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Read from the case study of Inabata Finetech and the entomophagy startup Ellie. Elements of Successful Open Innovation."

In 2019, Inabata Sangyo is implementing an accelerator program to realize "a comfortable life and society in the future that is friendly to people and the environment. The startup Erie, which researches, develops, produces, and sells entomophagy made by silkworms, has started a collaboration with its subsidiary Inabata Finetech, which operates a food business How are the two companies working together to achieve this? The following is a report on what was said at the "Hokkaido Open Innovation Seminar" co-hosted by the Hokkaido Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI Hokkaido) and Creww.
Koichiro Negami, Food Division, Inabata Finetech Co.
Erie Corporation / Mr. Takahiro Kajiguri, Representative Director
Creww Corporation / Representative Director: Ten Ijichi

Moderator: Kei Imura, Research and Consulting Division, The Japan Research Institute, Limited

Collaboration to create "the future of food

well village First, please tell us about each company's business.

top of the root Inabata Sangyo, the parent company of Inabata Finetech, started out in Kyoto in 1890 as an importer and seller of European dyes and dyeing and weaving machinery.

We have expanded our business with a focus on the chemical business, and are currently expanding our business in 17 countries around the world in four fields: plastics, information electronics, chemicals, and lifestyle-related industries. In the process, we have accumulated a variety of expertise in market development, manufacturing and processing, logistics, and financing.

Challenging Accelerator Programs

We will leverage such know-how, domestic and international networks, financial resources, farms, fishery resources, processing plants, etc., and multiply them with startups' innovative ideas and technologies.Accelerator program to realize "a comfortable life and society in the future that is friendly to people and the environmentI did.

The six areas in which we expected to collaborate with startups this time are "Mobility for the Future," "Environment and Energy for the Future," "Future of Food," "Future of Printing," "Future of Life," and "Life Science for the Future.

Among them, in the area of "the future of food," Inabata Fine Tech, a subsidiary that deals with food and life sciences, and Erie, which develops and sells functional entomophagy products, have collaborated.

The world's most studied silkworm-based entomophagy in the world.

Oriental chestnut (Aesculus turbinata) Erie is a next-generation environmental protein food made from silkworms,A company that develops and markets "silk food."It is. While most insect foods are made from crickets, Erie is unique in the world in that it is the only company in the world that specializes in silkworms.

The reason why we focused on entomophagy in the first place is that it has been pointed out that humanity will face a "food shortage" in the future due to global population growth, overfishing, and worsening environmental problems.

The protein crisis, among others, is expected to hit as early as five to ten years from now, and the development of alternative proteins such as insect diets and meat substitutes is gaining momentum around the world in order to produce protein efficiently using the limited resources of the earth.

Next Generation Food "Silkweed" for a Sustainable Food Future

In fact, compared to cattle, entomophagy can be produced with one-fourth the feed, one-fourth the water, and one-twentieth the land. The market size is also estimated to grow from $930 million in 2019 to $8 billion by 2030, and there are more than 100 startups worldwide.

However, despite being a growing market and a necessary "food of the future" for mankind, entomophagy has not spread because of the challenges of being "bad," "expensive," and "disgusting. In order to renovate these foods as "tasty," "cheap," and "healthy" foods, it is essential to improve breeding and rearing techniques as in the case of agricultural crops and livestock products.

Therefore, we have focused on "silkworms," which have long been part of the sericultural culture and are the most studied in the world, and have conducted a series of joint studies with Kyoto University and the University of Tokyo. In fact,Silkworms are tastier than other insects and have a flavor similar to that of beansThere are

In a demonstration experiment held in Omotesando, Tokyo, in January 2020 for a limited time, we sold approximately 1,700 servings of hamburgers, pizzas, soups, and other items made with silkworms, and more than 90% of the customers rated the food as "delicious. Based on these results, we believe it is feasible to improve and expand the product for the general public.

In addition, silkworms contain more than 100 "health functional ingredients" and 60 nutrients, and are high in protein and have zero carbohydrates. Using these characteristics as a hook, the company hopes to overcome resistance to insect eating,I want to create a niche market with Inabata Finetech.I thought about it.

The driving force behind collaboration is empathy and mutual enthusiasm

well village What was the impetus for Inabata Fine Tech's decision to collaborate with Erie this time? Please tell us about your initial thoughts.

top of the root In the course of developing our livestock, fisheries, and agricultural products business, we have been making efforts to create new businesses related to food. However, our challenge was that our ideas inevitably remained an extension of our existing businesses.

