Klaus Benedikt Schönenberger
Vision: Scientific research and technology development can be mobilized to help the poorest and most vulnerable in this world. This will generate innovation that will create great opportunities for industrialized countries as well.
Klaus Schönenberger obtained an MSc in Microengineering (1993), followed by a PhD (1996) from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). After a post-doc at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, he spent over 10 years in the medical devices industry in leading positions such as Vice-President of Worldwide R&D in a $100m company and Global Vice-Resident of Research and Technology in a $1bn company.
In 2009, as he was working for a medical devices company, he received a shock: he realized that there is a huge imbalance in access to medical technology in industrialized versus low and middle-income countries. After a closer look, he discovered that he imbalance’s main cause is a mismatch between existing technologies and business models, with those needed in low and middle-income countries. He decided to leave industry and, in 2009, he co-founded the EssentialMed Foundation, an innovative non-profit venture.
In 2011, realizing that both technology and business models needed a profound rethinking, he joined EPFL where he launched EssentialTech, an initiative inspired by the philosophy of EssentialMed but expanded to a much wider portfolio of "essential" technologies. The university-wide program aims to develop innovative technologies and business models, for the benefit of sustainable development in low and middle-income countries. In this role, he has already launched and overseen a dozen large projects.
Large Humanitarian actors such as the ICRC, MSF and Terre des Hommes took notice of the innovative approach proposed, and decided to collaborate. This has resulted notably in the joint creation between EPFL and ICRC, of the Humanitarian Tech Hub at EPFL.
In May 2017, Klaus directed and launched a MOOC(Massive Open Online Course)entitled “Technology Innovation for Sustainable Development” which aims to spread the unique methodology and approach worldwide. As of today, more than 6000 people have enrolled.
In 2015 a first spin-off company was created as a direct result of the EssentialTech program. Award winning Pristem SA will deploy an innovative new digital xray imaging system, specifically designed for low-income contexts. Klaus is a co-founder and serves as a president of the board of directors.
In January 2019, the creation of the EssentialTech centre was announced by EPFL's presidency, and Klaus is now the centre's director.