A is for Innovation--Toyota's Secret Startup Society


This look at the A-1 Contest, Toyota's enigmatic breeding ground for innovation, reveals what exactly that A stands for!

Sports medicine, programming education, food waste solutions—these are some of the varied non-car-related themes tackled as part of a business contest held at Toyota.

And yet, this extracurricular activity remains little known even within the company.

The initiative is known as the A-1 Contest, and we uncovered the surprising story behind that “A.”

The fools who drive innovation

“The A in A-1 stands for aho (fool). This is a contest to crown the number one fool.”

These were the first words from the mouth of Yusuke Doi, a new business planner and A-1 originator. After our double take, he provided the backstory.

Yusuke Doi, Assistant Manager, Advanced Project Promotion Div.

The aho that gives us the A in A-1 was taken from the words of Toyota Motor Corporation founder Kiichiro Toyoda.

When it was founded in 1937, Toyota was an auto industry venture company.

Even the big zaibatsu conglomerates stayed away from the industry. And yet, together with his colleagues, Kiichiro took on the challenge of making cars, saying, “I personally think you’d have to be a fool to charge headfirst into this business. But trying to succeed in challenging ventures makes life interesting because few people pursue them.”

We wanted current employees to lead the way in embodying that spirit of innovation passed down since Toyota’s founding. That was one of the reasons why we started the A-1.

Kiichiro’s vision attracted many like-minded peers and laid the foundations for the carmaking of today.

The history of Toyota’s founding became the starting point for the A-1, which set out to create a stage for those driven by the spirit of innovation and altruism.

Making Toyota more interesting

Doi also talked about one of the Toyota tenets that lies at the heart of the A-1 contest.

It is inscribed among the Five Main Principles of Sakichi Toyoda, in which the Toyota Group founder’s teachings live on as a guiding philosophy for all employees.

The first principle calls on individuals to look beyond themselves and the company to the overall good, working for the benefit of the country and society.


Many at Toyota want to do something for the benefit of others. Allowing such people to engage with that desire and connect with like-minded colleagues beyond their regular workplace will no doubt create new value in the world.

In opening up that possibility, I believe that the A-1 can contribute to the company and the overall good while also making Toyota a more interesting place.

In the past, Doi himself had considered working for a venture company or consulting firm but was inspired to join Toyota by its philosophy of contributing to the greater good.

The A-1, then, is about coming up with businesses that will benefit someone else. Toyota’s executives even helped to get the contest off the ground.

Why did they decide to get behind an extracurricular business contest?