Yanmar’s NEW PRODUCT Idea Contest: Changing the world with your own ideas. What were the aims and results?

Jul 22, 2023

Reading Time : 9mins

Yanmar is actively pursuing a variety of initiatives, including social contributions, in line with its commitment to A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE. The foundation of these efforts is HANASAKA. It refers to Yanmar’s values, which have been handed down since the company’s founding, of believing in the potential of people and encouraging them to take on new challenges.

As one of Yanmar’s HANASAKA initiatives, we held the New Product Idea Contest in 2022. In this contest, ideas for new businesses are invited from Yanmar Group employees in Japan and overseas. The ideas are judged by the company’s own executives who decide whether the idea can be commercialized. After passing the screening process, the proposers of the ideas take charge of the project as it moves towards commercialization.

This was the first time in 10 years that this contest was held, and it attracted a great deal of attention within the company. We interviewed the secretariat members, support members who helped applicants to come up with the ideas and presentations and spoke to three applicants about the aims of the contest and the results obtained after it was held.


Secretariat members

Naoya Takada,

Project Manager, Business Promotion Division, Innovation Center, Innovation & Technology Division, Yanmar Holdings Co., Ltd.

Ai Nakayama

Strategy Group, Corporate Strategy Division, Yanmar Holdings Co., Ltd.

Supporting members

Eiichiro Yamamoto

Business Promotion Division, Innovation Center, Innovation & Technology Division, Yanmar Holdings Co., Ltd.

Takeshi Takenega

Group Divisional Manager, Business Promotion Division, Innovation Center, Innovation & Technology Division, Yanmar Holdings Co., Ltd.


Kaoru Tanaka

Branch Manager, Chugoku & Shikoku Branch, Yanmar Agri Japan Co, Ltd.

Tugce Uyanik

YANMAR TURKEY MAKINE A.S. Business Development  

Arda Bayyurdoglu

YANMAR TURKEY MAKINE A.S. Marketing Development

What is the aim of the New Product Idea Contest?

Q: Please give us an overview of the New Product Idea Contest.

Nakayama: This contest is a large-scale event under the leadership of Yanmar Holdings Co., Ltd. in which ideas for new products to provide solutions for the issues customers are facing are solicited from the entire Group. Any employee belonging to the Group can apply, and outside collaborators may also be involved.

The theme was: ideas that will realize Yanmar’s growth by solving customers’ problems and creating customer value. The chosen ideas will be developed into a project and grow as a business under the initiative of the proposer.

Nakayama: We launched an open call in September 2022, and after two rounds of screening, the winning ideas were selected in March 2023. The response exceeded our expectations, and we received 150 ideas from 120 applicants from Japan and abroad. Six of the ideas passed the final selection, and we are currently in the process of preparing business plans.

A brush-up period between the first and second screening was organized, and advice from outside consultants helped in creating high-quality proposals.

Q: I heard that the contest attracted a lot of attention within the company. What were your aims?

In order to achieve the goal of “transforming ourselves into a company that creates customer value” as set forth in our mid-term plan, we felt it was imperative to find the seeds of new businesses.

Takada: This contest had the following three objectives: (1) to discover new product ideas, (2) to discover and develop human resources, and (3) to create the next generation of growth businesses. The Group has held new business idea contests on an irregular basis since the 1990s. However, the contest was not formalized as a regular event, and there have been no opportunities to hold it in recent years. In other words, there was no place for employees to share their ideas.

In the past, a committee within Yanmar Holdings was in charge of incubating new businesses. However, in order to achieve the goal of “transforming ourselves into a company that creates customer value” as set forth in our mid-term plan, we felt it was imperative to find the seeds of new businesses. It was during this time, at an online summer festival we held, that one of our employees expressed a request to the directors to create an in-house venture system. We were thrilled to learn that there were employees who shared our thoughts.

We decided to hold this contest for the first time in 10 years to solve both problems: to create a place where employees can present their ideas, and to solicit ideas from a wide range of members. The essence of this contest lies not only in uncovering ideas but also in considering steps to formalize and nurture them into future growth businesses.

Q: I heard that support members also played an important role in the contest behind-the-scenes. What kind of support did Mr. Yamamoto and Mr. Takenaga provide in this role?

Yamamoto: In addition to the five people leading the operation of the contest, there were seven support members, including myself. Our role was to provide the necessary support to the applicants who passed the first round of judging before the second round of presentations. I oversaw the support of three of them, including Mr. Tanaka, who is participating in this interview.

Specifically, I: (1) coordinated interviews between the directors and applicants and meetings with consultants, (2) provided support in brushing up ideas (technical research, overseas market research, design drawing creation), and (3) provided support in making presentations for the second round of screening (assistance in creating presentation materials and presentations).

Takenaga: After the initial screening, 20 ideas successfully advanced to the second round, which was pleasantly surprising. Among them, I had the privilege of supporting Tugce and Arda, who are participating in this interview. Our role was to assist applicants by identifying their areas of concern, connecting them with those who could provide support as needed, and offering guidance and encouragement. However, the team of Tugce and Arda was so exceptional that they hardly required any assistance.

Voice from the applicant: Kaoru Tanaka, Yanmar Agri Japan

Q: Mr. Tanaka, what was your motivation for applying?

I wanted to work on something that would contribute to solving larger social issues.

Tanaka: There were three main motivations: First, I could directly deliver my voice to the directors. Second, I wanted to encourage employees of the same age group by challenging myself in my 50s. I wanted to show them my middle-age power (laughs). And third, I want to accomplish something big. At the branch where I work, the perspective of work tends to be narrow because it is a regional branch. Therefore, I wanted to work on something that would contribute to solving larger social issues.

