Embracing new opportunities for Japan
Author: Youssef Iguider, VP of Business Development
& Japan Country Director, SRI International, Japan
SRI International is behind the invention and design of many breakthrough technology solutions that have impacted our world, including the first internet prototype, ARPANet; the first surgery robot, Davinci; the first virtual personal assistant, Siri; the first autonomous motorcycle, MOTOBOT; the first automated chemical drug discovery system, SynFini; the first real-time augmented reality (AR) technology; the first medical ultrasound application and the first online banking solution, among many other world-changing innovations that make people safer, healthier and more productive.
Headquartered in the heart of Silicon Valley, SRI International is a 75-year-old nonprofit, mission-driven, independent research and development organization that works with clients to help transfer cutting-edge technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace.
SRI does this through its unique business model that supports clients from idea generation through to the end user. SRI International generates inventions that solve major problems, then applies and transitions them to the market to ensure they get to people and communities that will benefit from them. The revenue generated by SRI’s contracted research and development projects, commercialization activities and marketplace solutions is reinvested in the institute’s capabilities, facilities and staff to advance its mission and to continue to meet client and partner needs. SRI brings its innovations to the marketplace through technology licensing, spin-off ventures and new product solutions.
SRI’s approach to innovation
Commonly, “invention” and “innovation” are intermixed. An invention might be a genius idea, a great scientific paper or a solid patent. But, unfortunately, way too many inventions do not reach the market and do not become innovations that deliver value to people in the market. One can only convert an invention to innovation if it can produce a solution to a problem for our targeted customers and deliver a high value to them while meeting their needs and circumstances. A targeted customer could be external (in the market) or internal (management or a different team inside our own organization).
At SRI, before diving into deep technical talks and technology development, the institute meets with its customer to address and assess their strategic needs. SRI’s goal is to be able to develop and deliver a true value to our customer and our customer’s customers.
A customer may initially approach us with a wish to develop some specific technology. SRI works with its customers to extract and identify their real need out of that wish. SRI does this by iterating a series of “why?” questions, such as “why do we wish to do that?”
SRI asks questions such as:
- What important problem should be solved?
- Why solve this specific problem?
- Who exactly would benefit by solving this problem?
- Who are the external and the internal customers in this specific situation
- How great will the impact be to the customer when the problem is solved?
We call this step the discovery phase, in which the goal is to qualify and clearly define the customer’s important need.
Once the customer’s important problem is clearly defined and their need is well qualified, SRI facilitates an ideation workshop involving a team of our scientists working together with the customer’s team. SRI leverages both sides’ collective intelligence along with the institute’s innovation practices to co-create a novel solution concept that would solve the identified problem. Many of SRI’s renowned technology solution concepts, such as MOTOBOT, were born during ideation workshops.
After a solution concept is created and approved by the customer, SRI’s renowned research and development labs construct the technology solution and deliver a proof of concept (PoC) based on the designed concept. The goal of the PoC is to verify and demonstrate the feasibility of the concept and prove its practical potential. At this stage, some customer companies station engineers in SRI’s labs to work together with its scientists. Later, SRI’s labs develop a prototype that can be transitioned to the customer, so they may continue developing the product based on the institute’s technology solution.
SRI empowers Japanese innovators
SRI established its office in Japan in 1963. The goal then was to help establish the Nomura Research Institute (NRI). Throughout the last six decades, the institute has helped Japan in many fields and industries, supporting Japanese innovators in commercial, academic and governmental organizations.
Recently, SRI Japan has received increased interest from leading Japanese corporations to help develop new technology solutions to address important needs related to the automotive, construction and cosmetics industries.
Nomura-SRI Innovation Center (NSIC)
SRI International recently partnered with Nomura Securities Co., Ltd. to establish the Silicon Valley-based Nomura-SRI Innovation Center (NSIC). NSIC is located on SRI’s main campus in Menlo Park, California, and exclusively services corporate Japan.
The NSIC program is designed to help its member companies acquire and cultivate best practices for identifying and evaluating emerging technologies in order to enhance the members’ adoption of next-generation innovation and optimize the value of their technology investments. NSIC began operations in 2021 and now hosts several major Japanese corporations from various industries.
The Innovation Center is now considering new memberships in 2022, with the possibility for member companies to join NSIC programs in Silicon Valley or remotely so that member organizations in Japan can also attend virtually.
Japan’s challenges and opportunities
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many new challenges to Japan and the world. It has also emphasized many problems Japan has been facing in recent years, including challenges related to aging and shrinking workforces, aging innovation practices and aging infrastructures, in addition to increasing regional and global competition.
Japan has excelled at adopting new inventions and adapting them into valuable innovations that address the country’s important needs. Examples range from the development of the Japanese writing system starting in the fifth century to postwar development, including automobile production, shipbuilding, semiconductors and Total Quality Management (TQM) processes.
So, while Japan is currently being challenged by some of the abovementioned issues, it is a good time for the country to look at some of the successful innovation practices in other world regions in order to learn, adopt, adapt and develop them further to address Japan’s current innovation challenges.
Fortunately, smart and customized innovative solutions based on the latest trends and advances in technology and R&D can be successfully leveraged to address most of these challenges. More than that, well-adapted technology innovations may allow Japan to convert its challenges to new opportunities for further economic growth.
Thinking “the future”
The world has become increasingly integrated. Global balances are now shifting again, only this time faster than ever before alongside innovation ecosystems, global and regional marketplaces, the nature of the competition (which is now not only cross-geographical but also cross-industrial) and the rise of modern innovation worldwide. However, these unprecedented times of uncertain changes open up an abundance of new opportunities for companies and countries — but only if we can accurately seize and successfully address the right innovation challenges.