For decades, investors have flocked to Silicon Valley in droves, keen to identify the next big tech innovation to drive massive returns. Today, we’re seeing an increasing amount of capital flooding into Silicon Valley from Asia, as investors from thriving economies like Japan recognize the financial potential and seek ways to get involved.
World Innovation Lab (WiL), a Mizuho partner, is capitalizing on this trend by thinking of ROI as more than just dollars and cents. WiL launched its initial venture fund in January 2014 with $360 million and a mission to not only bridge the gap between U.S. and Japan startup communities, but also infuse Silicon Valley-style innovation into the corporate cultures of Japanese investors. By taking best practices from some of the most innovative start-ups in Silicon Valley, WiL is helping to create a culture of open innovation within Japanese companies, contributing to their transformations into global leaders in their respective industries.
Mizuho’s relationship with WiL is a unique one. While we are an investor in the fund, we also have employees embedded full-time within WiL’s offices. This arrangement has encouraged us to establish new business models across the firm, leveraging the latest technological advances in big data, Internet of Things and blockchain.
Here are a few ways that WiL helps investors like us incorporate innovation into their businesses:
Executive Boot Camps: Every year, WiL hosts a boot camp in its Palo Alto, CA office, to help executives refresh their internal “operating systems.” Attendees join meet-ups, attend design thinking workshops, meet with startups and visit incubation centers. This process encourages executives to reconsider the way they currently operate, explore new avenues of thought, and more openly embrace innovation within their own organization.
Employee Rotational Program: WiL offers its investors the opportunity to have employees join the firm for two to three years, resulting in an unparalleled understanding of the venture capital community in Silicon Valley. Employees receive extensive hands-on training and forge a strong network of connections in the industry. This immersive experience empowers them to operate at the forefront of innovation for their respective organizations.
Revive Overlooked Innovations: Most large corporations have a cache of stalled business ideas or unused IP – potential revenue streams that have yet to be effectively built out. WiL addresses these inefficiencies with Silicon Valley flair. They allow corporations to incubate these concepts outside of their organization – establishing them as individual companies, infusing the necessary capital and even identifying the right c-suite leadership to manage them. The original corporation provides the engineering, manufacturing and facility support to get these ideas off the ground. This process combines the innovation of a startup with the security and resources of an established company to ensure the greatest possible chance of success.
Partnerships with organizations like WiL are critical to our business here at Mizuho. By adopting a Silicon Valley mindset, we are empowered to better serve our clients, promote dynamic corporate culture in Japan, and maximize innovation within our own organization.
Hidehiko Ota is a Vice President within Mizuho’s Industry Research Department. In April 2015, Hidehiko joined the rotational program within World Innovation Lab (WiL), focusing on investments for mid- to late-stage startups in the U.S.