Country Guide

Japan

Japan

Guest Editor

Phillip Vincent

CEO of Plug and Play Japan

Phillip Vincent is the Managing Partner of Plug and Play East Asia and CEO of Plug and Play Japan, a subsidiary of Plug and Play Tech Center located in Silicon Valley. In 2014, he started working in the Silicon Valley headquarters and headed both the IoT and Mobility vertical division before moving to Tokyo to launch Plug and Play Japan in 2017.


Guest editors are local ecosystem leaders: successful founders, investors, or thought leaders. Have someone in mind? Nominate a country guest editor.

Disclaimer: all content within the Startup Ecosystem Summary and Editor’s Guide sections is written by and reflects the personal perspective of the guest editor. The guest editor is not responsible for content within the Country Snapshot and Community sections, as much of this content is compiled from external sources and does not necessarily reflect the guest editor’s view.

Startup ecosystem summary

Key Startup Cities

Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka

Connected Country Ecosystems

United States, Taiwan, Thailand

Differentiators

  • Large domestic market with major players
  • Growth of investment (VCs and CVCs) for the last 5 years
  • Local municipalities offering Startup Visa Program (Tokyo, Kobe, Fukuoka and more)

Challenges

  • Hiring bilingual talents
  • Difficulty of the Japanese language or customs for outsiders
  • Still low international ambition among local startups since the local market is huge
  • Underutilized cutting-edge technologies in big enterprises

Editor's Guide

Introduction

Japan has been experiencing the 4th period of the venture capital boom over the last 5 years. As a result of the increasing investments, the Japanese startup ecosystem is gradually maturing. Furthermore, traditional major corporations are starting to expand their business into new areas while significantly increasing their investments into startups over the last decade.This explains why investments toward startups in 2018 were five times bigger than those of 2013 (source: Japan Startup Finance Report 2018). Although there have been a growing number of opportunities for the Japanese startup ecosystem, the lack of young people who are aspiring entrepreneurs is one of the challenges. The percentage of young people who are willing to start up companies has been decreasing since 1997, which highlights the gap between other developed countries’s startup ecosystems and that of Japan. In order to catch up, it is essential for the Japanese startup ecosystem to support and work on human resource development.

Outlook

The Japanese startup ecosystem is scaling rapidly in order to catch up with the global standard, having an increasing number of services to support startups such as matching services for hiring engineers, coworking spaces, and startup-focused media. Furthermore, there have been new funding opportunities for Japanese startups such as Kickstarter, which started service in Japan in 2017. As a result, in 2020, 51 Japanese startups joined CES and the number was doubled compared to 2019. J-Startup, a governmental support program for startups, was started in 2018, and in 2020, three regional branches were established in order to empower startups all over Japan. Although the opportunities for Japanese startups have increased in various ways, there is more room for the Japanese startup ecosystem to grow support infrastructure such as pitch events and incubation programs compared to other global ecosystems. How to introduce new opportunities to Japanese startups and how to move things forward quickly will be the key for the future of the ecosystem.

Featured Tech Startups

Editor’s choice of the country’s top 10 emerging tech startups.

Startup Showcase

Editor’s pick of which ‘Featured Startup’ is especially worth following and why.

Liquid mine is a novel deep-tech startup originating from the Institute of Medical Science, the University of Tokyo that provides tailor-made liquid biopsy solutions with next-generation genome sequencing and gene monitoring systems, especially for leukemia patients. The CEO, Mr. Kishimoto comes from a pharmaceutical background and is working hard to solve patients’ problems. The annual number of leukemia cases in Japan exceeds 13,000, and the number is on the rise. In addition, the acute form of leukemia progresses quickly, and the five-year survival rate is still low even with the ever-advancing medical care. Tests for leukemia are highly invasive, and patients face a heavy burden of physical, mental, and financial expenses. Liquid Mine offers personalized liquid biopsy as a solution to the above to save the lives of as many patients as possible. Furthermore, in the U.S., the market is expected to expand up to 10 times larger than the domestic leukemia market.

Focus Industries

Editor’s choice of the industries with the most potential for technology disruption and growth.

HealthtechMedtech in particular in a focus industry in Japan. Combining a variety of technologies and services such as sensors, machine learning, and SaaS, it will continue its contribution to the medical industry.
RoboticsWith an aging population, Japan will surely need robotics in order to sustain its society.
TransportationJapan has an advanced transportation system, and with ever-evolving technology, there can be expected further growth in the industry.

Talent

Editor’s perspective of the maturity level of talent in the ecosystem.

