fintech innovation, start-up)
  • OPI (industry, consulting, promotion)

Financing

  • FAE (financing, bonding, industry, enterprise, trade)
  • Fondetec (financing, loans, premises, start-up, start-up, company, trade)
  • MatchInvest (financing, networking)

Support for innovation

Networking and other services

Depending on your company's sector of activity, you can also use thematic promotion platforms: BioAlps for life sciences, Alp ICT for communication and information technologies or Micronarc for micro and nanotechnologies and CleantechAlps in Cleantech.

There are many other private economic development assistance structures that are not listed on this page.

You can also use private funding sources, such as banks, foundations, business angels or crowdfunding.

Employment, accounting and taxation

Please note that you can benefit from various recruitment aids when hiring unemployed registered candidates.

  • Do you want to hire staff to develop your company's activity?

Here are some important elements concerning labour law in Geneva.

  • Employment contract

The employment contract is concluded as soon as the employer and the worker have expressed the intention to provide work for a salary. It can be oral or written. It must be in writing for apprenticeship contracts or when both parties agree on conditions different from those provided for in the Code of Obligations (termination deadlines, payment of salary in the event of illness or accident, etc.). The hiring of trainees or apprentices must meet a number of criteria.

  • Working hours

The law sets the maximum weekly working time at 45 hours for workers in industrial enterprises, clerical, technical and other employees, and retail trade. The limit is 50 hours for other workers, unless otherwise specified.

The working hours are fixed in the contract. In Switzerland, it is on average 41.6 hours and 40.9 hours in Geneva (Federal Statistical Office 2012).

  • Dismissal

Except in exceptional cases (immediate dismissal for just cause), it is essential to comply with certain conditions in the event of dismissal, in particular those relating to the period of leave. This amounts to 7 days during the trial period, 1 month for the end of a month during the 1st year of service, 2 months for the end of a month from the 2nd to the 9th year of service and 3 months for the end of a month later.

  • Social security contributions

As an entrepreneur / self-employed person, you are required to join a compensation fund to contribute to the compulsory social insurance schemes. You can do this either with the Cantonal Social Insurance Office or with a professional compensation fund.

  • Engagement of a foreign employee

The employment of a foreign employee is possible with an authorization and a work permit.

  • Accounting

All companies must keep accounts, the form of which depends on the nature and scope of the business according to articles 957 to 964 of the Code of Obligations.

It is strongly recommended to establish an operating budget and a cash flow budget for your company. Indeed, you must quickly know if your business will generate profits or losses in order to take the necessary measures.

  •  Taxation and VAT

Switzerland has an attractive tax system for companies. The latter are taxed at three different levels: municipal, cantonal and federal.

At municipal and cantonal level, companies are required to pay income and capital tax as well as withholding tax.

 

At the federal level, companies are subject to stamp duty and value added tax (VAT). Stamp duty concerns certain specific legal transactions, while VAT applies in principle to all companies with an annual turnover of more than CHF 100,000.

Other useful information

In addition to the aspects related to the choice of legal form or registration in the commercial register, other parameters must be considered when starting your business.

Premises

Before undertaking lengthy and costly procedures to acquire or transform premises, make sure that the premises you are considering do indeed correspond to your company's needs.

Import-export

If you wish to import or export goods, you must declare them to customs.

 

If your company's activity is focused on import or export, organisations such as Switzerland Global Enterprise, the Swiss Export Risk Insurance (SERV) and the various Swiss and foreign chambers of commerce can provide you with valuable advice.

Intellectual Property

If you are developing an innovative business idea or inventing a product that could be marketed later, it is essential to have adequate legal protection.

In Switzerland, the official body that protects trademarks, designs or products is the Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI).