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Can the Japanese foster Innovation?

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Loftwork Inc., FabCafe, MTRL have created a support program and open community, COURIER, which assists innovators that target the global market. A meetup and presentation based on the topic, “Which city has the most global business opportunities?” was held on recently. At the event, nine business leaders knowledgable of the various regions in Japan shared their expertise and challenges.

Thinking of new businesses, putting them into practice, and sharing those ideas—that is “COURIER”

On this day, together with FabCafe, which have opened 10 offices throughout the world, Loftwork Inc. announced the opening of its new hub for global business in Hong Kong. Furthermore, along with the opening of MTRL Hong Kong, Loftwork Inc. also announced the launch of an online platform, “Material Service (MTRL.com),” which connects material manufacturers with creators.

The launch of COURIER is closely linked to this type of activity. In the opening speech, Mitsuhiro Suwa of Loftwork, Inc. reflected on the history of Loftwork, Inc.—”We have supported the new businesses and innovation of companies, but as a matter of fact, we have not had many connections with startups,” explanining that “whether it be an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur, the situation of capital and human resources is the same even though the crowd to appeal to may differ. If both sides share their information and network and complement one another, there is an opportunity to create a synergy effect.”

If we can utilize FabCafe as a platform for startups which aim to expand in the global market, we can persuade executives and investors to expand their businesses and thus create more possibilities. Suwa explained how from this idea, COURIER, a community of businesses was born—a community that thinks of new ideas, puts them into practice and shares them.

Startups without a sense of purpose and preparation will only become lost

The holy ground of startups—Silicon Valley. CEO of consulting firm Pacific Sky Partners Zak Murase, while describing how “unfortunately, the Japanese do not have a presence in Silicon Valley,” provided the following analysis of why Silicon Valley is known as the holy ground of startups.

<The Reasons Why Silicon Valley is the Holy Ground of Startups>

1) Great Weather
The good weather creates a welcoming atmosphere to share new ideas and start new businesses.

2) World’s Top Ecosystem
There has been a continuous cycle of achievers of success breeding new achievers since the 1960’s.

Meanwhile, the prices in general are 2.5 times those of Tokyo. This is characteristic of Silicon Valley—labor costs and cost of living are high, which can make placing a development team in Silicon Valley unrealistic. Given this situation, do startups have a chance in Silicon Valley? Murase shared the following recent topics.

– Total capital invested is generally increasing
投資件数は減少傾向だが、投資総額は増加傾向にあり、スタートアップ1件あたりの投資金額が増えている。
– General decrease in investments into seed stage startups
Investors have been actively investing in seed stage startups which are performing well, showing how they are carefully selecting where they are investing.
– The influence of the “Big 5” is overwhelming
Even if startups are able to innovate, they are either acquired by the “Big 5,” Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Apple, or are completely crushed.

With that said, what do the Japanese need in order to perform well in Silicon Valley? Murase finishes by highlighting the 3 points below.

<Preparing to Enter Silicon Valley>
1. Hold a clear sense of purpose
2. Prepare to settle down in Silicon Valley
3. Slowly create a reputation and build trust

The key to promotion is to connect with local media and local people

Next, CEO of Network Communications Corp., Naoko Okada explained the business situation in Washington D.C., where her business holds an office. She emphasized how the city provides a suitable environment for startups—there are many security startups, rate of growth of entrepreneurs is number one in the U.S., the restaurant industry is booming, the city is undertaking a project to become a smart city (Smarter DC Project), the local embassy and chambers of commerce give strong support.

As for her specialty in global P.R., she explains, “Business and P.R. are closely linked. Creating something that fits with the local market and conducting promotion and P.R. activities go hand-in-hand.” She continued, discussing how local media is the key to “bringing the desired information to those who want it,” especially in the context of local promotion of products and services. She claims, “It is important to connect with locals, members of the community, people of the embassy, people in media and local executives. In order to do this, startups must disclose themselves and send out information.”

Case study: What is the methodology behind bringing Japanese goods and services overseas?

Tomohiko Nihonyanagi of Loftwork, Inc. raised the example of the “MORE THAN PROJECT,” a project which has supported the overseas expansion into 21 countries for the production of the “JAPAN brand.” He emphasized, “Bringing products and services overseas means bringing products and services to local markets. If a business does not understand this, they cannot sell. It is important to understand which regions and markets to target, understand their lifestyles and the market trends.” He shared some specific ways to approach this issue.

<Approaches to overseas expansion>
1) Adequate understanding of the company’s products and services
2) Selecting a business partner
3) Researching local markets
4) Localization
5) Promotion within local markets

Likewise, Takuya Hotta, CEO of Culture Generation Japan Co., Ltd., described the case of how Tokyo Some-Komon was successfully arranged into a Muslim dress as a way of promoting traditional Japanese dyeing methods overseas. He provided an analysis of the keys to success.

<Reasons for Success in Local Distribution>
– Selecting a business partner
The most important thing is to match with a business partner who shares the same sense of direction and passion. Partnering with designers and distributors with existing markets can make success more likely.
– Understanding which parts to keep and which parts to change
Clearly understand constraints, costs and strengths of the company’s product.
– Conveying a philosophy
Always use the underlying passion as a base to make decisions. Do not lose your sense of purpose.