  • Technical TalentAdvanced
  • Marketing TalentModerate
  • Experienced TalentAdvanced
  • International TalentModerate

Culture and History

Editor’s commentary on how the country’s culture and history have impacted the ecosystem.

Since the ten biggest Japanese companies’ GDP accounts for about 25% of the national GDP, the Japanese startup ecosystem is not inseparable from how traditional Japanese companies act in the economy. 25% of the national GDP is a significant amount as Japan has the third biggest GDP in the world. As it is crystal clear that traditional Japanese companies have huge power and influence, it is not realistic for startups to suddenly change the power balance in industries.Thus, it is crucial for startups to build good relationships with corporations. Because the way traditional companies work has gradually changed from being self-sufficient to being innovative over the years, startups have more chances to play roles in bigger corporations’ projects. This is a positive sign for startups as it indicates that the market is getting more inclusive. Although more and more traditional companies are willing to be startup-friendly, there is still a tendency in Japanese business culture where they are too sensitive to take risks and make mistakes. According to OECD’s statistics, Japanese venture capital investments as a percentage of GDP has been under 0.05% whereas that of the US has been more than 0.6% over the last few years. As being innovative is diving into the unknown with a lot of risks, this is something that must be overcome in order to grow the Japanese startup ecosystem.

Interested in becoming more involved in this ecosystem and connecting with local ecosystem leaders? Let us know.

Community

Active Investors

ANOBAKA (Tokyo): ANOBAKA is a Tokyo-based venture capital firm. ANOBAKA actively invests in and supports startups aiming to be a global leader in the innovative Internet business. In addition to investment financing, ANOBAKA provides founders with business support. (Source: Crunchbase)

ANRI (Tokyo): Founded in 2012, ANRI is a venture capital firm based in Tokyo, Japan. The firm seeks to invest in companies operating in the consumer, blockchain, enterprise and technology sectors. (Source: Pitchbook)

Beyond Next Ventures (Tokyo): Beyond Next Ventures was founded to invest tech startups in Japan. It aims at making seeds of technology developed by universities and young entrepreneurs into practical use. (Source: Beyond Next Ventures)

Coral Capital (Tokyo): Coral Capital focuses on early stage startups and provides startup-centered support like community, recruiting, and fundraising. (Source: Coral Capital)

CyberAgent Capital (Tokyo): CyberAgent Capital specializes in startups in the field of Internet Business. They play an active role in investing in foreign startups and have operations in 8 countries. (Source: CyberAgent Capital)

D4V (Tokyo): D4V (Design for Ventures) is a Tokyo-based early-stage venture capital firm that invests in disruptive, consumer and enterprise technology startups. Partnering with the global design company IDEO, D4V provides both hands-on assistance and coaching to help startups create value via human-centered customer experiences and interactions. (Source: D4V)

DBJ Capital (Tokyo): DBJ Capital is a venture capital firm with an extensive investment track record in the high-tech sector and in biotech, which is considered to take more time to make noticeable results due to its complexity. (Source: DBJ Capital)

DCM (Tokyo): DCM is a venture capital firm with over $4 billion under management. Since 1996, the company has invested in more than 400 technology companies across the U.S. and Asia. (Source: DCM)

DNX Ventures (Tokyo): DNX Ventures is an early-stage Venture Capital firm investing in B2B Startups based in Silicon Valley and Tokyo. The company partners with teams that are shaping industries and transforming the way we live and work. (Source: DNX Ventures)

East Ventures Japan (Tokyo): East Ventures is a seed-early and growth stage venture capital firm based in Singapore, Indonesia & Tokyo. Founded in 2009, the company has invested in over 170 companies in Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the US. (Source: East Ventures)

Future Venture Capital (Kyoto): Future Venture Capital was established in 1998 in Kyoto, Japan. The company is one of the few VC companies that are listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange- "JASDAQ". The company invests positively in venture enterprises in early stages. (Source: Future Venture Capital)

Genesia Ventures (Tokyo): Genesia Ventures is a venture capital firm focused on seed/early stage startups in Japan and Southeast Asia. Since its inception in Dec 2016, Genesia Ventures has invested in over 90 companies in Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and the US. (Source: Crunchbase)

Global Brain (Tokyo): GB supports startups and their professionals discover excellent startups through their multiple global locations and provide growth support through hands-on.The total asset under management is more than 100 billion yen. (Source: LinkedIn)

