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Leverage Taiwan tech startup ecosystem in corporate open innovation strategy
Rich Fuh, special to DIGITIMES

Tech startup ecosystem, word for word, is an ecosystem which has an organic and interactive relationship among different parties with two key components: technology and startup. More specifically, startups are in the center of the ecosystem, surrounded by other entities/organizations (investors, universities, corporate/industry, government, media, etc.) and individuals (talents/startup-to-be).

Technology, on the other hand, is how everyone in the ecosystem gets connected. The ecosystem gets its organic evolution with the advance and commercialization of technology research. Big companies embrace open innovation strategies so as to be fast and nimble. It's about accessing diverse range of talent, specifically, people who are willing to take risks. It's also about creating a virtual team outside of existing organizations, and injecting wider and diverse innovative energy into the internal team to accelerate time-to-market.

Taiwan's tech startup ecosystem has its unique advantage that no firms in the world should miss when making their innovation strategies. To begin with, there is abundant high-quality technology talent in universities and industries, such as the semiconductor, electronic manufacturing and healthcare sectors. Those industries and talent are perfectly in line with key technology trends such as those of AI and 5G; and it's no surprise when big firms such as Microsoft or Google set up R&D team here. Aside from that, the tech ecosystem of Taiwan has been well-known as trusted partners to the multinational companies, such as TSMC (semiconductor foundry house) and Largan (camera lens provider). And it's a good time now for global firms to invest in Taiwan tech startup ecosystem.

First of all, there is an increasing number of startups established by entrepreneurs with industry experiences. After seeing high growth in the previous two decades, thanks to the PC/Internet/mobile phone boom, the industry is again getting mature, driving experienced people to start actively seeking opportunity outside of the corporate environment. They are also being motivated by promising technologies of AI, blockchain and others. One example is Kneron, which has been recently selected as one of the 10 Coolest Startups of Taiwan in 2019. It was founded by a group experienced people from the semiconductor industry and academic bodies.

Secondly, Taiwan has one of the best healthcare system in the world; and more and more people in the medical/healthcare sector are working closely with those from the ICT/software segment to jointly establish new ventures. An Example is Aetherai, winner of the 2018 Nvidia Inception Award in Taiwan. It is a startup combining talent from the medical and AI sectors to develop AI solutions on an end-to-end AI platform.

Finally, the Taiwan government has invested heavily in building a more globally connected, robust tech startup ecosystem in the past five years offering grants and subsidies. For example, Taiwan Tech Arena, the flagship tech startup ecosystem development program organized by Ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan, not only invests in encouraging startups to go international (like attending CES), but also builds a platform for private firms, startups, investors and people with industry experiences to work closely together and accelerate the growth of new ventures. Firms can easily leverage the platform to build its connection with the tech startup ecosystem in Taiwan. A growing number of multinational companies have started collaborating with Taiwan's tech startup ecosystem. The following are examples of big companies' approaches:

Corporate innovation award: This is the second year of Audi Innovation Award (AIA) in Taiwan. AIA has the objective of raising awareness of Audi R&D and the company's needs of support from Taiwan tech startup ecosystem. It seeks innovative ideas and technologies from startups, universities and industries about AI, new business models, sustainability and so forth.

Startup Competition: Qualcomm just started the Qualcomm Innovation in Taiwan Challenge (QITC), seeking inspirations from startups in 5G, AIoT, MR/AR related areas in line with the company's business goals. Qualcomm will support the startups with technology resources while working with Taiwan Tech Arena (TTA) to provide supportive business acceleration program for the shortlisted startups.

Supportive programs: LINE has launched ProtoStar program calling for new ideas and startups to build new applications based on LINE platform. Startups selected could get free credit and additional technology resources to build their products. This approach is typically adopted by platform providers such as LINE, AWS, Microsoft and vertical financial services. Taiwan-based CTBC has a blockchain lab with the objective to build collaboration with global startups. Service provider PwC also has introduced its accelerator program to leverage its business network to support growth of startups.

Venture building: This is a startup strategy with a long history, with one of the most famous example being Idealab, founded in 1996 in the US and have created, grown and spun-off a diverse range of companies. Companies who identify trends and opportunities but lack in-house motivated or skillful employees could come to a specialized organization such as idealab or accelerator to jointly develop the idea and recruit experienced entrepreneurs and teams to build up a startup. Techstars, a well-known accelerator based in the US and has collaborated with TTA in a series of startup ecosystem building events, just announced its new program. The typical value proposition from those specialized accelerators is how well-connected they are in the tech ecosystem and those experienced and highly motivated entrepreneurs could quickly execute and lead the newly formed startup to success.

(Rich Fuh is partnership director of Taiwan Tech Arena.)

Taiwan Tech Arena

Taiwan Tech Arena

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