Open Innovation: Murata’s search for technology startup partners
Startups Editor Anna Flockett talks to Murata’s Mitch Nozaki, EMEA facilitator for their Open Innovation website, about why the electronics company is looking to collaborate with startups.
Startups are great companies to work with. They approach problems differently, are always finding innovative solutions and really make the most of their time and work – despite operating in conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity. They are innovative by nature and are constantly improving their business models, processes, and portfolio which allows them to adapt to disruptive technologies and changes in market conditions. “Startups often view challenges from a totally different perspective to large organisations and offer refreshing, enlightening ways of solving them,” explained Nozaki.
However, the risk of failure is very real with nine out of ten startups biting the dust. One stumbling block is the lack of resources available; startups operate on shoestring budgets against well-resourced competitors which have the edge in product development, sales and marketing. If their technology or solution is disruptive or interesting enough, some deep tech startups may receive investment from corporations or be acquired by one. However, a growing approach to deep tech startup innovation is to partner with a large corporation. This is a great way for them to gain not only the resources, but also the legitimacy it requires to succeed.
As an innovator in electronics, Murata is keen to work with organisations such as startups, universities and research institutions focussed on creating the next generation of products and technologies to meet the diversifying social needs of modern times. “We’ve recently launched a new website – our Open Innovation site – inviting collaboration partners to innovate with us on solutions addressing the mobility, energy, healthcare and wireless markets,” said Nozaki. By using the website as a gateway to connect with Murata, partners can access a broad range of Murata resources including R&D assistance, channels to market, mass production capabilities, financial backing and market access in order to realise the full potential of their innovations. Murata already connects with startups by holding hackathons or ideathons locally but now the website provides a 24/7 platform for engagement.
“Small companies often hesitate to reach out for help from bigger organisations. They might find it impossible to know who to contact in which department, so we’ve designed the website to address this problem,” said Nozaki. “Having a dedicated website for innovation simplifies the whole engagement process and enables startups to form long‑term relationships with Murata, even in areas where you don’t see results quickly, such as AI and autonomous driving solutions.”
He continued: “Even when you have the core technology in place, preparing for mass production and then actually commercialising the product or solution is often very difficult for small companies. This is where collaborating with Murata can help: we are a big corporation and a leader in innovation but we recognise that the strength of a startup is its versatility, agility and novel ideas and, together, we can realise those ideas.”
Murata’s Open Innovation website separates the technology commercialisation process into three stages and lists the assistance on offer for each stage. Firstly, the focus is on helping startups to establish their technology. Murata can assist with R&D engineering resources and expertise as well as non-recurring engineering expenses for joint research, development and evaluation. Secondly, the company can offer process engineering and quality engineering resources when preparing for mass production.
“We have a marketing network for confirming product specifications and will, in some instances, also consider a minor investment into projects too,” explained Nozaki. “The final stage is the start of mass production and scaling up business operations: we can put Murata’s large-scale production capabilities and global supply chain at partners’ disposal to help with this”. The company is also open to options such as establishing joint ventures and licensing products.
The website contains examples of the kinds of projects in the mobility, energy, healthcare, and wireless markets where Murata is looking for partners. One of them is a brainwave sensor and analysis platform called Brain Navi which measures and provides real-time feedback on event-related potential (ERP). An ERP is the measured brain response that is the direct result of a specific sensory, cognitive or motor event and is a non-invasive way of evaluating brain function. ERPs can be used to identify and classify perceptual, memory and linguistic operations. “Using Brain Navi, we can analyse brain signals as a response to differentiating sounds, for example,” explained Nozaki. “We’re already working with a partner which has developed an application that feeds back real-time information to improve English listening ability. We’d like to find other collaboration partners to develop new applications for this visualised cognitive information. We’re interested in meeting organisations which are working on learning methods, employee training, games etc. where the Brain Navi could be used.”
Murata is also keen to make connections with startups that can take the company’s own innovations in a new direction. They developed a soil sensor recently which is able to monitor two types of electrical conductivity, temperature and the moisture content of the soil. It enables growers to increase the yield and quality of crops while helping them reduce water and fertiliser usage. “I’d love to hear from startups which could use the sensor in an application or solution they’re working on,” said Nozaki.
For those interested in working with Murata, the next step is to fill out the contact form on the website and a Murata team member will be in touch to discuss the project proposal further. Murata is particularly looking to hear from anyone with an exciting solution in one of their key development areas of mobility, energy, healthcare, and wireless markets.