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Japan Tries To Build Entrepreneurial Spirit With U.S. City Accelerators

Some of the first fruits of a Japanese government initiative to spur a stronger entrepreneurial culture were on display in Los Angeles, where 11 companies pitched their capabilities and needs before a roomful of investors, consultants and others at the country’s Consul General’s house.

The Japanese government’s year-old Beyond Japan program brings over groups of startups at different levels of development for up to two months to stay in a given U.S. city, where they meet targeted groups of potential investors, partners, and customers, undergo one-on-one and group training, and make investor and partner presentations.

It’s partly a relatively traditional tech accelerator (though with an international reach), and partly a chance to provide additional training and support to educate the entrepreneurs on the U.S. market for their business’ particular needs, said Kenny Lum and Satoshi Miyagawa, co-founders of Launchstarz, which helps run the program alongside “innovation platform” PlugandPlay and the Japan External Trade Organization, or JETRO.

The companies presenting at Thursday night’s event ranged from small companies still seeking a seed round of capital to far more established ones with hundreds or thousands of customers in Japan that want to expand into the United States. Some said they are looking for retail sales channels or distribution partners for their products.

Japan Consul General Kenko Sone reminded attendees that even giant Japanese firms such as Sony, Panasonic, and Toyota were originally startups before growing over decades to some of the world’s best-known corporations.

“We’re trying to encourage startup investment and inspire Japanese startups,” Sone said. “Our vision is to create 100 unicorns and 100,000 startups, as a premier hub for entrepreneurship in Asia. With this program, we’re taking a small but important step.”

Yoshiko Tsuwaki, the executive director of JETRO’s Los Angeles office, said the initiative is one year into a five-year government plan to support and build more of an entrepreneurial approach as a way to expand the country’s economy.

That economy has recently shown increasing growth and energy after three decades of moribund economic conditions after a massive real estate price bubble collapsed in 1991. In recent decades, the country’s economy has been known less for its startup culture than for its giant industrial zaibatsu and keiretsu, respectively vertically integrated conglomerates and tightly interwoven collections of connected companies.

The program will next bring a group of companies and founders to Austin, Texas, after initial stops in San Diego and Los Angeles. Companies are chosen to participate in part for their area of focus and relevance to a given city’s tech strengths, Tsuwaki said.

As examples, San Diego has a lot of biotech companies and, with QualcommQCOM 0.0% and BroadcomAVGO +1% nearby, deep connections in telecom and microchips. Los Angeles has a broader reach and a lively investor ecosystem, with aerospace, entertainment, consumer tech and biotech among areas of strength. Officials said the Los Angeles area has seen some $14 billion in venture capital invested in recent years.

JETRO executives are now investigating other cities for next segments of Beyond Japan visits, beginning this week with a trip to the Denver area, Tsuwaki said.

The companies selected for the program so far were winnowed from 185 companies and 250 entrepreneurs, according to executives. The 11 companies and 13 people that were selected for the L.A. program included:

  • artics, an “interest-based social media platform;”
  • Asuene, a cloud-based climate-tech platform;
  • BONX Inc., a “one-stop, voice-centric communication solution for deskless teams;”
  • CoeFont Co. an “AI Voice platform” for text-to-speech and translation.
  • Dimes Inc, which makes the TimelyHero global education platform;
  • Magic Shields, which markets “mechanical meta materials,” like flooring designed to help prevent bone fractures in falls by the elderly;
  • Mosh Inc, an “online school platform for knowledge creators;”
  • Platz Corp., a sports technology company using computer vision to improve players’ capabilities;
  • primeNumber Inc., “ a fully managed data platform called trocco” to manage corporate workflows;
  • Qlay Technologies, a “generative-AI-powered consumer research tool” for understanding qualitative marketing data like social-media reviews;
  • SoundFun Corp., whose curved Mirai Speaker soundbars are designed improve dialogue clarity for TV and other media viewers.

Source : Forbes