By: Michael Keller
When he was young, Basil Weibel wanted to understand the world and solve problems. He went on to complete three degrees and to design an innovative drone. Today, he is CEO of ETH spin-off Wingtra – and, according to Forbes, one of Europe’s 30 most influential entrepreneurs under the age of 30 this year.
Basil Weibel is aiming high – and yet has both of his feet firmly on the ground. In conversation, he listens attentively, thinks before he speaks and then expresses himself carefully. “Yes, it’s a great feeling to live in a society where young people have a genuine opportunity to begin a new venture,” he says. Of course, all this responsibility makes him feel a bit queasy at times, he admits with a mischievous look in his eyes: “But you have to be a bit brazen to be a company founder.”
Making a difference
At 29-years-old, Weibel is in charge of steering the fortunes of ETH spin-off Wingtra, where he is building a sophisticated aerial vehicle. However, he has barely any interest in aircraft or flight-simulator games. What interests him is the application – what technology can do for humans. “At secondary school, I was a bit of an idealist who wanted to change the world – and I haven’t changed. That’s still what motivates me today,” he says.
Weibel grew up in St. Gallen. Even as a child, he had a healthy lack of respect for the status quo. At school, he questioned tried-and-tested approaches; he wanted to do things differently. When it came to choosing a degree course, he was driven by one idea in particular: he wanted to understand the world and solve its problems. Physics was therefore one of the options he considered, as well as economics and sociology. “I probably wasn’t good enough at maths for the first option,” he says, smiling. As a result, he enrolled on the international relations and economics courses at the University of St. Gallen.
Recognising the potential of technology
There, Weibel familiarised himself with cost functions, growth models and innovation factors, and after three years completed both degree programmes at the same time. Although he found what he had learned very interesting from an academic perspective, it was not sufficiently relevant to practical applications or to his choice of career. His thirst for knowledge not yet satisfied and he was tempted by a change of direction.
For a long time, he had wrestled with the question of how the world achieves prosperity. Of course, this newly qualified economist was aware that technology and innovation play a key part – and he had ideas about how to use technology to make a difference. What if, for example, energy could be produced cheaply and cleanly in order to reduce the world’s cost functions in one fell swoop? Fascinated by thoughts of this kind, he decided to tackle another degree – this time in mechanical engineering at ETH Zurich.