Innovation Tips from SXSW- Participants on How to Create an Ecosystem

SXSW (South by Southwest) is the world's largest conference event held in Austin, Texas, USA for 10 days every March. Three genres serve as pillars: music, film, and interactive. The number of conference attendees this year was reported to be 70,000, 1,200 of whom were Japanese exhibitors or visitors. At SXSW, many tips on creating an ecosystem, which is said to be important for realizing innovation, were shared. Fujitsu invited companies, universities, and local people who participated in SXSW from Japan to Fujitsu Forum in order to discuss emergence and how to create ecosystems to make innovation happen.
[Fujitsu Forum 2017 Seminar & Exhibition Report]

Innovation ≠ Technological Innovation

Tetsuya Sasaki
Managing Consultant,
Industry Group, Consulting Headquarters,
Fujitsu Research Institute

The seminar started by introducing the definition of innovation as "Innovation is the market introduction of a technical or organisational novelty, not just its invention" advocated by by Joseph A. Schumpeter (an economist, "The Theory of Economic Development"). Tetsuya Sasaki from Fujitsu Research Institute, who served as moderator, explained the definitions of innovation, ecosystem, and other words as follows.

"Humans are at the center, who are surrounded by incubators, advisors, investors, government officials, and other elements. To connect these elements, still more elements such as education, laws, culture, and media are added. This state is the ideal ecosystem for innovation."

SXSW successfully creates an ecosystem based on such an awareness. This seminar invited three presenters who participated in SXSW to explore tips to make innovation happen from the perspectives of companies, universities, and local people, which are the elements for creating an ecosystem.

Builing Communities to Connect People and Create Something New

Takayuki Fukui
Experience Specialist of Wonder LAB Osaka,
Corporate CTO Office,
Panasonic Corporation

To start, each presenter talked about their activities. The first presenter was Panasonic's Mr. Takayuki Fukui, who runs Wonder LAB Osaka, a co-creation space. Mr. Fukui makes the placewhere people find interesting human resources and innovators in-house through events, gives shape to ideas, and publicize such ideas inside and outside the company. In addition to workshops, Wonder LAB Osaka hosts various events, such as musical performances and Ogiri (a form of entertainment).

Mr. Fukui remarked: "I don't think of the LAB as just a space, but rather as a place to build communities to create ecosystems. In an era when people connect with each other and create something new, we are attempting to visualize what kinds of people and elements are necessary to make innovation happen through the various events held at Wonder LAB Osaka."

Supporting University Startups to Send Students and Young Entrepreneurs Able to Implement into the World

Taketo Sugawara
Assistant Professor,
Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship,
Division of University Corporate Relations,
The University of Tokyo

Next, Mr. Taketo Sugawara from the University of Tokyo introduced various on-campus programs, such as those for human resource development, project support, and incubation. He commented: "First, we started with an entrepreneur education program known as the University of Tokyo Entrepreneur Dojo to enable students to learn how to develop business plans. However, developing startups was not as easy as I expected." One reason he identified was that outside Japan, startups are often developed by engineers, while Japanese students who major in engineering do not commonly have the idea of creating business form their own technologies. Therefore, Mr. Sugawara explained that he created the Todai to Texas program and other technical project support programs with the hope of sending out into the world Japanese students with excellent implementation skills.

Mr. Sugawara expressed his strong determination: "In other countries, it is natural for people to support university startups. Universities play a leading role in innovation. Our stance is to do the same in Japan as well."

Making the City More Attractive by Linking Unique Events

Takeo Funahashi
Manager of the Public Relations Office,
Kobe Digital Labo Inc.

The final presenter was Mr. Takeo Funahashi from Kobe Digital Labo. Mr. Funahashi talked about how he got started: "I had the goal of turning the city of Kobe into a big family." He held events one after another, including the Kobe IT Festival and TEDxKobe. These events lead to the development of communities that connect people through intellectual interests. He continued: "As we continued our activities, we felt that people's networks were not yet strong enough in Kobe; therefore, we aimed to make Kobe the 'choice of young generations,' targeting young people who had left Kobe after graduating from university. We thought we could make Kobe more attractive by linking the city's existing unique events, and we decided to launch the event '078Kobe' by using SXSW as a good reference."

The Attractions of SXSW as Told by Participants

Next, based on their experiences participating in SXSW, the presenters talked about the diversity, features, atmosphere, and so forth realized by the variety of conferences and participants.

