TAIKAI Wants To Become The GitHub Of Open Innovation

We interviewed Mário Alves, Founder & CEO of TAIKAI, an open innovation platform which aims to change the future of work, collaboration, and problem solving.

Could you introduce TAIKAI for us?

Organizations face more challenges than ever nowadays. However, sometimes solutions can lack enough perspective, or challenges can even go unsolved. TAIKAI is changing that by bringing together talent from around the world to solve challenges in an open, collaborative environment.

The meaning of TAIKAI or 大会 (“coopetition” in Japanese Kanji) is the act of joining competing forces together to cooperate on a mutually beneficial solution. Companies can improve the speed and quality of their solution development by opening up their innovation processes. 

We help organizations run innovation challenges and hackathons with our web platform. It facilitates the entire process, from challenge creation, through applications and entries, until finally a winner is voted for and rewarded. This is all done online in a fully transparent way.

Open online challenges can yield different results than classic approaches. They can improve quality and diversity of solutions, and also be more sustainable and cost-efficient for organizations. 

Open competitions can be more inclusive too. Instead of only reaching your local community, anyone in the world with internet access can join in and contribute with their own vision.

Web view of TAIKAI Challenges page
Web view of TAIKAI Challenges page

What inspired you to create TAIKAI?

In a global survey conducted by LinkedIn, 37% of respondents said their current job does not fully utilize their skills or challenge them enough. This means that a lot of talent is not being put to productive use, which we think is a huge waste. In 2018, along with our investors, we saw that there was a need to solve this problem.

Creating TAIKAI was a response to that problem. It provides a way to build a better future for misused talent, and for companies that are looking for different solutions when they face a challenge.

Why did you decide to use blockchain technology, and specifically EOSIO?

When I was first introduced to the concepts of blockchain technology four years ago, I started going down the rabbit hole and just fell in love. 

Once I had started learning about it, I quickly found myself explaining it to my friends and family. It wasn’t long before I was speaking to larger audiences at companies and universities. Interest continued to grow quickly, and I founded Blockchain Center Portugal, which became one of the largest communities of blockchain tech in Portugal. 

When I started TAIKAI along with my co-founder Helder, we both saw the value in using tokenization as a way to provide a transparent and auditable selection process for use in hackathons and other innovation challenges. We also saw blockchain as a way to bring a new gamification layer into the platform, so it was a part of our plan from the early iterations.

No other currently existing innovation platform in the market had integrated either of these two concepts and we knew it could be a game-changer. But choosing a blockchain can be difficult, though: the number of existing blockchains and platforms continues to grow, and filtering the noise is not an easy task. 

We tried to avoid maximalist visions and focused objectively on what is needed to build a successful app. We wanted a blockchain platform that could provide us a scalable, easy to use, cost-efficient and trustworthy solution and that choice was obvious: EOSIO. 

For us, it was important that the regular user wouldn’t notice any difference between using our platform and a non-blockchain platform. It wouldn’t be possible to provide such a seamless experience with any other blockchain.

Infographic showing TAIKAI progress so far
Infographic showing TAIKAI progress so far

What stage is TAIKAI at?

It has been a year since we launched and the results have been great:

  • Hosted 17 innovation challenges by 12 organisations
  • 4000+ participants
  • Approximately 500 open source projects built

After successfully bringing on board some of the biggest Portuguese companies and universities, we are looking to expand. We actively seek new clients, communities and partners all over the world so that we can showcase our platform globally. In addition, we are launching our own initiatives focused on social good.

What are the challenges you have had to overcome, and how did you do it?

Although we specialise in helping other companies solve challenges, we do have to solve some challenges of our own – finding the right talent is without a doubt the hardest of them all! It all starts with convincing the first person, then it gets easier along the way. 

I was fortunate that the first person I convinced was Helder, my co-founder. He’s a coding machine, with a great product vision and a huge passion for blockchain tech. Together we managed to build an incredible team, and that is what truly makes the difference. 

Convincing companies and large institutions to externalize their innovation processes or use technology like blockchain was also hard, and still is. There isn’t a magic formula to fix it, but we find that persevering and providing results is a good way to show companies that it actually works.

What are your plans for scaling?

Scaling has been in our DNA since day one. In terms of technology and communications, we’ve always built our product to be ready to scale at any time. A crisis of the kind we are collectively living through right now unites the world and shows that physical borders are just concepts we’ve built as human beings. 

As an eternal optimist, I truly believe that the process of scaling is about always trying to bring value to one more person or company. The natural result out of that is exponential growth. We have been speaking with lots of companies and partners around the globe, as well as investors. They are thrilled about our product and our vision and we are planning to have our first international challenges soon. 

