Imagine yourself in one of Southeast Asias busiest cities: Bangkok, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh, Phnom Penh or Kuala Lumpur. You’re in a hurry to get to the other side of the city for a meeting. What would be your ideal choice of transportation? A taxi, Grab, Uber, train, or a motorbike? Not all these cities have trains and traffic can be a nightmare, so say you chose a motorbike. It’s fast, semi-safe; the driver is willing to negotiate a fair price, gives you a helmet, and takes you to your destination in 20 minutes.

Now, Southeast Asia has a lot of people driving cars which serve to clog up the roads, but motorbikes/motorcycles continue to be a popular mode of transportation. Not only can motorbike drivers can weave through traffic, easily park and take up less space – bikes are very affordable to own. However, not all motorbikes/motorcycles are created equal; some are designed and engineered better than others. Quality, reliability, design, and speed were once the measuring factors that gave automotive manufacturers a competitive edge, but in todays race to AI, autonomous vehicles, green energy and conscious consumers the standards have changed. Big companies must innovate or be disrupted by smaller, lean and bold startups.

At Techsauce Global Summit 2017, Hiroshi 'Hiro' Saijo, CEO & Managing Director of Yamaha Motors Ventures and Laboratory Silicon Valley, shared about his two-decade career at Yamaha Motor Co. and current position where he now leads the innovation and research for Yamahas two-year-old Corporate Venture Capital fund. Today, the primary challenge for many big automotive companies is how they will transform themselves and stay ahead of disruptive technologies.

“How many of you guys know about Yamaha Motors? Okay, but how many of you guys know about Yamaha Ventures doing corporate venturing in Silicon Valley? That is what I’m excited to be here and to tell you,” said Hiro as he kicked off the fireside chat at Techsauce Global Summit moderated by Masaru Ikeda, co-founder of thebridge.jp.

About Yamaha Motors

  • Yamaha Motors is focused on products such as motorcycles, power products, and water crafts.
  • A global company well-known for their quality and stylish motorcycles
  • Profits: 10% from Japan, 90% from overseas

Hiros early start in Yamaha

  • Worked at Yamaha for 20 years
  • Worked for 15 years as a software engineer in industrial automation
  • Moved to the Bay area to lead Yamaha Ventures & Laboratory in Silicon Valley

Yamaha Ventures and its projects

Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley (YMVSV) exists to accelerate the efforts of teams driving disruptive change,” says Hiro.

  • Regions they invest in: The US, Israel, and Southeast Asia
  • Areas of investment: Agriculture, AI, connectivity, robotics, automation, and mobility
  • Aims: To redefine what is the future of mobility
  • Latest project: Autonomous robot-riding motorcycle – The 3-year project kicked off in 2015. It will be presented at the Tokyo motor show this fall and the SEA show next yea.
  • New approach to CVC vs. traditional and hierarchal structures
  • Invest, collaborate, or partner with startups that are innovative and have disruptive ideas that can add value to Yamaha
  • Joint project with businesses over a 2-3 year period
  • Investing for the last 2 years
  • Has made four investments so far
  • Which stage of startups are they interested in investing in?
  • Exploratory & R&D
  • How Yamaha Ventures help startups:
  • Gives them money so they can scale up safely and effectively
  • Shares global resources: Technology, experience, manufacturing facilities, advice, financial management
  • Wants to help them scale globally

Questions from the audience:

Question #1: When you talk about scalability, that can mean a lot of things. What do you mean by it? Can you talk more about scalability? How do you help a startup you invest in to scale?

Yamaha fortunately is a global company and has the resources and capital to help a startup scale. These are the things we help our startups with:

  • Volume of production: How fast they can make the products and ship it
  • Manufacturing: Capital and machines to make products
  • Labor force: Team and workers to make products
  • Geographically: Expand business in other regions

Question #2: What was the reason for developing an autonomous driving robot?

This project started in 2015 and will end this year. It was started to research and explore different technologies. Yamaha has the technology for factory automation & industrial application, but doesnt have technology for the human development side of things. From this project and research, we want to explore the application of adaptive autonomy to existing vehicles. So, that means applying this technology in the areas of construction, inspection and agriculture, like in situations that are dangerous for humans such as disasters, contaminations, or pollution. We want to use this technology to get people away from dangerous situations.

Looking to the future

The next time you ride a motorbike in Bangkok or Jakarta, take a look at the name of the manufacturer, and if happens to be a Yamaha now you know that its not only a company that creates high quality and reliable bikes, but a company looking to the change the future of mobility.

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