Go global with understanding of local markets and making the most of the expertise in your best team

The second section kicked off with a session by Masaru Ikeda, co-founder of THE BRIDGE and blogger. Ikeda manages a news media site for startups and knowledgable in the business situations of various countries. He points out, “Japanese startups tend to look to Asia first to expand their business, but given the level of maturity in society and infrastructure, as well as the economic conditions in these countries, many of them do not succeed.”

With this point in mind, Ikeda introduced some startup hubs (cities) that have attracted attention.

– Paris
After renovation of a railway depot, Paris became home of the world’s largest startup campus, “STARTION F.” The French president, a former investment banker, has shown his active support for startups. Paris is also well known for its richness in talent in the field of A.I..

– Tallinn
Methods of raising funds is becoming diverse. “Funderbeam,” or the use of blockchain-based technology to bring together investors and companies is extremely interesting.

– Helsinki
Birthplace of Nokia. Many hubs for research and development with major startup activity. Oulu is famous for its event where startups pitch in the frozen water of the Baltic Sea.

– Tel Aviv
Israel’s largest festival for startups, DLD Tel Aviv, is held every September. Tel Aviv has become one of the prominent startup hubs of the world.

It’s not about the “city,” but the “people” who are there

Next, Kelsey Stuart, in charge of international communication of FabCafe at Loftwork, Inc., describes how FabCafe has built a global network. She explains, “When we open a new FabCafe overseas, we don’t evaluate the ‘city,’ but we evaluate the ‘people’ who are there,” and raised the following points.

<Criteria for opening a new FabCafe overseas>
– Is there a vision for FabCafe?
– Is there past experience in digital fabrication cafes?
– Is there connection to the local creator community?
– Would FabCafe function as a creative platform?

Stuart adds, “FabCafe is not a franchise. In each country, the promoters within each region gather their resources, capital and community and manage the cafe.” She explained how FabCafe has expanded globally by gathering people who sympathize with their philosophy and share their values, ideas, brand, graphics and websites.

Short presentations by two globally expanding startups

Next, two startups that have gathered attention made presentations. With his vision of “Product for Peace,” CEO Radcliffe Takashi Onishi of the Babels inc. introduced his Q&O (Question and Opinion) service, “historie,” which provides various interpretations of society’s controversial topics. He explains, “From problems of history and international conflicts, the information out there only provides one side of the story. For this reason, society is full of people who only see things from one perspective, which can lead to conflict. As a solution, society needs a product that can line up different opinions from multiple perspectives.” Instead of a Q&A service that provides one best answer, the service collects opinions that cannot be found through a search engine or SNS and information that are not found on Wikipedia or textbooks. By making various opinions easily visible, the service aims to promote the evolution of the imagination that mankind seems to be losing.

On the other side, , CEO of DiGINEL Inc./DiGITAL ARTISAN Inc., represented a startup which offers technology services related to digital tools. As one of the new services they are preparing to launch, he introduced “OpenNail,” a nail chip service which fits each individual’s nail shape. The company created a process utilizing a 3D printer to allow creators and designers to participate in the nail design process. In the future, easily ordering a nailchip of choice on the Internet and smartphones will become a reality.

Global business leaders provide hints for startups that succeed

– Presence of the Japanese

Murase: The Japanese are well-known for their disappointing levels of English. Whereas in the U.S., people are taught to express their opinions from childhood, the Japanese believe in conformity and have a hard time being heard because they do not express themselves. In Silicon Valley, this is becoming an obstacle.

Ikeda: The Japanese try to appeal to the fact that their startup is “Japanese.” But what’s most important is what is left once that national identity is taken away.

Okada: Are the entrepreneurs being trained to properly promote themselves?

Murase: If you decide to go to Silicon Valley, you should thoroughly practice your elevator pitch. Of course, there are people who are not proficient in English but do well in Silicon Valley. Those are the people who have passion or have something unique and are able to speak with confidence. Even if their English is not perfect, their aura is what leads them to success. This is a skill, too.

– Setting up an office

Okada: Apart from problems regarding communication, it might not matter where you put an office.

Ikeda: Since SaaS and the Internet is so commonplace nowadays, it might not matter. In fact, there are many cases where a business is organized around people who are scattered throughout different locations. Expanding business by selecting cities based on their features and gathering expertise in various locations could even be a way to make better startups.

Murase: It’s not rare for startups to scatter their teams in Silicon Valley. Startups will be strong if they can create a “best team” while taking advantage of each region’s features.

– The most important thing in global expansion is “English and mindset”

Murase: English. It’s the most important thing.

Ikeda: English of course, and also a mindset. If you have lived in Japan for a few decades, what you see becomes the world to you. We can expand our possibilities just by conducting business with the awareness that there are many races and cultures in the world.

There are obstacles for the Japanese to lead the world in innovation. However, now that there are platforms out there to bring innovation to the world, the path in front of us is opening. Okada sent a powerful cheer to all of the startups that are looking to expand globally: “Japanese people, let’s get more active globally!”

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About the Author

This article was produced by Lotfwork. Through planning, production, and communication, Loftwork is a creative partner that will make business innovation a reality.see more.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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