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How Japanese startup Cinnamon AI grows AI talent in Taiwan

Business Next

As the global war for AI talent intensifies, a Japanese company decides to grow a batch of AI engineers before jumping into the competition.

Cinnamon AI, a Tokyo-based startup that develops an AI-powered document recognition software for businesses, says it plans to continue training Taiwanese software engineers to work on AI applications by offering free training programs, following on from its $13M Series C funding in April. The company also hires a group of researchers and developers in Taiwan.

While looking for potential employees during the programs, the company aims to cultivate local talent to improve the environment for technological development, says co-founder Hajima Hotta, who initiated the project. He received a PhD in deep learning at the age of 25, sold his companies to Yahoo Japan and Mixi, and is now the chief officer of AI for the company.

In the long run, Cinnamon AI will benefit if Taiwan gets ahead of other countries in AI, Hotta says. It does not matter if the engineers they train choose to work for the company at the moment.

Like the Taiwan AI Academy, Hotta tells Business Next he is also building a community of AI talent, where innovation takes place, through education. “You don’t innovate alone,” he says. “By working on projects together, students can find their buddies and engage in high level conversations.”

Hajime Hotta, co-founder of Cinnamon AI (right), and Yun-Nung Chen, tech advisor for Cinnamon AI.
Cinnamon AI

Following its experience in Vietnam five years ago, Cinnamon AI started the same project in Taiwan by working with local universities, including National Taiwan University and National Tsinghua University, in 2018. Computer science professors would use the course materials designed by Hotta to teach their students how to develop an AI application to solve real life problems.

“While medicine and biotech are popular fields for Japanese talent, a lot of top tier talent in Taiwan chooses to develop their career in computer science,” Hotta says. “As a result, the density of tech talent is pretty high in Taiwan.”

Due to a long pedigree of hardware design and manufacturing, Taiwan is known for its large pool of hardware engineers. But Hotta says they can easily be trained to become AI developers, with their fundamental knowledge in math, physics, and other basic sciences.

In 2019, Cinnamon AI ran its first summer bootcamp in Taiwan, where grad and undergrad students were taught to channel what they have learned at the university into business projects. “In the bootcamp, we focus on bridging the gap between theory and practice,” says Mandy Hsu, Taiwan country manager for the company.

As in Vietnam, Cinnamon AI invited some of these students to work as interns for the company after the two-month program ended. Hsu tells Business Next they hired four Taiwanese interns last year, and some of them were later offered a full-time job in big companies like MediaTek and TSMC. “We hope the certificate of completion [of the program] would prove their competence as AI talent,” she says.

Mandy Hsu, Taiwan country manager for Cinnamon AI
Business Next

This year, the same bootcamp attracted more than 200 applicants, but the company ended up selecting just 12 into the program.

In addition to the camp, Cinnamon AI has also pledged to organize a deep learning hackathon with its first tech advisor in Taiwan, who is also a computer science professor specialized in voice recognition and natural language processing.

With the collaboration with professor Yun-Nung Chen, the company looks to take its core technology to the next level and strengthen the connection between academia and the AI industry.

With efforts underway to grow a talent pool, Cinnamon AI sets sight on becoming the top career option for AI engineers and winning the race for talent, Hsu says.

As an international business, she adds that the company also hopes to take its local Taiwanese employees to the global stage. Cinnamon AI now operates in Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam, with the latter two being where much of its R&D takes place.


Bryan Chou

Bryan Chou is a Taiwan-based and born journalist who writes about innovation and entrepreneurship for Business Next and Meet. Over the past five years, he has written for a student press, translated numerous magazine pieces, and worked as an intern in two startups. He believes what shapes him into who he is today is not only these experiences but the people he has interacted with and the stories he has learned from them.

He has a BA in Foreign languages and literatures from NTU. After graduation, he spent a year in Prague, traveling extensively around Europe to learn about the history and culture of the region from local people. Currently based in Taipei, he hopes to present the best of Taiwan to the world.