Mobile View of TAIKAI Platform
Mobile view of TAIKAI platform

What EOSIO community initiatives have you engaged in and how has the EOSIO Community responded to TAIKAI?

The EOSIO community was a big part of our success, in both direct and indirect ways. Block.one gave us guidance on how we could build a solid product using EOSIO technology when we first started TAIKAI.

We have also participated in an event hosted by SVK Crypto and its amazing CEO Shane Kehoe. We have seen how hackathons brought amazing solutions to the community and we’re avid listeners of the “Everything EOS” podcast. 

There are also some very good projects within the community that we have interacted with and we hope to launch joint challenges with some of those projects soon. All of this shows that we couldn’t have chosen a better community to share our journey with.

The TAIKAI team at work
The TAIKAI team at work

Can you introduce your team and tell us what makes them/it special?

Mario Alves, Founder & CEO
Mário Alves, Founder & CEO

Economist by trade, technologist by heart. I have worked as a consultant at PwC and as an Investment Banker. I’m passionate about innovation and blockchain, and in 2018 I founded Blockchain Center Portugal, a Portuguese blockchain community.

I help the team in sales, marketing and product development, jumping from department to department like my favourite video character: Super Mario of course!

Helder Vasconcelos, Co-Founder & CTO
Hélder Vasconcelos, Co-Founder & CTO

When I say I have an incredible team, I truly mean it. Helder, our CTO and co-founder, is both practical and technically gifted. He has built the entire backend and blockchain system we have in place, all while helping me envision the whole product and being our office DJ!

Henrique Macedo, Design Lead

Henrique is our UX/UI Lead and is tasked with building beautiful interfaces. He is also the resident hackathon champion. Last time he counted, he had 10 winning projects!

Vanessa Marques, Head of Marketing
Vanessa Marques, Head of Marketing

Vanessa is our voice at TAIKAI, dealing with Marketing and Project Management while keeping office sanity in check.

Diogo Ferreira Pinto, Head of Business Development
Diogo Ferreira Pinto, Head of Business Development

Diogo brings his coolness and easygoing attitude to the table to interact with our clients, having previously led innovation and acceleration programs. He is passionate about shaping the future of what work looks like.

What other projects have you partnered with?

We work with Microsoft via their “Microsoft for Startups” program, as well as a number of Portuguese universities We’re part of the largest communities of Portuguese startups and of course, Bright Pixel, our investors, are very focused on blockchain projects.

Recently we’ve launched a new initiative called Fight COVID-19 Open Challenge to help companies and individuals to cooperate and produce creative solutions which can help fight against the current epidemic of Coronavirus. We hope that our community of more than 120 companies and 4500 volunteers will be able to help contribute to the worldwide effort to deal with the pandemic.

Where do you see TAIKAI in the future?

Our vision is to create a future where highly specialized individuals can look for challenge-based opportunities from different industries. 

We provide the right space and the environment for innovators to work on challenges posted by companies or communities, present solutions to them, and get rewarded for it. This also allows them to gain reputation by displaying their innovations or solutions to the community.

Any other aspects you think people should know about your company?

If you believe that our vision is possible and you’re keen on participating in hackathons and competitions, join us today. We’ll try to make sure that you won’t regret it.

If you represent a company or other organization, do not be afraid to open up your innovation processes. I truly believe that you have more to gain by making your challenges visible, than keeping them internal.

Pseudocode Showing An Innovation Process
Pseudocode Showing An Innovation Process

Why are hackathons and competitions able to produce so many innovative solutions to problems?

Hackathons and competitions draw people out of their comfort zone. It is that place where the magic truly happens. By collaborating with each other, in a different setting, they’re able to produce ideas and projects that usually wouldn’t happen in a corporate scenario. 

This is something that already happens with teams that frequently work together, so imagine what it can do with people from different geographies and cultures. A team composed of Japanese, French, and Canadian participants that together collaborate to build a solution? This may seem like the beginning of an old joke, but it can actually be the reality of the future and we definitely want to be a part of making it happen.

How do you want readers to remember TAIKAI in one sentence?

We want people to see us as the Github of open innovation, where an individual is able to work with NASA one day and Google the next.

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TAIKAI is a recipient of an EOS VC grant. To learn more about Block.one’s VC grant recipients, please visit the EOS VC website at vc.eos.io.

About EOS VC

Block.one’s EOS VC program offers developers and entrepreneurs the funding they need to create community-driven businesses leveraging EOSIO. It provides support through venture capital partnership funds that aim to achieve sustained utilization of the EOSIO ecosystem by investing in a concentrated and diversified portfolio of blockchain-focused companies building on the EOSIO software. For further information, please visit block.one and vc.eos.io

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