But when I met Ellie, I realized the potential and significance of entomophagy, and we started collaborating, thinking that we could create a new market and value in the world.

well village What was the reaction of your bosses and others in the company to your involvement in entomophagy?

top of the root At first, the majority of people said "Is it really possible for entomophagy to be a business? However, the fact that we received positive feedback, even from a small number of people, such as "It might be worth a try," encouraged us to collaborate with them.

well village Were you at all puzzled when you were assigned to this project?

top of the root I was not perplexed. I sympathized with Mr. Kajiguri when he talked about entomophagy, and because the company specializes in overseas procurement and domestic processing, I was more eager to link that experience to entomophagy.

well village So you had a strong desire and enthusiasm to do something new.

top of the root Yes, we do. How to create a new market and deliver the product to the end user. The project was carried out in parallel with my day job, but if I had time, all I could think about was entomophagy (laughs), and I think I was quite absorbed in the project.

Promoted at the same speed as startups

well village What did you like about working with Inabata Finetech?

Oriental chestnut (Aesculus turbinata) I have collaborated with various large companies,What was great about Inabata Fine Tech was that they devoted resources to internal coordination without spending a lot of time on it.It is. I know it was not an easy task for a large company because they have to go through an internal approval process, but Mr. Negami promoted the project with the same speed as a startup, and I really appreciated that.

top of the root To keep up with Mr. Kajiguri's speed,We were running the project and getting approvals at the same time!In addition, we were able to utilize our overseas network to import raw materials and ask domestic partner factories for production. In addition, we used our overseas network to import raw materials and asked domestic partner factories for production, all the while involving others and laying the groundwork so as not to slow down the process.

well village Involving others seems to be a major point. On the other hand, were there any points that were ingenious or difficult?

Oriental chestnut (Aesculus turbinata) There were no particular difficulties in this collaboration. In open innovation, when what a startup wants to do and the business of a large company are far apart, it is often judged that even if human resources are allocated, it will not lead to business immediately, and the project is often abandoned.

But with Inabata Finetech, we pay a fee for procuring raw materials from overseas,The form of the deal from the beginning worked.I believe that this is a good idea.

I tried to be creative, but I knew from previous experience that I shouldn't be weirdly reserved,That we consulted without reservation from the beginning.Yes. Without choosing a word, I felt like I was about to use up the resources of a large company (laughs).

top of the root I believe that Mr. Kajiguri's style of coming at us with his true feelings was a huge plus for us.

However, there were times when we could not proceed with the research as we had hoped due to cost considerations and other factors in response to the issues Mr. Kajiguri presented to us, which was frustrating. It was frustrating when we were unable to meet expectations because of unforeseen issues that arose because we had never handled this type of product before, which was different from our existing business.

well village We have found that the collaboration has been progressing thanks to Mr. Negami's strong driving force and Mr. Kajiguri's enthusiasm, even though we have run into some obstacles. What do the two of you hope to achieve in the future?

top of the root First, we must work with Mr. Kajiguri to firmly establish a market and brand for entomophagy. And,I want to create a world where eating insects is the norm.It is.

Oriental chestnut (Aesculus turbinata) Ellie hopes to eventually become an international silkworm raw material supplier.So, first of all, we would like to establish a system to ensure production and sales.

From now on, small and medium-sized local companies will be key players.

well village Lastly, Mr. Ijichi, President of Creww, what advice would you give to companies that are going to engage in open innovation?

Alethea triandra var. japonica (variety of kangaroo grass) Even if we speak of open innovation in one word, the scale of the partner you partner with depends on the phase of your startup. Therefore, it is important not to misunderstand the scale and phase. For example, if a startup has a product, has completed validation, and is in the phase of expanding into the market, it is a good idea to partner with a large company with a large market.

However, when a product is in the research and development phase, and you want to verify it in the market and then build it up, speed is more important than scale. Therefore, it is overwhelmingly advantageous to work with small and medium-sized companies that can proceed quickly. This mismatch between scale and phase often occurs, so you need to be careful.

The next most important thing is that the operating company empathizes with what the startup wants to do and its worldview. If you hear directly from the startup about its goals and worldview, and you do not feel much sympathy, you should not collaborate with it.

If you feel empathy and can start the collaboration with high enthusiasm, first create a success experience, no matter how small it may be. A successful experience will make it easier to gain the cooperation of those around you, and it will also make it easier to take the next step.

In promoting collaboration, it should be noted thatThe decision-making process in a large company is a matter of structure, so it is not surprising that a startup and an operating company, with theirMatching ExpectationsIt is.Business companies need to make an effort to match the speed of startups, and startups need to make an effort to understand and take into account the structure of business companiesI think it is.

Since the first state of emergency was declared in 2020, Creww has seen a dramatic increase in the number of inquiries from small and midsize regional companies. Open innovation is not only for large companies, but small and medium-sized regional companies will also become key players in the future, and Creww will continue to support them as they take on new challenges.

(Date of writing: May 10, 2021)

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Tomomi Tamura
He joined Snow Brand Milk Industry in 2000. He then worked for an advertising agency and as a sole proprietor before joining BizReach in 2012. Engaged in content creation, he joined NewsPicks in 2016 as an editor on the BrandDesign team, and is now a freelance writer and editor.
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