From Research Results to a Scalable Business Model in Eight Weeks
Heidelberg, August 17, 2020 – Heidelberg-based NEC Laboratories Europe, together with Heidelberg Technology Park and the innovation consultancy SOMMERRUST, is testing market opportunities for new technologies. An initial pilot project explored the application of an artificial intelligence technology accelerator in automotive and other manufacturing industry use cases. This successful cooperation is now being expanded.
Companies who shape the future invest heavily in research and development. NEC Laboratories Europe is one of the world’s leading research and development organizations in artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, cyber security and Internet of Things. Their mission, as part of the NEC Group, includes developing technology for NEC products and services, and inventing fundamental, original technology that addresses new business segments.
However, not every research result leads to just one single product development. This has been the case with the SOL Project – a highly sophisticated algorithm that can drastically shorten the time-consuming learning phases of some AI algorithms. While the SOL Project was originally developed for specific NEC use, it has the wider potential to be used by companies in various industries that want to bring AI into computationally constrained devices.
But what do you do with results that are too valuable to end up in a file cabinet? "We want promising technology to reach market maturity, even when the opportunities are outside NEC’s core business," explains Jürgen Quittek, Managing Director of NEC Laboratories Europe. "This way, independent start-ups can emerge in the future using our technologies to develop exciting products."
To help achieve this, NEC Laboratories Europe partnered with Heidelberg Technology Park and the innovation consultancy SOMMERRUST. "In recent years, we have developed a comprehensive range of support services for start-ups from public research institutions," says Thomas Prexl, head of the Start-Up office at Heidelberg Technology Park and Managing Director of the Heidelberg Startup Partners initiative. "There are many similarities between start-up ideas from NEC’s research lab and start-up projects from universities, hospitals, and other public research institutions. Research-driven companies can benefit considerably from the methods we use to support start-ups."
However, the structure and processes of multinational corporations also present special challenges that differ from public research institutions. This is where the strengths of SOMMERRUST come into play. The company, located in Heidelberg and Berlin, specializes in supporting large corporations in strengthening their innovative capacity and in jointly implementing innovation projects by means of co-creation. Heidelberg Technology Park and SOMMERRUST implemented a concept to examine market opportunities and the spin-off of potential research results within a very short time. The result is the Market Validation Program and NEC Laboratories Europe is the first company to participate.
The Market Validation Program’s value proposition, target group and business model are tested as part of an iterative process. An empirical approach is the primary focus; assumptions about the challenges of potential customers as well as the value of the solution for different target groups are checked with potential customers and pursued further or rejected.
"For the Market Validation Program we integrate established methods such as Design Sprints, Lean Startup and Design Thinking," explains Frank Rust, founder and partner of SOMMERRUST. "Within a few days we develop various prototypes that are systematically validated and improved. This is based on realistic feedback. Moving quickly does not only save time, but also prevents the cost of staying on the wrong track for too long.”
The program takes eight weeks in total. To achieve results in this short time frame, work is carried out in small teams. Two NEC researchers collaborate with two innovation experts from Heidelberg Technology Park and SOMMERRUST – combining scientific expertise with methodological competence and start-up experience. In interactive workshops, options for action are designed, evaluated and tested. Instead of lengthy coordination processes, the team makes decisions quickly and pragmatically.
The SOL Project by NEC Laboratories Europe is an AI technology accelerator that enables faster training and execution of neural networks, independent of the hardware used. Participating in the Market Validation Program enabled NEC Laboratories Europe to test the viability of SOL platform technology in different industry use cases that are outside NEC’s core needs for SOL. "In some cases, in only a few hours we developed communication material for different industries and use cases, found discussion partners and checked our assumptions," reports Roberto Bifulco, SOL Project Leader at NEC Laboratories Europe. He adds, "With the combination of methodology, energy and teamwork, we made amazingly fast progress. Every day, we gained a clearer understanding of potential target markets."
Roberto Baldessari, General Manager of Administration at NEC Laboratories Europe and director of the program highlights its value: "The pilot project produced positive results for us." He further comments, "The Market Validation Program has not only helped us better assess the potential of our technology, it provided us with new insights into the application of innovative technology research, and highlighted ways to improve how we communicate the value of this technology internally. In addition, some of our colleagues have started to use the general principles of the Market Validation Program in planning and assessing the outcomes of scientific progress.”
The successful cooperation between NEC Laboratories Europe, Heidelberg Technology Park, and SOMMERRUST will now be expanded. NEC Laboratories Europe will soon put further technologies to the acid test with customers and use the Market Validation Program to single-out and push promising candidates towards commercialization.
About NEC Laboratories Europe GmbH
NEC Laboratories Europe located in Heidelberg, Germany was established in 1997 with special emphasis on meeting the needs of NEC Group’s European customers. It dedicates research, development, and standardization on cutting-edge information and communication technologies for creating innovative social solutions. Our major research areas are including 5G networks, data science, artificial intelligence, IoT platforms as well as IoT security and blockchain. These technologies will promote NEC Group’s Solutions for a better Society in fields of digital health, lifeline and communication infrastructures, safer cities and public services.
For additional information, please visit our website at: http://www.neclab.eu
About NEC Europe Ltd.
NEC Europe Ltd. is a wholly owned subsidiary of NEC Corporation, a leader in the integration of IT network technologies that benefit businesses and people around the world. NEC Europe Ltd. is building upon its heritage and reputation for innovation and quality by providing its expertise, solutions and services to a broad range of customers, from telecom operators to enterprises and the public sector.
For additional information, please visit the NEC Europe Ltd. home page at: http://uk.nec.com/
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