NEC Corporation in 2020: Innovating for the Future

By Ulrike Schaede, Vanessa Ceia, Charles A. O’Reilly III
2021 | Case No. OB106 | Length 20 pgs.

In 2020, NEC focused on providing advanced IT, network, and data solutions, including cloud computing, AI and machine learning, Internet-of-Things platforms, and 5G networks as well as communication equipment installations. An award-winning company, NEC ranked fifth in the world in AI-related patents.

The case study describes NEC’s pathway towards accelerating in-house innovation, and commercializing what its global labs had invented. In 2013, the company established a Business Innovation Unit (BIU) to boost in-house innovation, and tap into the sense of urgency, risk-taking, and promise of rewards that helped drive technology start-ups elsewhere. In 2018, the BIU formed a Silicon Valley subsidiary called NEC X to structure a new “inside-out” accelerator. By 2020, two start-ups had graduated from the program, and others were well underway.

Could NEC X become a trailblazer, creating new standards and processes for “inside-out” accelerators?

Learning Objective

This case is designed to help students understand the steps to encourage creative and innovative start-up entities within an established company—and what companies gain from this approach, as well as the challenges they are likely to face in encouraging innovation from within, and then monetizing the technologies created within the company.
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