Updated on August 29, 2018
Sony's Seed Acceleration Program (SAP) was launched in April 2014 to collect ideas that are beyond existing business categories and develop them for commercialization. The Sony Group has a broad array of human and management resources in electronics, entertainment, financial services, and other fields. Sony seeks to launch new businesses and achieve innovative breakthroughs by leveraging collaboration involving technologies and talents that cut across the boundaries of existing specialties, and by accelerating the establishment of tie-ups with joint venture companies that are active in complementary fields.
SAP is an approach used to quickly launch startup projects and commercialize new ideas by tapping into the design and production know-how Sony already possesses. One initiative that Sony has undertaken under SAP is "First Flight," a crowdfunding and e-commerce website set up in 2015 to provide a platform where Sony's startup projects can make connections with customers who are ahead of the curve and want to use new products and services, and with customers who are interested in helping to turn new ideas into vibrant businesses.
Under the First Flight crowdfunding model, a project undergoing evaluation for possible launch as a new business is announced to the public as quickly as possible to get more people involved in considering whether it meets real market needs and exploring whether it can be turned into a marketable product. In addition, business proposals and progress in the development process are reported on the website to elicit customer feedback that can then be incorporated into the development process.
In January 2018, First Flight and other solutions for accelerating the commercialization of new ideas were expanded to encompass companies outside the Sony Group. The service will leverage the experience gained from commercializing 13 business projects to increase opportunities for launching startups in Japan, helping to expand and energize the startup market.
In addition, Sony has set up a Creative Lounge on the first floor of its headquarters in Tokyo with 3D printers and other machinery that people can use to test out new ideas. The Creative Lounge is also open to outside users, who can interact there with Sony employees, use the equipment to make and test prototypes, and try out prototypes. Working in direct contact with customers facilitates joint efforts to develop and improve products, and makes it possible to launch totally new types of business more quickly and with much greater assurance of success.
In April 2016, Sony expanded SAP by establishing SAP Europe in Lund, Sweden. SAP Europe utilizes the same basic processes as SAP in Japan in activities tailored for the European region. The team in Europe regularly exchanges ideas with the team in Japan while implementing workshops for all European employees to assist them in generating new ideas and building networks. SAP Europe has already held three auditions with the involvement of employees from multiple countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and United Kingdom.
Two of the things Sony envisions SAP accomplishing are the cultivation of a new generation of entrepreneurial talent and the training of teams of professionals who can accelerate the creation of new businesses. The startup projects that have emerged from SAP have been led by small teams of elite employees, to be sure, but these teams have also received a lot of in-house support from knowledgeable people and professionals specializing in many different fields. It is also possible for people from outside Sony to take part in projects. Utilizing Sony's wide range of talent pool, combined with a system of communication and open innovation, affords opportunities to make the most of the abilities of Sony employees.
Launched in 2016, “Sony – Startup Switch” is an annual business plan competition for startup projects that originate outside of Sony. Entries are auditioned and screened, similarly to SAP, before choosing a winning entry. Sony awards a monetary prize and helps the winning startup to accelerate business creation by providing technical mentoring and assisting with events and promotional activities, drawing on broad expertise gained through SAP. The startup is also given access to First Flight to market its products, providing a crucial foothold for a startup project.
The Sony Innovation Fund is a corporate venture capital fund. It aims to further strengthen collaboration with leading external researchers and startup companies around the world, accelerate business creation in the areas where Sony will focus on in the future such as AI and robotics, and support the growth of investee businesses using Sony Group resources, all to create a more open ecosystem. To date, it has resulted in investment in over 20 firms from Japan, the United States, Europe, and elsewhere.