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Businesses in demand in Tokyo — UNLEASH TOKYO DAY 2

Written by Unleash Tokyo Published on   5 mins read

Organised by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Unleash Tokyo Day 2 highlights the local desire to collaborate with foreign companies to evolve and capture new trends.

Unleash Tokyo 2021 is an inaugural summit organised by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Aimed at re-introducing the already familiar city from a different angle, this online event spans 3 days, 9 – 11 March from 1 – 3pm (SGT). Click here to view the full program lineup. 

Re-watch day 1, re-watch day 2 or subscribe to the Invest Tokyo channel to catch day 3!

Business development and market opportunities for foreign companies in Japan

Sanae Imai is the VP, Head of Industries Transformation, Japan at Salesforce.com. As a Japanese working for a foreign company, she explained with her unique point of view of why the word “access” comes to mind when asked about the appeal of Tokyo.

Tokyo ranks third in the Global Power City Index 2020—which evaluates a city’s economy, R&D, cultural interaction, liveability, environment, accessibility—reflecting the appeal of Japan’s capital. Over the years, Tokyo has evolved to become a meeting point for people of all walks of life; the Tokyo Urban Center has a population of 36 million residents hailing from across the country and the world. This is spurred by good infrastructure. Every corner of Japan may be accessed, from Tokyo, in under 3 hours.

Sanae Imai added that the country is actively pushing for digitalisation, bringing an impending end to the use of Hanko stamps and physical paperwork to reduce friction for businesses, both local and foreign from setting up shop. She has also noticed a shift in expectations within the Tokyo business community. Local companies understand and value collaboration with foreign businesses, and working to foster inclusivity for future prosperity.

Business development and market opportunities for foreign startups

Oliver Tan, co-founder and CEO of Visenze, and Timothy Yu, Founder and CEO of Snapask, were invited as panellists to impart their know-hows on expanding into Japan.

Oliver shared that the most noticeable difference in the business culture lies in the strong emphasis on long-term relationships and delivering quality goods and services. The Japanese are known to spend time nurturing a relationship in order to build trust. They need to believe in their partners because they, in turn, are answerable to their customers. Oliver stressed on the importance of patience—a virtue one must intentionally develop, particularly for those accustomed to efficiency-focused partnerships.

Timothy, who concurred, added that the Japanese care for their partners and always seek win-win outcomes, despite being on the other side of the fence or in the face of competition. There lies a preference for the community at large to grow alongside one another.

On the topic of market outlook, Oliver talked about the increasing desire and sense of urgency to learn from the successes of neighbouring countries such China. This translates into an openness towards different strategies and approaches. Speaking from experience, Timothy added that many industry incumbents, despite their well entrenched positions, are laggards in terms of technology. The global pandemic has forced these traditional companies to become open to partner startups and foreign companies, so they can integrate the online and offline realms and offer a more comprehensive offering to their customers.

Startup co-creation of a major financial institution

Yuka Kurimoto, is the Joint General Manager, Digital Strategy Department at Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group. He addressed the misconception towards working with Japanese firms; many are deterred because they believe it is hard to work with traditional entities such as banks.

Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) has established an extensive innovation network across the globe. This includes innovation centres in Singapore and Silicon Valley, and partnerships with several industry players, accelerators and VCs from major hubs such as London, Israel and New York. Yuka shared that SMBC taps on this network to engage startups, in order to find promising technologies and solutions to introduce into Japan.

Yuka added that the bank has recently deployed a conversation AI tool by a startup called Allganize. This tool helps the customer service team react faster with more accurate responses to enquiries. Consequently, this increases customer satisfaction and boost employee productivity. Nonetheless, the business relationship with Allganize does not end there. The bank seeks to expand the use cases across the SMBC group and hopes to introduce the solution to their clients as well.

The charm of Tokyo from the perspective of overseas influencers

Michel Levy-Provencal, Founder of Boma, shared his perspective on what has changed in Japan since he last visited in 2018. Just two years ago, there was a strong focus on technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) but very little conversation surrounding  environmental, social, and governance (ESG). Today, he is hearted by the increased number of companies looking into ESG, and the spike in investments in non-Japanese companies.

Samantha Evans, Head of International Tech Nation, added to Michel’s point on investments and talked about the rise in activity by Japanese funds. Private equity and venture capital funds have begun investing in startups from around the world in recent years. She also shared that she was surprise to learn about the ease of business; many business documentations are now available in English and Japan ranks 6th globally in intellectual property (IP) protection. This, alongside the government’s continuous effort to eliminate friction, provides foreign companies a sense of comfort.

Overview of startup investment by major Japanese financial institution and the fintech environment in Japan

Mitsunobu Okubo, an advisory board member of Mizuho Financial Group, Inc. and Blue Lab Co. Ltd., broached the topic of fintech in Japan.

While fintech’s growth in other countries are seemingly stabilizing, Japan is witnessing exponential growth. In the past two years, the fintech industry grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 51%, and is projected to be valued at USD 110 million by 2022.

More notably, the Japanese government has also listed fintech as part of the national strategy and is supporting innovation in this field for greater economic growth and environmental improvement of the market in order to solve social problems. This includes several changes in various regulations, such as the removal of the cap for investments in fintech companies and revised guidelines to encourage ethical utilization of personal data for business.

Exploring life in Tokyo 2: Tokyo, a city of tradition

The global arts and culture scene was hit badly by the COVID-19; countless of shows were cancelled. Kazutaro Nakamura, a Kabuki actor, decided to put the time gained into learning, researching, training and practicing. Driven by his worry that the art of Kabuki may not survive post-pandemic, he decided to bring his performance online.

He first started with a YouTube channel to spread the word and test the market’s interest for Kabuki. But he soon realised the need tweak the delivery format. Kabuki comprises singing, dancing and acting. While dance is a universal language, it is hard for non-Japanese speaking audiences to appreciate the content. Today, his performances eliminates most speech and shines the spotlight on showcasing the power of physical theatre.

Click here to tune in day 3 of Unleash Tokyo 2021! Hear about startup investments made by major Japanese companies and the synergies between overseas startups and major corporations / financial institutions and the secrets to their success.


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