There are many talented women entrepreneurs throughout Asia, but few programs to support their businesses and ambitions to go global.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is changing this for female entrepreneurs from Japan who want to scale their businesses internationally. It does this through the Acceleration Program in Tokyo for Women (APT Women).
According to Yasuhiro Yamanaka, deputy manager of Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s new ventures support section, a successful startup ecosystem caters to all sectors of society. “Our aim is to support different stakeholders of society to bring their solutions to reality,” he said in an interview with KrASIA.
He added that APT Women adds diversity to the Japanese tech ecosystem, and that technologies developed by different groups of a society can help serve everyone.
Yamanaka emphasized that the government aims to continue empowering Japanese women who have started their own enterprises and would like to see them progress to the global stage. The program helps them become role models for other aspiring female entrepreneurs.
“We would like to see them gain opportunities to access global supporters and markets,” he said. “So that they can bring their ideas to and also learn from these new markets.”
Now in its fourth iteration, the APT Women program is championed and led by Yuriko Koike, Tokyo’s first female governor. For this year’s cohort, 40 companies were selected. Half of the batch were then chosen for the Singapore and New York “Dispatch Programs,” where they were mentored by venture capitalists, serial entrepreneurs, and others.
KrASIA spoke to three of the ten startups selected for the Singapore dispatch, which ran from Jan. 8 to 18.
Satoko Kono, founder of Arun, which means “dawn” in Khmer, invests in social entrepreneurs and provides business advisory services. She started her company in 2009 and feels strongly about the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, previously being a development worker in Cambodia for ten years.
Kono focuses on alleviating poverty, but has realized that providing financial aid wasn’t enough to create a sustainable source of income for those facing constant financial hardship. She established a startup that carried out impact investing, which was limited in Japan at the time, particularly when it came to funding initiatives founded by women.
“It has been a tremendous experience,” she said of her time in Singapore, adding that she met various investors as well as ecosystem builders in accelerators and incubators. Kono appreciated the exposure to Singapore and other Southeast Asian markets.
Mentorship from other female entrepreneurs and investors has been invaluable, she said. The people she encountered have given her valuable referrals and networking opportunities, Kono added.
Her one piece of advice to other women entrepreneurs? “Be open and be courageous.”
Yuko Kuma, founder and CEO of Mamoru Inc., started her company a year-and-a-half ago. It has an online reporting system for students and teachers who witness bullying in schools.
Kuma said that during her time in Singapore, she surveyed Japanese expatriate wives and mothers living there to find out if she could offer a new service for them in addition to her current platform. Commenting on APT Women, Kuma said she valued the feedback she received from her mentors, adding that she enjoys learning from other entrepreneurs and hopes to collaborate with some of them. Her idea, she said, is to expand her current business to Singapore and then the rest of Asia.
KrASIA also spoke to Waris Co. co-founder and CEO Miwa Tanaka. She and two other women started their company in 2013. They offer two services: Waris Professional links female freelancers with companies seeking to outsource projects, and Waris Work Again bundles career counseling with career placement for female workforce returnees.
Tanaka said she was drawn to APT Women because it encourages female entrepreneurs to expand their operations globally. “I learned quite a lot from the program, I received a lot of advice and many insights, which were helpful.” She added she now hopes to expand Waris to Vietnam (where one of the co-founders lives), Singapore, Malaysia, and eventually the rest of Southeast Asia.
Below is the full list of the ten startups for the Singapore dispatch program:
Visit the website of the Acceleration Program in Tokyo for Women for more information.
KrASIA is a media partner.