Mr. Fukui shared his feelings: "We have participated in various events, such as CES (Consumer Electronics Show), but when we asked others questions about the content and their impressions, they gave almost similar answers. By contrast, when we asked about SXSW, we received different answers from every participant. This proves that SXSW provides a greater variety of conferences than ever before, which attracts a diverse audience."

Next, Mr. Sugawara introduced BionicM, a robotic prosthesis development team. BionicM is a team that participated from the University of Tokyo's Todai to Texas program. The key member of BionicM is a student who lost a leg and needs prosthetic limbs in his daily lives. He aimed to develop better prosthetic limbs from the viewpoint of a user and they won the SXSW Interactive Innovation Award, which Twitter and Airbnb also won. This was a remarkable first achievement for a Japanese team in the student category.

Mr. Sugawara suggested: "So far, focus has been placed on how to match the provider side and user side; however, at SXSW, a new trend has emerged in which people having issues change the world using technologies. I think that people engaged in open innovation must understand that trend in this era."

BionicM (a robotic prosthesis development team) at the SXSW awards ceremony

The Significance of Innovation at SXSW

Next came a discussion on how to use the experiences obtained by participating in SXSW to improve the future of Japan's economy and society.

Mr. Sugawara mentioned that SXSW is not just an exhibition or seminar: "If it is just a 'new combination,' it will end up merely as a 'new product.' Cutting-edge innovation research even takes into account how the market responds in order for an innovation to become established. In other words, the change from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles can be called a structural change, and when people accepted this change, a paradigm shift occurred, which resulted in innovation. If the preconceived notion of 'cars = dangerous' transforms into 'cars = faster than horses,' it becomes an innovation."

Meanwhile, Mr. Funahashi emphasized the importance of setting up a place for talking about the future. He showed his stance on proactively taking the initiative by presenting three key concepts: Movement (if something comes to mind, just try it out), Weird & Creative (what is weird is creative), and Meetup & Convergence (mix people from various fields together). Mr. Funahashi remarked: "Hurdles can be overcome later. First, people who can do should do."

Lastly, each of the participants from companies, universities, and local people delivered messages, including what they expected of each other and requests for mutual cooperation in creating an ecosystem for innovation.

"I hope to incorporate various methodologies, such as university research outcomes and knowledge." (Mr. Fukui, Panasonic)

"I hope local people accept the new challenges facing universities and think these challenges are cool." (Mr. Sugawara, the University of Tokyo)

"I want universities and companies to use the community as a testing site." (Mr. Funahashi, Kobe Digital Labo)

With these messages showing strong commitment to innovation through mutual collaboration, the seminar concluded with enthusiastic encouragement: "Let's work together!"

Illustration of seminar content (by Kai Tamura, Fujitsu Design Limited)

Numerous Open Innovations by Combining Ideas and Technologies (Touch and Try Corner)

Fujitsu showcased numerous case studies on open innovation, aiming to realize innovation by combining various companies' ideas and technologies.

Windsurfing Lab to Create a Windsurfing Training System with IoT

Windsurfing Lab, a Windsurfing training system

A great deal of windsurfing skill depends on experience, and scientific analysis is expected to contribute to sailing skill acquisition. In response to this expectation, the Japan Windsurfing Association; Lapis Semiconductor Co., Ltd.; and Fujitsu's Digital Front Business Unit launched a co-creation project. Windsurfing Lab has developed a training system and started field trials. At the exhibition, participants experienced a demonstration of visualization and analysis of sail control. Participants commented that this technology would also be useful for other sports.

Interactive Shoes Hub, a Sensor Shoes Platform

Sensor shoes, a co-creation project by the Keio University Graduate School of Media Design and Fujitsu's Digital Business Platform Business Unit, were also showcased at SXSW. Sensor information collected from the shoes provides "tactile feedback from the soles of the feet." Many visitors tried this demonstration.
Mr. Kobayashi of Keio University Graduate School, who supported the demonstration, remarked: "We received some comments from visitors that they wanted to know specifically about the direction of application for this service and usage scenarios, and they would have liked to see demo shoes for women. I hope to address these points in the future."

Interactive Shoes Hub sensor shoes platform

In addition, Fujitsu also introduced the activities of "Wonder LAB Osaka" (Panasonic's co-creation space) and "078Kobe" (Kobe's first cross-media event) that were presented at the seminar.

(Left) Panasonic's "Wonder LAB Osaka" co-creation space; (Right) Kobe's first cross-media event, "078Kobe"

Through the seminar and exhibitions, visitors felt the winds of open innovation. Going forward, Fujitsu will continue to promote co-creation to create new value together with customers and partners.