Special Feature
Japan Opportunities for Start-ups
Japan Opportunities for Start-ups日本初創機遇

Japan’s many major global corporations helped the country become a byword for manufacturing excellence and advanced technology in the second half of the 20th century. Today, as technology evolves ever more rapidly, Japan’s big companies are keen to tap into the innovative ideas emerging from start-ups: the amount of funding from corporate investors has increased about fifteen-fold in the past five years alone.

Takuya Matsutani, CEO of the Innovation Leaders Summit (ILS), visited the Chamber recently to introduce the summit to PR and Programmes Director Malcolm Ainsworth, and explain how it  can help link Hong Kong start-ups with Japanese companies.

The ILS was launched in 2014 with support from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Last year’s event had more than 11,000 participants (a 63% increase from the previous year) including representatives from more than 100 corporations and 500 start-ups. 

The list of corporate participants reads like a roll call of Japan’s most famous names. Last year’s list includes Panasonic, Toshiba, Suntory, Toyota and Hitachi. Of the start-ups, 75 of the participating companies were from overseas, including the United States, Canada, Israel and France. There were also representatives from Asia-based start-ups, as Matsutani explained.

“At last year’s ILS, 10 start-ups were from Taiwan, 20 came from Korea. But from Hong Kong – none,”  he said. “So I hope that Hong Kong start-ups will participate this year.”

Matsutani explained why the country’s major corporations were keen to build relationships with start-ups. 

“In Japan, most competitive big companies are in the manufacturing sector,” he said. 

“But they can no longer only compete on the products, but also in technology development, which is extremely competitive.” 

The ILS is an invitation-only system where start-ups that have been recommended by support organizations can participate. Once accepted, the main part of the programme is “Power Matching” – a series of one-on-one meetings between start-ups and corporates. 

Last year’s overseas participants met an average of 6.5 corporates, and more than 1,000 alliance deals were done.  

One example of a successful deal was between a start-up and Shiseido. The beauty giant is also active in the health field and the product being developed is a device for delivering tailored supplements. 

“This start-up has the technology to make the supplements according to the clients needs and their health condition,” said Matsutani. “So the ILS matched Shiseido with this start-up, as they are very interested in this area of biotechnology and healthcare.”

The summit is also becoming increasingly international. Matsutani recently returned from a fruitful visit to Europe, where organizations including the Finnish Embassy and the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce discussed becoming members. Matsutani added that the ILS would also like to have a Hong Kong representative as an advisor, and on his visit to Hong Kong, he also visited Cyberport and Hong Kong Science and Technology Park.

Matsutani explained some of the benefits for both sides of Hong Kong start-ups participating in the ILS.

“The Hong Kong market is relatively small, so when start-ups launch, it is difficult for them to go global. Japanese corporations already have the global network,” he said. “Also, Hong Kong is very mature in AI, big data and data science, particularly in the fintech area.”

Besides the Power Matching, the programme also includes venture pitches, meetings with prominent managers and networking events. This year’s ILS will take place in late October; more information is available at https://ils.tokyo/