High Tech Entrepreneurs in Japan launching against the odds
As Japan’s aging tech giants like Sony and Panasonic continue to falter, a new generation of Japanese technology entrepreneurs is stepping up. While their numbers are small compared to those in the United States, they are turning to a bevy of start-up incubators and even to financing from Silicon Valley. And so-called start-up dating salons, like the bar in central Tokyo, are helping to match would-be collaborators.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in Japan right now, and that’s actually made younger Japanese more willing to take risks and try out new ideas,” said Hiro Maeda, 26. Mr. Maeda went to college at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania and worked on several start-ups in the United States before returning to Japan to create Open Network Lab, a Tokyo-based incubator.
Open Network Lab has financed five rounds of start-ups since its start in 2010. Mr. Maeda said it received close to 100 applications during its latest round this year — more than twice the number from the previous year. The lab provides early funds, office space and mentoring.
Japan badly needs an infusion of entrepreneurial blood. With its economy sluggish and its population graying, the country slipped to No. 25 in the most recent ranking of global innovation by the United Nations, falling out of the top 20 for the first time since the survey began in 2007.
And it has become increasingly clear that the country’s big electronics firms cannot be counted on to drive innovation. Japan’s top tech giants in products from televisions to smartphones — their competitiveness sapped by a strong yen — are racking up huge losses and being overtaken by nimbler, cheaper overseas rivals.