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Japan Startups Seeing Cash but Few Innovators

Yusuke Asakura, who heads a Tokyo-based angel network of entrepreneurs investing in global startups, is interviewed in Tokyo on Feb. 14. | AP

Yusuke Asakura, who heads a Tokyo-based angel network of entrepreneurs investing in global startups, is interviewed in Tokyo on Feb. 14. | AP

 reports: Japan Inc., where companies with roots going back decades, if not centuries, have long dominated, is finally warming up to startups.

Major banks and venture capitalists are keen to tap into faster growth by investing in innovative entrepreneurs, when they can find them. Money raised for ventures in Japan reached a record ¥276 billion ($2.5 billion) last year.

That is up from about ¥50 billion ($450 million) annually after the financial crisis, according to Japan Venture Research Co.

Silicon Valley still raises 50 times more cash for startups than Japan, but the number of U.S. startups chasing that cash is higher. So there is relatively more money to go around in Japan, where young, daring risk-takers are still relatively scarce.

That helps startups to survive, says Yusuke Asakura, who heads a Tokyo-based angel network of entrepreneurs.

Still, he says, Japan needs a change of “mindset.”

Tokyo-based startup Classico's chief executive, Arata Ohwa, shows a new stethoscope during an interview at his office in Tokyo in April 2016. | AP

Tokyo-based startup Classico’s chief executive, Arata Ohwa, shows a new stethoscope during an interview at his office in Tokyo in April 2016. | AP

“Japanese value hard work, but what creates innovation is not keeping at the hard work but deciding it is too much work and figuring out how not to do it,” said Asakura, who led a turnaround as chief executive at Mixi, a social networking service in Japan.

He now sits on the boards of two startups — Raksul, an online service that farms printing work out to plants nationwide, and digital hotel reservation service Loco Partners, which recently was bought by Japanese telecom operator KDDI.

“There is potential for startups in all the old-fashioned sectors,” he said, pointing to growing use of digital tools in education and home-remodeling. “Creating a totally new sector is one way. But there are many old areas that need fixing.”

[Read the full story here, at The Japan Times]

Arata Ohwa did exactly that: Innovating in an area where practically nothing had changed for decades.

His Tokyo-based startup Classico sells stylish lab coats and scrub tops online to doctors and nurses around the world, especially in the U.S. and Japan. Classico coats cost about $200 each, about seven times more than utilitarian conventional ones, but they are more fashionable.

More recently, Ohwa raised seed money through crowd funding to begin designing, making and selling ergonomic stethoscopes that sell from $380 to $520 apiece.

Yusuke Umeda, co-chief executive of Tokyo-based startup Uzabase, is interviewed in Tokyo on March 2. | AP

In this March 2, 2017 photo, Yusuke Umeda, the co-chief executive of Tokyo-based startup Uzabase, speaks during an interview in Tokyo. Umeda is banking on a smartphone news service focused on business and economic news, targeting people willing to pay for the service. Japan Inc., long dominated by old-style companies, is finally warming up to startups. But megabanks, venture capitalists and major companies looking to invest can’t find enough innovative entrepreneurs, some in the industry say. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)

Classico’s U Scope is made of a more pliant material than traditional stethoscopes, whose basic design has been the same for a century.

It can be rolled up to fit into a pocket, and doctors say it is light and easy to use. This year, it won Germany’s iF Design Award and Red Dot Design Award.

“In the medical industry, even if you do what’s considered normal in the internet world, everyone says it’s new,” said Ohwa, 36.

Investment by financial institutions and manufacturers, some of whom are setting up corporate venture capital funds, is driving the startup boom … (read more)

via The Japan Times

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