Sometimes, growth starts with a little static. That’s certainly proven the case for Japanese electronics multinational TDK.

But as TDK leadership has recognized from the start, investment in external ventures is only one component of a comprehensive growth engine. For corporations to grow and compete in fast-changing industries, they must embrace their unique advantages and build their own startups.

That’s where Mitai, a startup that TDK incubated and accelerated in-house with support from Mach49, comes in. The venture, which offers a groundbreaking artificial intelligence platform to help electronics designers reduce electromagnetic interference, recently reached its first revenue. But the startup’s impact goes far beyond its financial potential. The venture-building process has also inspired TDK’s leadership.

A New Solution to an Old Problem

Think back to the early days of cell phones. Do you remember buzzing or screeching noises when you placed your phone near a radio speaker?

Those noises were benign examples of electromagnetic interference, which occurs when an external source disrupts an electrical circuit. But competing signals from different devices can also cause significant technical malfunctions—that’s why airlines ban in-flight cell phone use.

Since the 1980s, governments have imposed electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) requirements on electronics manufacturers to reduce the impacts of interference. But while the need for EMC is straightforward, regulatory compliance is another story.

Currently, more than 70% of products fail the first round of EMC testing, but the cause is rarely clear. The result? Significant design delays and mounting costs.

Incubate: Honing in on the Challenge

During an incubation with Mach49, TDK identified EMC issues as a major customer pain point. But where most electronics designers saw an intractable problem, TDK saw an opportunity. With Mach49’s support, they devised a project that would significantly reduce cost and time to market for consumer electronics manufacturers by eliminating EMC issues.

During the intensive Incubate process, the team found that one significant obstacle for designers is a global shortage of EMC experts. While major manufacturers have in-house professionals to review designs and troubleshoot issues, that solution has never been scalable—and it’s rarely an option for smaller design houses and manufacturers.

Through numerous conversations with potential customers, the team validated the need for a software solution. Ultimately, they arrived at a singular goal: to develop an artificial intelligence tool that could review early-stage designs, identify potential sources of interference, and offer actionable solutions.

Accelerate: Refining the Offering

After incubating Mitai, the team moved into Mach49’s Accelerate phase. Over 10 months, the team worked to refine Mitai’s business model, understand which recommendations would be most impactful to customers, and created a powerful artificial intelligence platform.

Mitai has already reached several notable milestones. In recent months, it has:

  • Reached first revenue
  • Engaged with 50 pilot customers, far exceeding its goal
  • Built out a highly collaborative team of technical experts, product and sales powerhouses, and experienced startup builders
  • Grown social media reach by more than 3,200% in less than a year

As they prepare to scale the company, the team will continue to use Mach49’s Accelerate process to refine the Mitai solution in line with feedback from pilot participants and ongoing market research.

Moving the Mothership Forward

While Mitai is still in its early days, it has already made an outsized mark on TDK.

“The board has shared that they’ve learned a lot from how Mach49 operates,” said Mach49 Venture Builder Marcel Lamers. “They want to integrate these ways of working across the broader organization.”

 In particular, he said, the cadence and order of the Accelerate process have stood out to TDK leadership.

“TDK was really inspired by the fact that we start with assumptions and run experiments to prove or disprove them, all so we can build the knowledge that's necessary to choose the direction of a venture where everything is uncertain,” he explained.

That willingness to hit the ground running is what enabled Mitai to begin generating revenue less than 10 months into the Accelerate process—a stark contrast from the years it typically takes for corporate R&D teams to bring new products to market. And it’s TDK’s appetite for experimenting with new approaches that will carry it forward. The corporation, which has manufactured everything from compact cassettes to sensors, has reinvented itself countless times since its founding in 1935. Now, it’s poised to do so again by embracing the venture mindset.

Since 2019, the company has also been a leader in the corporate venture capital space thanks to the success of TDK Ventures, launched in partnership with Mach49. The CVC now holds more than $350 million in assets under management, with 29 companies in its portfolio. 

Learn more about TDK’s venture growth.