Globis Capital Partners (Tokyo): One of the biggest independent venture capitals in Japan focusing on growth stage-startups. They have recorded 36 IPOs and 18 M&A. (Source: Globis Capital Partners)

Incubate Fund (Tokyo): They have operated more than $400M funds focusing on seed/early stage startups and started an acceleration program called “Incubation Camp” in 2010. (Source: Incubate Fund)

JAFCO (Tokyo): JAFCO invests in various fields such as biotechnology, life sciences, and regenerative medicine. The total number of IPO invested by them is over 1000. Total amount of funds under management is over 1T yen. (Source: JAFCO)

Mitsubishi UFJ Capital (Tokyo): Mitsubishi UFJ Capital is the venture capital arm of Mitsubishi UFJ Group, one of the biggest banks in Japan. They cover startups in various fields and stages and established a $100M fund for life science startups in 2017. (Source: MUFG Capital)

NISSAY Capital (Tokyo): The venture capital of Nippon Life Insurance Company Group was founded in 1991. Their portfolio covers IT, IoT, medical, bio, healthcare, and manufacturing. One of their features is that they operate their funds with the life insurance premium from their clients. (Source: NISSAY Capital)

NVCC (Tokyo): NVCC provides support from business establishments to management support and mainly focuses on the medical, environmental, and IT fields. (Source: NVCC)

Plug and Play Ventures Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka): Plug and Play invests in seed and early-stage startups, regardless of whether the company has been selected into Plug and Play's accelerator program or not, and regardless of their business domain. (Source: Plug and Play Ventures)

Samurai Incubate (Tokyo): Samurai Incubate is one of the largest early stage investors in Japan. Investing in more than 120 startups, the company manages 5 funds and 2 co-working spaces in Japan & Israel. (Source: Samurai Incubate)

SBI Investment (Tokyo): SBI investment has launched various funds for IT, bio/life science, environment, and energy. As of Dec 2020, the number of investments they have conducted is 986 and 17.1% of the companies they invested in succeeded in M&A or IPO. (Source: SBI Investment)

Scrum Ventures (Tokyo): Scrum Ventures is a seed-stage venture firm investing across a range of industries in the U.S. and Japan. Based in San Francisco with extensive experience and networks in both Silicon Valley and Japan, Scrum Ventures accelerates portfolio companies with global opportunities and helps corporations innovate. (Source: Scrum Ventures)

SMBC Capital Investment (Tokyo): The venture capital of the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Group, which was founded when SMBC Capital and N.I.F Ventures merged in 2005. (Source: StartupDB)

STRIVE (Tokyo): STRIVE focuses on investing in early-stage (Seed to Series A) internet and mobile companies. It seeks out companies in Japan, Southeast Asia, and India. (Source: Crunchbase)

The University of Tokyo Edge Capital (Tokyo): One of the leading venture capitals when it comes to investment in startups using cutting edge technology emerging from universities. (Source: UTEC)

W ventures (Tokyo): W ventures is a Japan-based venture capital firm investing in Pre-Seed, Seed, and Series A rounds. They have invested in 25 companies in a total of about a year from the start of investment activities in April 2019. (Source: Crunchbase)

WiL (Tokyo): World Innovation Lab (WiL) is a US & Japan-based venture capital firm with a capital base from governments and leading global corporations based in Japan and throughout Asia. (Source: LinkedIn)

XTech Ventures (Tokyo): XTech Ventures aims to achieve dramatic growth for its portfolio companies by supporting entrepreneurship, multifaceted management support, and IPO support for experienced individuals who are enthusiastic about entrepreneurship. (Source: Crunchbase)

YJ Capital (Tokyo): Corporate venture capital of Yahoo Japan in Z holdings. They offer not only investment but also the tremendous number of users, human networks, know-how of various business domains accumulated from more than 20 years of Internet businesses. YJ merged with LINE Ventures in April 2021 to form Z Venture Capital. (Source: TechCrunch)

incubators

Archetype (Tokyo): Archetype runs an acceleration program for a wide range of technologies primarily in Japan.

ASAC (Tokyo): Aoyama Acceleration Center, operated by Deloitte Venture Thomatsu Support, provides consulting, residence, human connections, and co-working space.

FoundX (Tokyo): FoundX is an acceleration program for alumnus, researchers, former researchers of University of Tokyo. All of their programs are free of charge.

IBM BlueHub (Tokyo): It is run by IBM Japan and supports startups making use of IBM’s technologies.

