How can big companies collaborate with startups?



See the original story in Japanese.

This is a part of our coverage of B Dash Camp Osaka 2013.

Here in Japan we’ve recently seen several efforts to connect startups and established companies, like Morning Pitch and Creww’s Ignition Night. In Japan, most incubation programs run by corporate venture capital initiatives aim to let their employees understand the startup culture and get a sense of the creative atmosphere.

So in this way, established companies and startups can complement each other, and such efforts will likely be more frequent across the local startup scene. On a day two of B Dash Camp in Osaka last week, we heard more on this topic from Microsoft Japan evengelist Shinichiro Isago, NTT Docomo Ventures managing director Daisuke Miyoshi, and Dentsu [1] senior director Fumijiko Nakajima. This session was moderated by Shuji Honjo, visiting professor at Tama Graduate School of Business, Tokyo.

Dentsu’s Fumihiko Nakajima

According to Nakajima, Dentsu focuses on three factors when partnering with startups: ideas, entrepreneurship, and technology. Under a well-known project dubbed Neurowear, the company has developed several products like as Nekomimi and Miko, which were also exhibited at SXSW back in March. His team is currently exploring business models for these products.

He also shared some of the projects that the company is working on in collaboration with other companies:

  • Draffic: Developed in association with Japanese GIS company Zenrin Datacom, this system visualizes how many people were located in a specific time at a specific location. It is expected to be used by local governments to consider a disaster evacuation plan.
  • Asoberu-T: Developed in association with Japanese fashion retailer Beams, this solution lets users experience augmented reality on T-shirts. We featured this product back in July.
  • Social Marathon: Using RFID technology, this service collects time lapses of runners at a marathon and automatically publish their updates via social networks to more motivate them to keep running.
  • Dentsu Science Jam: This is a joint venture with Japanese web conglomerate Digital Garage, aiming to create commercial services based on cutting-edge research in science.

According to Miyoshi, NTT Docomo Ventures aims for capital gain, but for startups, they expect to be seen as a gateway to all NTT group companies.

At a huge conglomerate like NTT Group, you may have no idea how to connect with a certain department. We will find the right person in the right department, corresponding to what you’re looking for, and link you up with them. We will work with you to explore how a department can make the most of your technology.

Since our company is a mobile carrier, we tend to be more constrained, so we will need more time to launch a new business than a typical startup does. By collaborating with startups which typically have lots of knowledge about new businesses, we would like to accelerate our internal entrepreneurial efforts as well.

One of the trends popular with our executives currently is the health care business. If you can bring us a health care solution, we can probably explore a potential business partnership.

For startups from outside Japan, they welcome any types of your approach. But they highly recommend you to visit them with a Japanese interpreter.

Microsoft’s Shinichiro Isago

Microsoft launched Microsoft Ventures from its US headquarters back in July. And Microsoft Japan is preparing to launch its Japanese counterpart, providing startups with support such as BizSpark, an acceleration program, and seed funding opportunities ranging from 5 million yen to 30 million yen (from $50,000 to $300,000).

In a response to a question about what kind of startups they can support, Microsoft’s Isago shared an interesting story:

In Saga prefecture, the local government decided to distribute our tablets to all high school students in the prefecture. Our challenge is we have little variety of apps for Windows Tablets. So we really want to support startups which can provide a variety of apps for devices.

For startups, if you want to apply for Microsoft’s incubation program, you will be requested to submit a form in English, as they are a global company. Microsoft Japan can give you translation assistance, but they recommend you to personally write about what has motivated you to launch a startup, regardless of whether your English is good or not.

Moderator Honjo praised the the panelists for helping their respective companies connect with startups. In response, Microsoft’s Isago explained why.

It’s because big companies became weaker. In the past at many companies, smarter people tend to be assigned to high profit business. But for communicating with startups, you will need to be agile and responsive. Supporting startups will not help profits so much, but taking these actions with our future in mind is a good policy.

  1. Disclosure: The author has a business relationship with Dentsu.