Fernando Fischmann

Ushering In A New Age of Innovation

12 April, 2016 / Articles

Inventive, brilliant, capable: these are the descriptors that come to mind when people in the know consider Ekta Sahasi, Vice President of the Konica Minolta Business Innovation Center in Silicon Valley. Sahasi, expert in all things creative tech, has taken on the leadership of more than just Konica Minolta’s new division, but a complete cultural transformation of the business.

Konica Minolta, that steadfast combination of two industry giants, has gone through its share of changes — and this new era of the company has launched fearlessly into the future with innovations in tech and a dedication to transformation. The Business Innovation Center has dedicated itself to incorporating advanced startup technologies into core assets, providing mentorship and access to Konica Minolta’s expansive global network.  Lead by the Business Innovation Center, Konica Minolta is quickly advancing into new areas in Robotics, Healthcare, Workplace of the Future, Enterprise Solutions, IoT and Big Data.

I had the opportunity to speak with Sahasi and get her perspective on this new era for Konica Minolta, and what comes next.

How did you begin your career as an entreprene­ur?

I like to think of myself as an entrepreneur with a blend of experience at startups and corporations, but the better part of my career has been driving intrepreneurship at enterprises. I’ve helped many corporations drive fundamental business and cultural transformations.

I joined Konica Minolta about two years ago as the founder of the Business Innovation Center, and I’m here to write a new heritage for the company. Right now, we’re an established player in the print industry and are known for solutions in office, healthcare, optics and sensing. We’re also well known for our former Minolta camera business; however, we sold that a few years ago.

I think the decision to get out of the camera business is really indicative of Konica Minolta’s willingness to transform itself. You can see this as well in their approach to driving change in the print industry. They recognized that digitization was fundamentally altering customer expectations and that they needed to expand their core competencies and business lines. They launched the Business Innovation Center to redefine this customer relationship. In my role, I have the opportunity to help shape this change and execute on it. I am really excited about the profound impact I can have on the company.

The objective of the Business Innovation Center is to support our global customer base — from large enterprises to small companies – by understanding how the market shifts are driving change in their needs and aspirations. We want to bring Konica Minolta’s assets forward and use them to address customer needs with differentiated solutions. We’re working with startups and investing in them to help accelerate both our, and their, efforts. We use our global presence to support entrepreneurs and take them global so that we can jointly deliver incredible customer value in new areas. The fundamental goal is to identify future opportunities for Konica Minolta and then build new business lines that allow us to tap into this.

How does that relate in practice to your work here?

It is fantastic to have the Business Innovation Center here in Silicon Valley as we have access to many advanced solutions and diverse talent. We’ve identified and very closely looked at where Konica Minolta’s core assets are today, and how those assets could be applied to future business areas that we’re trying to go into.

Now, what we’re trying to do here is build an ecosystem of strategic partners with interesting differentiated solutions, and figure out how we can work with these companies and entrepreneurs to really amplify the impact that they are trying to have, and to jointly create something phenomenal for our customers.

The way we do that is with partnerships with the companies and strategic investments in areas of high-growth for Konica Minolta. As you know, capital is readily available in Silicon Valley. For the right ideas, it’s not an issue. As a strategic, we bring more than just capital. We enable startup business development and vetting of solutions with our customers, and then systematically try to identify how those solution can enable or drive successes for our customers. We also leverage the Konica Minolta’s core IP to co-develop solutions to target the gaps in our current portfolio. We’re constantly looking for a win-win-win strategy.

What are some successful examples of projects you’ve been working on?

We have five strategic areas that we’re focused on, but one of the key areas is the Workplace of the Future. As enterprises are fundamentally changing and catering to a different kind of an employee, there are many different kinds of solutions that come into play to connect, collaborate, and get work done.  We’ve done strategic investments in this area and are actively working with our partners to co-develop integrated experiences. This is only one example; there are several other exciting initiatives we are working on.

Is there a startup that you can talk about?

We’ve done a strategic investment in a startup called Robin Powered. They have a very unique IP to help manage office space. There’s so much meeting space available, but it seems like people can’t find rooms to have meetings. So, Robin has a real niche offering in that they understand what meeting is about to happen, and then they enable you to book conference rooms via your mobile devices. It’s just a better way to manage flexible workspaces. As shared spaces become more prominent, technology like this is very powerful.

Why Konica Minolta? Why are you so interested?

Konica Minolta is a global tech company with a 150-year heritage. We’ve gone through several big transformations during this time. Now that we’re in a digital age, we’re going through another. We have to stay ahead of these tremendous industry and societal changes.  Identifying and working with leading technologies and solutions is what is going to keep us relevant. We’re lucky in that we already have a strong customer base, especially in enterprise, and can build on these existing relationships to drive increased value.

Do you take equity? What do you provide to startups?

We do take equity through our strategic investments. Our investments are largely for strategic purposes, so we provide entrepreneurs a very rich set of business relationships that we have with customers; global access is key to what we provide.

We also provide access to lighthouse customers. When entrepreneurs have a minimal viable product or some traction in our focus areas, we provide access to customers that can basically evaluate their offerings. The insights then enable the startup to build or pivot if they need to. This is the win-win-win situation we are looking for. Startups gain essential customer feedback – customers gain access to much-needed solutions – and Konica Minolta gains access to new technologies.

At what stage are the companies that you work with normally? Do they normally have their products and some initial sales?

Yes.  While we are ultimately stage agnostic, as of today we’ve only invested in early stage companies, from Seed to Series A. The size of investment has traditionally been anywhere from $250K to $700k — in that range. Our portfolio companies already have, or are very close to having, a product. Initial sales are always great.

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