The time has come for Japan to make its triumph in the world of startups and innovation. The first IF Conference bridged the gap between the New York startup scene and Japanese entrepreneurs with the goal of fostering a community that thrives on knowledge exchange between the two ecosystems.
The event brought to you by Japan NYC Startups featured an all day immersive education into the world of Japanese startups; what they have to overcome to embark on the pathway to America and showcasing some Japanese entrepreneurs have navigated their way to success. Nulab, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, Microsoft, IT Eno, and Sapporo were just a few of the sponsors for the thought provoking event.
A keynote from William Lohse dived into the core issues Japan entrepreneurs face when trying to their ideas, products, and services to the American market. Lohse is the General Partner of Social Starts and renowned international investor who clearly supports the Japanese entrepreneurs in their quest to prove their value proposition to American consumers and investors.
“There’s a misunderstanding of growth. The perception of Japan is that it’s a shrinking marketplace,” said Lohse. Lohse’s advice to Japanese startups is simple in that all you need to do is “come to America, jump in, make friends, and sell.”
With Japanese consumers spending the most time online per capita and with the Japanese market being a leading one in terms of advertising spending; it’s surprising to think investors have glossed over Japan as a valuable and viable investment market for entrepreneurial activity.
Culture was also a big discussion throughout the conference since its the most prominent issue when appealing to both American consumers and investors.
“If you choose to start a startup in Japan, people would start to question you. In Israel and the United States, trying something new is so rewarding. People really encourage you to take ownership and take those challenging next steps,” said Rie Yano, Co-CEO of Material Wrld, a luxury fashion trade-in service for customers to earn upfront shopping credit at top retailers.
Overall, there was a spirit of optimism for the future of Japanese startups. “Startups across the US and Japan came together in NYC. Thorough this conference, we increased awareness local startups with Japanese connections, as well as startups from Japan. I believe this conference made a first step to become the gateway to and from Japan,” said Masa Okunishi, Founder of Rising Startups.
Takeshi Komoto, Executive Director of The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) in NY, also fully appreciates the event as a way to bring more relevance to the Japanese startup market. “I am supporting the If Conference, which is bridging two awesome startup communities, in NYC and in Japan. I hope our friends in the NYC startup community found that there are many amazing Japanese startups through this event. I am confident that going forward the If Conference will serve as a gateway between the two communities.”
Japanese entrepreneurs seem to have proven to possess all the right characteristics to help Japan become the next huge startup market; companies like Whill offer proof through its CEO Satoshi Sugie.
Whill is a recently FDA-approved personal mobility device that is revolutionizing the functionality and design of powered wheelchairs. The company is based out of Silicon Vallley since Sugie made a conscious decision to start the company in the United States versus his home in Japan due to a larger number of wheelchair users in America.
The company has had an impressive story with a recent partnership with the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) to create a personal mobility solution for airports while the company also was recently featured in the new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie that came out in March. Whill has raised already $13M in investment, from backers that include notable names like 500 Startups and NTT Docomo, since its founding back in 2012.
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