There’s plenty of chatter about the startup scene along with so-called ‘innovation’ opportunities and many challenges faced by players at all levels in that space. It would be easy to pepper this with a gazillion links to material describing how Japan is risk-adverse and/or has no VC base to build next-gen. companies.. bla-bla-bla. Such simplistic points, seldom well balanced and rarely understood in context, would require a separate post to counter with a wave of the magic reality wand.
No, tight focus here and now is two-fold: we are headed into a “Startup Renaissance” in Japan and, therefore, considering carefully our near to mid-term road ahead with that being the case. It's not 'if' but 'how' as this cycle is clearly in motion.
There are literally dozens of big Japanese brands, from Canon to Yamaha, that began long ago with a couple of inspired people in a workshop, more interesting – read: important but usually missed – would be the thousands of companies that are +200 years old. The Valley mantra is Fail Fast: however, Plan Well is standard procedure here, so, kindly suggest the hybrid “Plan Well – Quickly” as an ideal method. Keeping in mind Kaizen is long baked into the domestic approach with seeds planted from overseas. There’s plenty of startup history and DNA in Japan, it’s Built to Last.
The digital economy has enabled significant new offerings from around the world and, both H/S’ware, tremendous growth for Japanese ICT related fields. Deep dive topic for any MBA thesis, noting business development of DVD and Ruby on Rails, this ‘business chance’ is certainly now established. My point with those two examples would be that whether it’s via old school corporate, or by relatively un-known individual source, these born in Japan products – along with so.many.others – have demonstrated impact globally.. and not ‘just’ in IT verticals.
While it may be difficult for some to fully grasp, but the Island Spirit – Shimaguni Konjo – is very strong here. Designing and running a best-of-breed community model goes right to the core of Japan. The new world order, or New Normal as I’ve said in these post 3.11 disaster times, has opened a window for some fresh air. The future potential is tangible. While parents and grandparents spent their lives pulling this country from ruins of 1945, the current generation will be pushing those efforts to the next stage. They have the skill and resources to build on that foundation. Go ahead, underestimate them.
“I’d like to turn Japan into an ‘entrepreneur powerhouse’..” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
[Amazing.. show me any other G7 head of state who quoted Metallica on Wall Street..]
Every viable ecosystem addresses the demonstrated need by re-distributing collective value across the group. No single entity holds all the cards. There are multiple icons who have blazed new trails, from Namba to Son and Mikitani to Tanaka plus hundreds more, with Idei-san set to launch World Innovation Lab (Jan. 27th, 2014 – Now Official). We see amazing talent and energy in the universities, strong R&D capacity at Yokosuka Research Park, while in the trenches affordable open platforms are driving real action along with increased support from public & private domestic sources. It’s Happening.
Ok, with the stage set above in mind, now what.. so many pieces in the puzzle. We’ve been at the crossroads of corporate and startup, local and global, since 2001 – certain some potential to contribute going forward. Over the coming years we’ll see increased interest in Japan, not just because of Tokyo 2020 Summer Games, combined with an ever growing awareness and desire for business overseas by domestic SME’s. Considering our network of contacts and multi-market experience clearly we can – indeed should – fill some of the predictable gaps.
One key lesson learned over our time here is the very real power of Bringing the Community Together, in the same room, under a brand agnostic umbrella. Regardless of their background, current position or nationality, each one has a wonderful blend of standard requirements and unique offerings to embrace. While this can be an awkward (Jr. High school) dance, at first, but that safe ‘friends and family’ sandbox enables f2f encounters that does lead to deal flow.. because.. It Works ツ
We took a first step with this Tokyo Startups United event. Blessed by Rock & Roll Shamisen and 300+ people attending, 50/50 domestic vs. international and titles across the spectrum, lets just say that room was Really buzzing! Expect further various efforts as we explore, together with trusted partners, how best to participate in developing a most valuable and beneficial platform for all members. So, if “it takes a village to raise a child” then this will “take the entire nation to build a startup generation”. Will it be easy.. not a chance – will it happen.. not a doubt.. がんばろう
Lars Cosh-Ishii, Representative Director, Mobikyo K.K.
Based in Japan since 2001, I've earned a Ph.D from MiT = Mobile in Tokyo!
Often interviewed by Intl. media, a valued contact point for in-bound visitors, fixer for executive tours, producer of custom research reports and energetic speaker at global conferences. On a personal level; I'm Canadian born with a background in broadcast media, at ease behind the camera and on-stage.