Corporate innovation, for many of us, is like a long-time acquaintance whose complete persona remains unknown. Personally, I only see bits and pieces of it, having worked on a handful of these programmes such as the recent twinning ICMG-led, e27-backed initiatives: the Aichi Smart Sustainable City Co-Creation Challenge and the Aichi Startup Festival 2021 with e27.

Usually, we only know of the hustle that happens on the e27 side of the programme. Tweaking and finalising of problem statements. Organising rounds of intensive calls for application to our pool of relevant tech startups. Responding to enquiries on solution relevance, timeline, requirements, and what have you.

Once the startups have submitted their applications, after the organisers have addressed frequently asked questions, and as soon as the partner corporates kick off their course of selection, the space on this side of the world grows quiet again.

That is why we are so thrilled to sit down with Cherry Murillon of Philippine-based CAWIL.AI, one of the startup finalists of the first Aichi co-creation challenge. This open innovation programme gathered several global participants, over 40 of which came from the diverse pool of startups within the e27 community.

Murrillon, the passionate Co-Founder behind CAWIL.AI, gave us a glimpse of what happens beyond the application process as she narrated their team’s corporate innovation journey, motivations, challenges, and key learnings.

The case for international open innovation challenges

CAWIL.AI is an industry-agnostic AI solution with customised tooling that focuses on computer vision (providing accurate datasets for machine learning models).

Murillon recounts that when e27 invited them to join the co-creation challenge, their team has already built the core development of AI in several of their products and that their team is very agile in the implementation of AI especially in computer vision. All they needed to have is data to train the AI tool.

However, she mentions that being a deep tech AI company in the Philippines can be challenging, what with an environment where most solutions are consumer-driven.

Hence, Murillon admits, “my experience in joining international open innovation challenges has fueled the desire to present and showcase our capabilities and services especially in the Japanese market.”

Statistically speaking, the majority of corporates see less than 25% of their initial pilots with startups scale into solutions that can be taken to the market. However, this does not diminish the appeal and necessity of corporate innovation for both startups and corporates. For the latter, enabling innovation is key to survival and growth in an ever-changing business environment.

Startups benefit from the process, too. According to Murillon, the idea of joining the open innovation challenge has given them much-needed exposure to technology users and adapters.

“This is in addition to the possible funding that the partner corporate may provide if our solutions get chosen,” she adds.

Also Read: The corporate-startup tango and why it continues to be relevant

Pushing through despite the big unknown

When asked why CAWIL.AI pushed through with their application considering the limited amount of resources coupled with the heavy time investment of joining a competition without the guarantee of successful commercial engagement, Murillon has this to say:

“For me as a tech founder, the exposure and marketing outcomes of the challenge have added value in pursuing it. We don’t get international exposure like this every day, especially with Japanese corporates.”

Truer words have never been spoken. Indeed, corporate innovation programmes:

  • Create a startup-friendly environment for corporates to share their different problem statements,
  • Generate opportunities for startups to scale and grow their business, and
  • Facilitate manageable and transparent expectations for both sides.

It also helps that corporates tap strong ecosystem partners such as e27 to leverage their wide network of various startups across the region.


Programme walk-through

The pandemic-induced physical restrictions brought about a unique set of opportunities in the realm of corporate innovation. For one, qualified startup participants have a higher chance of pursuing the programme as they are not bound by the obligation to travel and be physically present on-site.

In turn, this gives the partner corporates a bigger pool of potential startup collaborators to tap from all over the region.

“We meet every two weeks on Wednesdays for updates, although we send slide updates in advance,” Murillon recounts her open innovation experience.

For the challenge, CAWIL.AI presented a mobile application-based AI that will detect the fault in bead weld default for manufacturing.

On her experience in co-working with the Japanese corporates, Murillon notes that they “are very straightforward and supportive. They presented us with the requirements that we need to fulfil.”

Challenges and key learnings

Virtual collaborations are not without challenges. For one, the language barrier can restrict progress. To this end, Murillon shared how they rose above this hurdle: “I commend my lead engineer who can understand the Japanese language. She was the key to letting us know what our co-creator has in mind. Also, the company president can speak English and helped in translating some of the ideas they wanted to implement.”

The tight timeline also posed a challenge for Murillon’s team. “The three-month co-creation and development of MVP was a bit fast given we got very little data from them. We have seen the constraint and the difficulties of the partner corporate in conducting the inspection.”

Additionally, the team has also had to deal with last-minute changes and updates with their algorithm because of the manner in which to integrate it into the system.

“Overall, however,” Murillon contends with fondness, “it was both an interesting and a learning experience for us.”

As for key learnings, Murillon shares about exciting opportunities for startups because “the Japanese government and corporates have been propelling the society toward Industrial Revolution 5.0 through their various corporate innovation programmes.”

“They are working to convert most of their operations into digital AI-driven processes, which have opened new possibilities for tech providers like us.”

With regard to which aspect of the process she enjoyed the most, Murillon recalls the fun side of exchanging ideas with their Japanese counterparts.

Also Read: Messaging tips for startups: a primer on improving one’s customer service

What lies ahead

“We have achieved our goal in terms of coming up with the solution within a set period of time,” Murillon narrates. “We don’t know the final outcome of the challenge yet, but we are very much positive that our partners will give us the support needed for the final development.”

Additionally, according to Murillon, joining the competition has allowed CAWIL.AI to “take advantage of the challenge so we can showcase our capabilities in AI to targeted audiences.”

When asked to give her advice to startups in the context of joining innovation challenges, Murillon has this to say:

“I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone. Explore other markets and don’t rely on purely investor opportunities. At the end of the day, your value is on the user, not just on the fancy tagline.”

e27 continues to believe in the robust opportunities brought about by corporate innovation. Whether it’s end-to-end execution or amplification of your call for open innovation applications, let us know how we can help you. If you are a corporate or entity looking to organise an open innovation challenge, talk to us today!

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