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Japan’s Startup Ecosystem is Growing

sungho-choo - 2021 November 2

Softbank is considered to be a big player in the global venture capital market. Startups in which Softbank invested are highly regarded for their potential to succeed in the global market. Coupang is a case in point. Although it is a country with big shots in investment, it is hard to feel the enthusiasm for startups in Japan. There is no unicorn company that everyone knows. Some say that Japan’s unique culture, which is closed and values traditional industries, is blocking the growth of innovative startups.

It’s been a while since this ecosystem has changed. Takeru Kawashima, 01 booster director, said, “From around 2017, a startup ecosystem began to form little by little, but there was not much I could say before.”

Founded in 2012 and fostering early startups, 01 booster has made COVID-19 an opportunity to expand its global partners. This is why the team signed a business agreement with KOCCA and participated in Launchpad, the program to support content startups’ global expansion. It plans to take this opportunity to discuss investment in Korean startups in earnest and support corporate connections through local networks in Japan. It has recently completed the selection of the 10 final launchpad teams that will try to break into the Japanese market.

“Metaverse & KPOP startups are interesting”

With COVID-19 this year, the metaverse is now the most up-and-coming field in the world, popular in Japan as well. Director Kawashima selected Art & Space IT, a metaverse startup, as the most interesting company among the launchpad teams. It provides services for fans, such as reenacting the space shown in K-POP music videos under the slogan of small digital twins. He also thought the Lighters Company, which provides an online live platform, has a chance of success in the Japanese market. “Metaverse is a promising field, but it is difficult to find related companies,” said the director. “Korea is strong in this field because it has a history of MMORPG games, an early version of Metaverse.”

Another strength of Korean startups that he mentioned is a global mindset. He said, “Japanese startups are growing in the domestic market and aiming for an IPO, but it is impressive that Korean startups are targeting the global market from the very early stage,” he said. “This is a rare phenomenon in Japan.”

Large CVCs are the big investors.= According to Director Kawashima, in the ecosystem of Japanese startup investment, large companies play much larger roles than the government, unlike Korea. He said, “One of the biggest characteristics of the Japanese startup ecosystem is that companies take a huge part in the investment,” adding “40% of the 01 Booster funds come from large companies.”

There are also more Corporate Venture Capitals than in other countries. The 01 Booster also plans to connect Korean content startups with large companies and help them settle in the Japanese market. “There are many rumors that it is difficult for global companies to enter and run the business in Japan,” he said. “I agree to some extent, but it is also difficult for Japanese companies to do business in domestic demand.” Instead, the Japanese market is very large, and there are many opportunities, especially in the B2B market. Director Kawashima said, “Recently, interest in Korean startups has grown with the drama Startup, and thanks to K-pop, people have a high understanding of Korean culture,” and advised, “Try advancing into the Japanese market.”


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