Although we did not win an award in this contest, we received a positive comment from a board member who said, “If you want to try again next year, the members of the Technology Division will support you”. We are already working on further brushing-up the idea for next year.

Q: So, the possibility of realizing your idea was recognized? What were some of the best and most difficult aspects of entering the contest?

Tanaka: The biggest challenge was to balance my current work with the contest preparations. As a branch manager, my first responsibility is to make sales and profit from the branch. On top of that, it was not easy to brush-up my ideas in the limited time available.

Nevertheless, it was a good experience for me to learn how to think about and tackle new business through the assistance from outside consultants. In particular, negotiating with stakeholders by using data will be useful in my future career.

The network I gained was greater than I expected, and I was able to ask for the cooperation of about 20 employees, including the person in charge of machinery design. This was thanks to the efforts of our support member, Mr. Yamamoto. When we asked our administrative staff to translate a document, it took them only 30 minutes to produce a high-quality English document, just like that! I was sometimes surprised at the hidden abilities of my colleagues.

Voice from the applicant: Tugce & Arda from YANMAR TURKEY MAKINE A.S.

Q: We would like to ask Ms. Tugce and Mr. Arda, who participated from our overseas branch, what motivated you to apply?

Entering this contest was both an opportunity to present our daily achievements and to develop our entrepreneurial mindset.

Tugce: We had an idea that we had been thinking about for more than a year, and we felt that it was in line with the theme of this contest. We had already done our research and thought it would be a unique opportunity to present this idea to the directors.

YANMAR TURKEY MAKINE A.S., has started a business selling tractor implements to nearby countries. By trading our quality agricultural machinery with companies all over the world, we can realize our brand statement A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE. But to achieve this, we need the right implement for each farming task. Our product idea was about a service that would add more value to it.

Arda: Entering this contest was both an opportunity to present our daily achievements and to develop our entrepreneurial mindset. This time, our team proposed five ideas. Although we were not selected in the end, I think this challenge has helped us grow a lot.

Q: Did you have any good or difficult experiences entering the contest?

Arda: Particularly challenging was brushing up the idea after the first round of selection, because we only had a short period of time before the second round to create a fully-fledged presentation with information such as return on equity.

We are not a charity, so it is meaningless if we do not make a profit. In the presentation, I also found it difficult to find convincing data and explanations that showed our idea was commercially viable.

However, in the process, we received help from many people, including the manager of YANMAR TURKEY MAKINE A.S., members of the head office in Japan, and outside consultants. They pointed out weaknesses and shortcomings in our ideas, and we reworked our presentation materials many times. All these efforts paid off, and I was satisfied with the presentation.

Tugce: In addition to that, we also needed to have a deep understanding of our target customers, the farmers, in order to commercialize our idea. To this end, we engaged in a detailed dialogue with the farmers and took their requirements onboard.

Developing new businesses is our passion, and I think we were able to find enjoyment in the challenge.

Q: What did you learn from the application process?

Arda: I learned a series of things that are necessary to turn an idea into a business. After the contest, my colleagues started asking me for advice on how to bring their ideas to fruition. I think it was because they had witnessed our struggles. We hope to enter the contest again next time. It’s a great opportunity to develop ourselves.

Tugce: It was a valuable experience. Even though I was not selected, I now have the confidence and courage to give shape to my ideas. I think I gained this because I took action this time. This contest is a chance to change the world with our ideas, and our challenge continues.

Outcomes of the contest

Q. Now a question to two members of the secretariat team. Could you tell us how you feel after the first contest in 10 years?

Nakayama: Ten years ago, only two applications were received from overseas offices. This time, however, of the 150 applications, half (75) were from overseas offices. Of the six contest winners, half were from Japan and half were from overseas. Since one of our policies was to involve our overseas offices, we were relieved to have achieved this goal. At the same time, it was very encouraging to know that there are many Yanmar employees in Japan and abroad who are willing to take on new challenges. In the questionnaire after the event, we received a pleasing comment that “we hope the event will be continued next year,” which also showed the high level of expectations from within the company.

Q. What impact do you think this contest will have on the employees’ careers?

Takada: Because it was a new challenge and applicants encountered a series of difficulties, we feel that the experience will stay with the applicants. Even if the skills are not immediately usable now, I believe there will be situations where they will be useful over the course of a long career.

Nakayama: In general, especially for the younger generation, I think it is common to be assigned a specific role within the larger framework of the company and to be responsible for fulfilling a specific part of the whole. However, through contests and challenges such as this one, employees can come up with their own ideas, formulate and test hypotheses, and present their findings. In addition, they can get feedback from executives.

As business operations become increasingly digitalized, there are few opportunities to acquire skills that will last indefinitely. Through this kind of experience, small insights that would have been overlooked in the past because they had nothing to do with one’s own work will be recognized as the seeds of business, and new businesses will be born one after another in the field. I hope that such a culture will take root.

Yamamoto: It takes courage to share an idea with someone, but it is also possible to get feedback, find an unexpected collaborator, and develop the idea by making use of the feedback. Experiencing this process firsthand will certainly help you advance in your career.

Q: Lastly, what do you think of the future of the New Product Idea Contest?

Nakayama: Through this contest, we hope to spread the spirit of challenge throughout the group and create a culture that encourages new initiatives. We would like to make improvements so that the contest does not end here, and we would like to build on the achievements of the contest.

Takada: It would be ideal if projects could be spontaneously generated and new businesses nurtured, without the need for contests. I believe that this is the kind of “customer value creation company” that we are aiming for. Towards this end, we will continue to promote this contest in 2023.

[Interviews and text] Kaori Kobayashi, Naoko Yamamoto [Editing] Noriyuki Oka [Photography] Hitomi Hozumi [Translation] Mariko Sugita