Akito Mizuno, President, Mizuno Corporation
Tak Miyata, General Partner, Scrum Ventures

The Innovation Center – Creating New Value

In January 2022, Mizuno concluded a contract with Scrum Ventures, a venture capital fund investing in start-ups. In this context, Akito Mizuno, present of Mizuno Corporation, and Tak Miyata, general partner of Scrum Ventures, discuss their partnership.

Mr. Mizuno: Mizuno has over a 100-year history being involved in sporting goods, and we are constantly working to catch the trends of society and the needs of people to create new value to bringing people joy and happiness through sports. We would like to offer environments that enable even more people to easily enjoy sports and create a more abundant lifestyle for people through the technological strength we have cultivated through the development of sporting goods.

Mr. Miyata: I see. I think the Innovation Center under construction next to the Mizuno Osaka Headquarters is integral to that vision.

Mr. Mizuno: You’re absolutely right. We want to make the Innovation Center the starting point for delivering the value of sports to more people, as part of our goal of creating social innovation through sports. To that end, we need an environment to accelerate our development by creating a continuous feedback loop in which we measure and analyze data, reflect those findings into prototypes and then repeat the process. The Innovation Center will be the nucleus of that.

Mr. Miyata: I too am thrilled about the Innovation Center. Manufacturing is a core strength of Mizuno, but is a weak point for many start-ups. Start-ups, however, can offer many useful ideas and hints for manufacturing. I believe Mizuno has pursued research and development in a closed environment thus far. Therefore, what do you think of actively disseminating information about your efforts through open innovation to accelerate R&D, and working with start-ups that resonate with that information? Such a major change cannot happen overnight, of course, but disseminating Mizuno’s strengths outside the company should open up an abundance of new opportunities.

Mr. Mizuno: That indeed sounds interesting. We want Mizuno to be a company that is constantly taking on new challenges. In addition to tangible efforts like the Innovation Center, we are also advancing intangible initiatives like our Acceleration Program, which has even generated ideas leading to new space-based businesses.

Mr. Miyata: We are already investing in space-based businesses, such as a company that makes research done at the International Space Station (ISS) available over the cloud. I am convinced that outer space will be the next great business frontier, so I would love to take this discussion further.

Mr. Mizuno: We have additionally developed Mizuno Stage Gate (MSG), which is a system that allows employees to pitch their dreams directly to me, the president, and aids the creation of new products, services and businesses. We have also formulated and begun to publicize the MIZUNO MIRAI VISION, which lays out the direction of our product and service development – and will serve as the foundation of our open innovation efforts.

Collaboration to become a company that never stops challenging

Mr. Miyata: What possibilities did you see when you decided to invest in Scrum Ventures?

Mr. Mizuno: I see the collaboration is as part of our efforts to become a company that chases its dreams and takes on new challenges without fear of failure, and aligned with our Acceleration Program, MSG and the MIZUNO MIRAI VISION as I mentioned.

Mr. Miyata: From our perspective, Mizuno has clear strengths in brand-power, manufacturing, and sales. These are what the start-ups in which we invest doesn't have enough. I’m excited to see what new possibilities will come from the major synergy brought by developing this win-win relationship.

Mr. Mizuno: Of course, Mizuno also has its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to taking on new challenges. We started as a sporting goods manufacturer, so quality and functionality are our key strengths. At the same time, perhaps due to such years of strength, we are a bit weak in putting forth startling new ideas with emotional resonance. This is an area we would like to receive your support.

Mr. Miyata: I feel the balance of functionality-driven value and design-driven value changes with the times. I think this is an area we can offer support, and we’ll give you all our strength.

Mr. Mizuno: Our first goal in partnering with Scrum Ventures is to gather information from around the world that can lead to creating social innovation, and to foster our ability to discern the true value of that information. You have a clear track record of delivering on these goals in your fields of expertise.

Mr. Miyata: We review thousands of start-ups centered in the U.S and Japan annually operating in our fields of expertise – sports, well-being and smart cities – to select candidates for investment. Our headquarters is located in Silicon Valley, creating an environment in which we capture global cutting-edge information in real-time. This strength will undoubtedly help Mizuno in achieving its goals.

Manufacturing x Digital will change how we engage with sports

Mr. Mizuno: Most business ideas by start-ups are focused on the digital domain. What possibilities do you see in a partnership between Mizuno, with its strength in manufacturing, and start-ups that have ideas taking advantage of digital?

Mr. Miyata: I see enormous possibilities. The other day I discussed golf-related digital transformation with employees at your Osaka headquarters. I put forth the idea that golf clubs might not be a thing people need to buy. The ideal golf clubs for a player change as their skill improves, so I suggested the idea of a monthly subscription-based service that would allow people to always use the most ideal clubs. Instead of owning a single set, I would get the best set for my skill level delivered to my door. We could see a major transformation in how players prepare, play, and how we engage with golf, and the image we hold towards the sport if Mizuno developed this kind of service. To be honest, it’s something I would really love to use! (laughs)

Mr. Mizuno: That is really fascinating. In the field of golf, Mizuno excels at offering a wide range of clubs customized to user’s skill level and physique.

Mr. Miyata: Until now, only top players have been able to enjoy truly customized products, but if we make it easier to communicate and take measurements online, it should be possible to be easier to offer such services for quickly growing children and the general public.

Aiming to deliver excitement to the world

Mr. Mizuno: One of our highest expectations in partnering with Scrum Ventures is the opportunity to connect with start-ups through new ideas and thus receive new perspectives and information regarding development, marketing and even retail sales.

Mr. Miyata: I’m typically based in San Francisco, but we live in an online era. I’d love to talk with you anytime over social media. I cannot wait to see what unprecedented ideas and products are created through the synergy between Mizuno’s tangible prowess and start-ups.

Mr. Mizuno: Is “excitement” an important keyword when start-ups look to create new value?

Mr. Miyata: Start-ups pretty much only do what excites them. (laughs) Venture capital firms like Scrum Ventures invest in what excites us personally. Considering we can see the innovation and new value this creates, I believe we can foster the development of new products, businesses and business models that can address the needs of society together with Mizuno, through our participation in your initiatives.

Mr. Mizuno: We aim to be a company that offers people excitement and happiness through the power of sports. Let’s work together to deliver excitement throughout the world. Thank you for your time.