[InnoVEX FORUM 2022] Applications and Soft Power Complement Hardware

 2022-08-19 By: InnoVEX Team

Taiwan is well known as a manufacturing powerhouse and global leader in ICT hardware, but not well known for their strength in soft power. Soft power and software can greatly complement hardware and manufacturing capabilities. For Taiwan, soft power seems to be a relatively new market to explore and expand as many of Taiwan's creative IPs seem to focus more on strong local foundation rather than potential global expansion. The InnoVEX 2022 Soft Power & Innovation Forum aimed to discuss the potential within this industry and how the players can benefit as well as the resources they might need to achieve the same level of success as their peers in the hardware and manufacturing industries.

The forum consisted of 2 panel discussions and a keynote speech that were joined by:

  • KM Tsao, Co-founder of Swipecool Inc.;
  • Ruru Lin CEO of Jingletek Corporate;
  • Rebecca Hsu, Director of Trademark Management Department of FOXCONN;
  • Bruce Bateman, Consultant of LiteOn;
  • Marco Villela, Bike Innovation Leader of Decathlon;
  • Paddy TAN LekHan, Managing Partner of BlackStorm Consulting;
  • Harvey Ma, Co-Founder of Aedge Ventures;
  • Chi-Hung Lin, President of National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University;
  • David Shen, President of Wistron Corporation; and
  • HsinFu Kuo, CEO of Gomore Inc.
  • The panel discussions were moderated by Professor Hank Huang, Director of Center of Industry Accelerator and Patent Strategy of National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University who also delivered the opening remarks.

    Soft Power Leads the Market

    The first panel discussion was joined by KM Tsao, Co-founder of Swipecool Inc.; Ruru Lin CEO of Jingletek Corporate; Rebecca Hsu, Director of Trademark Management Department of FOXCONN; Bruce Bateman, Consultant of LiteOn; Marco Villela, Bike Innovation Leader of Decathlon; Paddy TAN LekHan, Managing Partner of BlackStorm Consulting; and Harvey Ma, Co-Founder of Aedge Ventures. The panel focused on how startups can leverage soft power as well as how startups in the industries can grow.

    Startups generally think about how to enter the global market and while this expansion is normal; it cannot be done without proper preparations. Many startups focus too much on products, technologies, or methodologies that they might fail to consider the marketing aspect and how to enter their target market. Startup expansions need plenty of resources and connections. Depending on their homebase, the ease of access to certain resources might be easier or more difficult. Startups will often find challenges in marketing and reaching customers, especially if the startups' founders were not commonly associated with the industry they are trying to enter or their target market. In addition, different markets and industries will have different nuances and cultures that might contradict each other.

    Big companies today invest in new technologies developed by startups and can even grant them useful licenses for patents or IPs that are relevant to their businesses. This allows the startups to further develop their innovations, but startups will still need as much support as possible; including legal assistance to protect their own IPs. IPs in Soft power industries are generally easy to copy as the main differentiator is the creators' creativity, so IP protection and patent registrations will be a key advantage to maintain their competitive edge.

    Generally soft power can be separated between the products and the internal use of software. For some corporate VCs, startups today need to have good softwares and processes, as well as to know how to use the right tools to understand their customers and grow. With the currently available softwares and services available today, startups no longer need to develop everything they need on their own and it is more convenient to simply employ the available third party resources.

    At the same time, startups can generally be seen by the corporate VCs (CVCs) as strategic partners today and potential technology partners who are expected to be strategic partners in 2 to 5 years. Investors think and see the startups in both categories differently. Current strategic partners have to win businesses directly from their related business units who will in turn take responsibility for the investment.

    On the other hand, potential partners will need help not only to build their products, but also the processes. Most potential partners have great ideas, but a few concerns need to be addressed; namely: whether the products can be manufactured, how to build the software, what software tools are used, when the products are expected to be released, what the testing plans are, etc. In addition, potential partners will need product testing more than product development.

    Startups aiming to go global can benefit from cultural affinity and similarities because common understandings can help them approach potential clients, partners, or investors more easily. As going global will also open the possibilities of international investments, both parties will need to be aware of the laws regarding taxation, international investment, international relations, etc. It is also important to leverage startups' local strengths to complement the soft power industries they are participating in. The key point is that technology can be used to enable content delivery and when combined with content creation; it might make the resulting product easier to understand.

    Soft power will benefit greatly from tech integration as it can enhance the user experience greatly. However, it is important to consider what the users will want or need, the content they need, and the innovations or tech they want; as well as maintaining the key resources: content, users, and tech.

