By Ryoko Hirano, Director of Market and Business Acceleration

At NEC X, we’re always looking for new ways to improve our processes. Working with new startups provides exciting challenges and opportunities that help us grow and adapt our corporate accelerator program (CAP). We understand that the customer always comes first—a value that every entrepreneur, business and leader should strive to follow.

To better incorporate the customer’s needs into our CAP process, we’ve added a new step: market research. Although we’ve always included market research in the form of customer discovery interviews, we’ve elevated efforts and added more structure to ensure more consistent, successful results from our startup launches.

Ultimately, we want hard data that tells us whether there is a viable opportunity to leverage a new market or technology. We want to know what the actual problem or need is, and if it is big enough to warrant a new product. We also need to consider if we have the right solution, that addresses the right customers, so that we can make an impact. We’ve built a strong foundation at NEC X, keeping our success rate high thanks to NEC R&D’s emerging technologies. Emerging technologies are the core of our startups and our EIRs bring these technology innovations to life through their business ideas.

The new market research step now takes place right after we identify our tech seeds. It’s the first big step our Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs) take on their journey with NEC X. You can view the full process in which market research comes to play in our CAP process infographic here.

We decided to make this process change to ensure that each specific startup had a viable opportunity to succeed. While the EIRs perform market research, researchers from NEC R&D can simultaneously engage in technology research.

We guide our market research activities by evaluating data gathered based on several measures including:

  • Opportunity
  • Problem or Need
  • Solution
  • Customer
  • Market Size

Before we added market research to the process, customer discovery was based solely on researchers’ and EIRs’ hypotheses. The EIRs and their teams seemed to be more focused on selling the technology rather than seeing the bigger picture, backed by a clear understand of the market. So, we decided more supporting evidence was necessary. By adding this new process, we’re learning more about the market and the customer before diving deep into customer discovery.

For EIRs, market research now includes a variety of activities, including interviews (online and in-person) as well as desk research. From assessing the competitive landscape, to examining financial metrics like CAGR and how the technology could play in with current economics, we want to make sure we’ve done our homework.

In the greater scheme of things, what do these changes entail for our EIRs? Once the market research cycle is complete, EIRs are ready to focus on the market, knowing that they can be confident in their hypotheses, with a better start to customer discovery.

Even with this comprehensive framework in place, we continually fine-tune the process based on feedback from each batch of startups and their respective EIRs. We’re constantly working to identify gaps and determine where we can improve and grow. At the end of the day, all activities are centered on creating an environment, workplace and culture in which the entrepreneurial spirit can thrive.

We’re proud that our efforts were recently recognized by Best in Biz, as we were named the “Most Innovative Company of the Year,” with a silver award in the Small Business category. Since the CAP process is a significant part of what we do, we are confident that we’re making a significant impact on the high tech industry.