Phoenixi (Kyoto): Phoenixi provides an incubation program with residential and food service based in Kyoto.

accelerators

50M (Tokyo): Backed by Nissay Capital Ventures, it offers 5 million yen for its winners, one of the largest amounts of funding among acceleration programs for seed/early stage startups.

BRAVE (Tokyo): Launched in 2016, BRAVE's acceleration program focuses on seed stage technology startup and is run by Beyond Next Ventures.

Code Republic (Tokyo): Co-hosted by YJ capital and East ventures. It aims to achieve PMF and Series A funding through a 4 month program. An investor is assigned to provide extensive support for each startup.

GAKUcelarator (Tokyo): GAKUcelarator is an acceleration program for early stage startups founded by students.

insprout (Tokyo): insprout focuses on supporting startups such as ABEJA, CAMPFIRE,and gumi.

Open Network Lab (Tokyo): Open Network Lab runs a 3 month acceleration program for seeds stage startups twice a year. The alumnus from their program include Smart HR, FOND, WHiLL, and Mobingi.

Plug and Play Japan (Tokyo): Global innovation platform which aims to build a world-class platform that drives innovation and connects industry leading corporations with domestic and international startups.

Startups Raising Capital
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conferences

B Dash Camp (Fukuoka): B Dash Ventures hold the event twice a year which includes networking, panel discussions, and a pitch event.

Innovation Leaders Summit (Online/Tokyo): One of the biggest matching events between startups and enterprises in Asia.

Social Innovation Week (Tokyo): Annual event and networking opportunity where diverse social entrepreneurs and creators gather to discuss the future of social impact.

TechCrunch Tokyo (Tokyo): A pitch event session where 20 startups are pitching in front of around 2500 participants.

meetups

Earthkey Pitch (Tokyo): A casual pitch event for seed and early stage startups that takes place on the 16th of every month.

Government Programs

J-Startup: Launched in 2018, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) run the program in collaboration with large enterprises.

Shibuya Startup Support: An initiative led by the Tokyo Shibuya City Office to invite global founders to start a business in Shibuya, Tokyo. Shibuya City supports a 1-year Startup Visa, support opening bank accounts, and help finding office spaces for free.

Transformer Japan Lab: Incubation program for young entrepreneurs trying to solve environmental issues, operated by the Ministry of Environment.

Non-Government Organizations

edge: edge is a nonprofit organization that holds a pitch contest for entrepreneurs to improve their business plans.

Endeavor Japan: Japanese branch of endeavor providing a wide range of support through its global community.

ETIC: ETIC runs various programs to cultivate entrepreneurship.

Japan Startup Support Association: Its mission is to create global startups from Japan and make a better startup ecosystem.

Sunryse: Leading platform for Japanese Corporations to discover innovative companies and startups from around the globe.

Country Snapshot

Economy

Startup funding
Startup funding
US$4.32 billion (2020)
Standard of living
Standard of living
Global rank: N/A
Innovation
Innovation
Global rank: 16 (2020)
Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship
Global rank: 28 (2023)
Annual GDP growth
Annual GDP growth
1.0% (2022)
(Global avg. 3.0%)
Ease of doing business
Ease of doing business
Global rank: 30 (2019)
Ease of starting a business
Ease of starting a business
Global rank: 106
Research and development
Research and development
3.3% of GDP
(Global avg. 2.3%)
Contract enforcement
Contract enforcement
Global rank: 50

Sources

Startup Funding: INITIAL
STANDARD OF LIVING: International Monetary Fund - GDP per capita (PPP)
INNOVATION: Global Innovation Index
ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Global Entrepreneurship Index
ANNUAL GDP GROWTH: World Bank
EASE OF DOING BUSINESS: World Bank
EASE OF STARTING A BUSINESS: World Bank
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT: World Bank
CONTRACT ENFORCEMENT: World Bank

*Updated with latest available data based on listed source.

Society

Population
Population
123.3 million (2023)
Government
Government
Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
Stability
Stability
Global rank: 11 (2020)
Internet usage
Internet usage
82.9% (2021)
Smartphone usage
Smartphone usage
59.9% (2020)
Literacy
Literacy
N/A
Population under 15
Population under 15
11% (2022)
Median age
Median age
N/A

Sources

POPULATION: Worldometer
GOVERNMENT: The World Factbook
STABILITY: Global Innovation Index
INTERNET USAGE: International Telecommunications Union
SMARTPHONE USAGE: Newzoo
LITERACY: World Bank
POPULATION UNDER 15: World Bank
MEDIAN AGE: The World Factbook

*Updated with latest available data based on listed source.

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