    For startups aiming to expand their reach, sales resources are not the only resource that startups need. Social and community resources have become one of the most highly sought after resources as it helps build hype, awareness, and connection between the startups and their audience. Through this connection and the conversations stemming from it, startups can grow their reach more organically while developing their products according to user feedback. Some companies also lack resources such as IP or domain knowledge that are necessary for developing their products. For soft power companies whose existence relies heavily on their IP, it is important to apply the necessary measures, especially IP Protection measures such as patents, trademarks, etc.

    While Silicon Valley has been touted as the center for innovation, the reality is that Silicon Valley is more a culture than it is a location. This culture puts meritocracy in high regard and values diversity and multiculturalism. This is the culture that cares more about what a person can do and achieve rather than their diplomas or educational backgrounds. In its core, innovation is about solving problems and to do that, innovators need to learn how to search for answers and how to find better answers as well as learn about their competitors. There is no one correct answer for this because different companies have different target markets, industries, and problems they aim to solve. The only metric that can say with certainty on whether the startups have successfully solved the customers' pain point is when the customers have successfully paid.

    In this regard, doing research preemptively and thoroughly can be the difference between success and failure. Companies and their customers must be on the same page; with companies providing the products or solutions that the customers want or need. Going from this customer based approach; understanding the demographic and their demands would potentially reduce the risk of failures. The global market has their own individual nuances & cultures and international companies may have underestimated just how important these differences are; as well as misunderstand the true size and scope of their market. The market has to be pre-defined before any entry plans are developed as this can reduce the risk and scale of mistakes as entering the wrong market can be very costly. Rectifying mistakes can reduce losses, but preventing them will still be the optimal solution.

    Shifting Education and Industry Cooperation

    The next segment of the forum featured a keynote speech by Chi-Hung Lin, President of National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University. Focusing on the academic side, there are some existing models and paradigms that need to be updated following the times. The main goal of a university is no longer only to educate and research, but also to innovate. Human talent cultivation has various facets that all work together to build the talent and cultivate future talents. The concepts and goals of education now have also adapted to make sure the talents have domain knowledge, capable of solving complex problems, and be a leader who is culture-fit and empathetic.

    Talent cultivation is no longer the one and only responsibility of education as dedicated programs and certification can be used to train young talents. The new format of industry-academia cooperation is one of co-creation where all participants are synergized to innovate together in a feedback loop. However this vision is not easy to achieve as both sides will have their own concerns and restrictions. This co-creation model will need various developments such as deregulation of certain constraints to be able to lift industries with limited resources; including human talents. For example, allowing onsite training and certifications as a way to supplement education or as a replacement to a degree for specific functions will be able to inject more human talents into industries faster. At the same time, industry experts will also be able to provide valuable knowledge and experience for students and talents so they can contribute greatly to education.

    Meeting the Talents

    The final segment of this forum is a fireside chat featuring Chi-Hung Lin, President of National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University; David Shen, President of Wistron Corporation; and HsinFu Kuo, CEO of Gomore Inc. The fireside chat focused on the different approaches to talent from corporations and startups as well as talent cultivation in academics. The competition for talent between corporations and startups continues as the talent pool might not be growing as fast as they need to. Most commonly the in-demand values come from universities whose traditional goal is to cultivate talents.

    The traditional method is more one-directional with academic research projects developing solutions that they hope would be of interest to the industries. However, creating a 2 way communication where the R&D projects are developed to solve industry problems would be more effective as it will provide direction to the academic research and allow for a co-creation model cooperation. The co-creation model between academics and industries is used by both corporations and startups who can provide funding to develop talents and secure talents. Co-creation through projects can develop talents as well as educate and instill the company culture in the academic. Then, once the project has officially ended they can be recruited into the company with the necessary skills and culture-fit.

    Talent training in the future will have to observe the current and future trends as career developments happen over time and the rapidly changing society might render some skills or jobs obsolete. In the end, while people can observe the trends, they must also observe job opportunities and plan for decades, not the short or medium terms.

    Corporations used to entice talents with higher pay and good career prospects, but this does not mean it can retain talents. Instead, using an outside-in approach might provide better results. Under this method, corporations keep themselves separate from the talents or startup teams whose expertise they need, but still cooperate with them and provide them with resources, mentoring, etc. This will be an easier way to retain expertise as it allows the talent or startup to maintain their freedom and independence.

    While corporations generally are expected to provide mainly material resources, they can also provide training that will be useful as it not only provides hard skills, but also trains people in work ethics and people management. This is necessary for startups as they have less people and resources than corporations so they will have to be able to "do more with less" in terms of people, talent, and resources.

    Watch the full forum video here.

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