Company Internal WorkShop of the 2019 Inspire Matsuri

Evolution of corporate innovation event "Inspire Matsuri" through these 3 years


HENNGE has been holding Inspire Matsuri (IM: "Matsuri" means festivals in Japanese), which is a corporate innovation event aiming to accelerate development of new business creation since 2018 (click here for the past IM-related articles in Japanese).
Three years have passed since the first IM was held and what were the achievements and lessons learned? Here are the interviews with Sai-san and Zack-san of the Business Incubation Management Section(BIM), who organizes IM.

Hello! More than three years have passed since IM started in 2018! Could you kindly give us an overview of IM?
IM is an annual company event. Open an opportunity for internal employees to submit ideas under given themes and work on it towards the pitch stage, where there are top management members as the judges. The team with qualified ideas will move to the next phase called "Wakaba Challenge" (Wakaba in Japanese means "young leave" and a symbol represent "beginner".)In this phase, the team has mission to create new products to solve customer challenges and to solicit paid to users, turning such ideas to real business.
Wakaba Challenge began in 2019 and there was one out of nine teams passed from IM. In 2020, 5 out of 13 teams and in 2021, 2 out of 4 teams were qualified from IM went to Wakaba Challenge and they are working to develop real products.
I see! There have been four IMs held so far and were there changes in terms of the numbers of ideas and applicants?
Here is a chart to show you the trends.
As for the number of ideas, since 2018, the numbers have shifted as 382 > 9 > 13 > 4.
The number of applicants were, since 2018, 111 > 32 > 42 > 13.
There were a lot in 2018, which was the first year!
Since it was the first year, we made the entry easy under the concept of "Everyone inspires everyone".
There were no strict requirements to apply, so members could apply casually and as a result, a lot of ideas were submitted.
... ...
I see. The initial entries must have been easier that way! Since 2019, which was the second year, applications must be made in teams, correct?
Yes, from the second year, quality has become more important than quantity. We focus on cross-division team formation, such as sales and development, complement each other and exchange ideas.
Was it worth making it a team application?
In 2019, the team which consisted of sales and development division members created the idea of Tekumi, a communication tool, and the service was successfully introduced inside HENNGE for the first time.
So the team work must have paid off! On the other hand, in 2021, it seems that the number of ideas and applicants declined.
There were multiple factors for the decline. We changed the IM scheme and the changes might not be captured clearly by members, or maybe because of the prolonged Covid pandemic, members may feel discouraged and not motivated enough to apply...
In 2021, there was also a major update of "HENNGE One", our major SaaS authentication product, so members from the sales and customer success divisions may have been too busy to participate in IM.
And as Sai-san mentioned, we have changed the scheme for IM participants to conduct surveys and interviews with their customers at an early stage in order to enhance the quality of the ideas submitted, therefore, there may have been a tradeoff.
I see. Is there any characteristic for IM applicants?
Originally, most of them were developers. However, since 2019, which was the second year, sales, customer success, and back-office members are actively participating as well. In 2021, it was the first time the designer team participated in IM, and UI and UX skills were fully utilized when designing for the solution concept of idea seed.
It is great to have applicants with a variety of backgrounds and skills. What are the recent characteristics of the submitted ideas?
Recently there are a lot of ideas involving artificial intelligence (AI). There was an idea of Chatbot (automated conversation program) utilizing AI. Remote working is also a big trend as we go through the Covid-19 pandemic.
For all these ideas, our impression is that the quality of the entire process, ranging from the idea conception to refining to pass the screening criteria has been improved. This is due to the participants continuously learning about new business creation aspects through the journey and they are able to discuss and make suggestions on good points and areas of improvements among each other.
It is not easy to keep learning but it is important to make small business ideas grow and flourish. Speaking about remote working, it must have been quite a challenge to host IM online.
It was tough that we could no longer see people face-to-face. We could not easily exchange opinions from our colleagues on certain ideas through a casual conversation in the office or brainstorm the ideas on the white board in the meeting rooms like before.
So what did you do exactly to overcome such difficulties?
We hosted online workshops for candidate applicants and the "Inspire Matsuri Coffee Time" for those who were wondering whether to apply or not to casually chat on their ideas. We really tried hard to remove barriers for application and to encourage them to have fun.
"Inspire Matsuri Coffee Time" on Zoom
We created a team matching application so that people who would like to apply could find teammates depending on their areas of interest. We also generated audio data like PodCast to introduce the latest news on IM and to answer questions from candidate applicants.
Audio data sounds interesting since normally we are used to text communication only, such as Slack! Apart from a lot of difficulties, was there any positive experience?
The IM pitch event must have been one of the very few events that many employees viewed simultaneously. It was a great place and occasion to support each other and recognize the hard work of each other when we missed the experience of being together in the office.
Indeed. Before the Covid-19 spread, IM was held in the office physically and the number of audiences were about 30 to 40 employees, including the IM participants and the judges. Since we shift to online IM, it was easier for employee to watch the pitch, there was over 100 employees, from the kickoff event as well as the pitch event.
Participants of the 2021 Online IM (not all of them)
That must have been a good surprise. Three years have passed since IM started. Any achievements and future issues?
We have made a lot of progress since the beginning. "HENNGE Connect" announced in March 2022, was the first product introduced to the market, which is based on the idea originally created for IM and went through Wakaba Challenge.
Congratulations on the first product launch from IM! We will write about the HENNGE Connect in our next article.
Thank you very much! And thanks to the involved members, not only HENNGE Connect team but also other stakeholders such as legal, sales, customer service, and marketing divisions.
On the other hand, we do have some issues as well. It is tough to figure out how to achieve the balance of applicants' daily work and IM-related activities, how to improve and strengthen the scheme every year, how to encourage people to apply for IM while we are working remotely, and so on.
As for the balance of applicants' daily work and IM-related activities, I heard that applicants are allowed to spend 20% of their work hours on IM-related activities as a rule.
Yes there is. But if there is any major project being pursued under the applicant's main job duty, he or she must prioritize over IM or Wakaba Challenge and it would be hard to secure 20% of his or her capacity for something else. We will continue to consider how we can improve the time scheme for the applicants.
Zack-san, what about your views on the achievements and future issues?
There are three important elements for our activities; resources, process, and priority.
As for the resources, some people say that 20% is not enough but it is not realistic to spend more. We have our regular work and we cannot spend 100% on IM. We must find a compromise. First, we would like to see how we can increase the number of repeated applicants of IM.
In terms of the process, we are improving it every year and we are happy with the current scheme.
Lastly, the priority. We would like to increase the priority of IM at HENNGE. Therefore, we would like to further promote the importance of IM and have all the members understand it.
I will keep promoting IM-related activities, myself! Lastly, what are the next steps?
We are very proud and happy that IM ignites the passion of the employees for new business development and provides a way to roll the dice in the market. We would like to maintain the excitement of IM and improve the efficiency of the process so that more applicants will come along and their time will be spent more efficiently, for example utilizing vendor services for user research and so on.
As Sai-san says, we do not have to do everything by ourselves but there must be new ways to create business. We would like to make IM more attractive as we work together with other members.
Now I understand very well that you are working hard to make applicants' activities to develop new businesses easier and more efficient. Please continue your great work to stimulate and further promote new business development at HENNGE! Thank you very much!