Business Insight

How a Japanese Student Organized a Baseball Tournament for 1,000 Players 2 Years After COVID-19 Cancellations

Venture Café Tokyo
April 22, 2024

This time, we would like to introduce you to Yuto Otake, who started his own business while still a university student.

Yuto Otake started a project to bring back the summer Koshien (well-known for nationwide high school baseball tournament) of 2020, which was lost due to the effects of the coronavirus. He says he learned a lot from Venture Café Tokyo regarding starting a business, starting a project, and managing it. 

*This Interview was taken in 2023

Choosing university with the goal of becoming a CEO

— You are attending the Musashino University Faculty of Entrepreneurship, the first of its kind in Japan, to focus on entrepreneurship.

Currently, in my third year, I chose this department because I thought becoming a CEO would allow me to gain power and perhaps send a message to society

(Source : SKY perfect JSAT Group)

I was a high school baseball player. When the Koshien baseball tournament was canceled in 2020, I realized that young people's voices hardly reach broader society. 

I wondered how young people like myself could make an impact and initiate change in society, and the idea I came up with, even as a high school student, was to become a company president. That was why I wanted to attend the Faculty of Entrepreneurship at Musashino University.

— I heard that you actually started a business.

In January 2022, I founded a limited liability company with six classmates from the same faculty. Our business involved creating programs to showcase the appeal of companies to prospective interns. 

Before starting my business, I had an unfounded confidence that I could do it, but reality was not so sweet. Starting a business and becoming a CEO was not difficult, but just becoming a CEO didn't change anything. 

We had been active for about six months. But now, the business has stopped, though it still exists on paper. When I calculate the hourly wage for those six months of activity, it doesn't even amount to 100 yen per hour. Actually starting a business made me realize how difficult it is to earn money.

Recognizing One's Own Folly Leads to Growth

— What is your relationship with Venture Café Tokyo?

It all started when I participated in an event hosted by a company at CIC Tokyo. The event involved creating a business idea in 24 hours and presenting it to investors in the final stage. 

I attended this event confident, feeling ready to showcase what I had learned from my wonderful professors. However, once I participated, I realized my presentation lacked focus and my speaking skills were poor. It was a tremendous shock. I knew I needed to do something to grow. 

Ryusuke Komura, Program Director of Venture Café Tokyo, participated as an advisor at this event. After consulting with him, he suggested I come to Venture Café Tokyo. From then on, I started going there every week.

(Refer to : Time to Change? Director of the most vibrant startup community in Japan reveals signs of Japanese venture trends

(Source : あの夏を取り戻せ 全国元高校球児野球大会実行委員会)

At Venture Café Tokyo, various sessions are held, and I had the opportunity to meet incredible people and learn a great deal. 

I received basic advice on what exactly needs to be done to establish a company. I had always intended to start a business, but the encouragement I received there really pushed me towards making it a reality. I founded my company about two months after I started attending Venture Café Tokyo.

For the first six months after starting my business, we had our own space at the venue of Venture Café Tokyo, where we hosted discussions with student groups and young entrepreneurs. We used to meet every week with about 10-15 people, and through this, I experienced the challenges of continuity and the difficulties in attracting an audience and customers.

— How did the business you established fare?

To be honest, things hardly ever went well (bitter smile). 

Many business owners visit Venture Café Tokyo, and we asked them what they would do in my situation or what I should do about the problems I faced. It's quite rare for students to have direct conversations with leading business owners, so I was very grateful for this opportunity.

As I mentioned before, I was taught by incredible professors at university, and we students had convinced ourselves that we were also talented. However, there's a huge difference between mere students and the business owners who come to Venture Café Tokyo. I realized how much I was like a frog in a well. 

Even so, feeling that difference in levels was also quite fascinating. Knowing my own foolishness, I believe, is what leads to opportunities and growth.

(As a baseball player in high school, Credit : Yuto Otake)

Launching the "Reclaim That Summer" Project

— In August 2022, you started the "Reclaim That Summer" project. What inspired you to begin this project?

I had been playing baseball from elementary school through high school. Baseball was essentially my whole life. 

However, in 2020, when I was a senior in high school, the global spread of COVID-19 led to the first cancellation of the "National High School Baseball Championship," the summer Koshien, since World War II. 

For high school baseball players, Koshien is something extraordinary. Everyone endures tough practice with the goal of making it to Koshien. The sudden loss of that opportunity was overwhelming; it felt like a denial of my life itself.

That feeling didn't fade even two years later. Whenever I met up with old teammates, our conversations would inevitably end with us expressing envy that the younger players had the chance to go to Koshien. 

Thinking that there must be many former high school baseball players who felt the same way, I decided to start the "Reclaim That Summer" project. The goal is to gather 49 schools that should have gone to Koshien to play there. 

As of July 10, 44 schools and about 1,000 former players have agreed to participate, and we've managed to secure Koshien Stadium for one day on November 29 in 2023. To cover costs, we began crowdfunding on June 7, 2023. The project’s purpose and specific plans were detailed on the crowdfunding page. 

(Press Conference of "Reclaim That Summer - National Former High School Baseball Players Tournament 2020-2023.", Source : Musashino University)

— The project has been featured in various media, and there are messages of support from celebrities on the crowdfunding page, right?

Over the past year, this project has been covered by over 100 media outlets including NHK News Watch 9 and ABEMA NEWS, from newspapers in Hokkaido to Okinawa, as well as TV and radio, thanks to the approximately 6,000 cold calls I made looking up every contact I could find. 

Initially, I was making all those calls myself. We lack knowledge, experience, or skills, so we're simply doing what we can in earnest.

Thankfully, the crowdfunding page got quite a bit of traffic because of media exposure. But the rate of financial support was still a challenge. We planned to expand our outreach through social media and corporate approaches. 

(Finally, the tournament finished successfully. Source : NHK)

Give Back Kindness I've Received to the Younger Generation

— Do you think your experience in starting a business has been useful in managing the project?

I really feel it has. For example, when I started the company, there were six of us, and we hadn't thought about roles, which made things difficult. 

So I started the "Reclaim That Summer" project by myself, and decided to bring in people as needed based on my resources. This approach came directly from my entrepreneurial experience.

— It seems you have a busy schedule with your studies and media appearances for the project's PR. Are you still connected with Venture Café Tokyo?

While I haven't officially declared it, I'm there so often that people consider me an ambassador for Venture Café Tokyo (laughs). I still got consultation by Mr. Komura when I encounter difficulties, and when my motivation dips despite my efforts, I go there to recharge. 

I believe that "environments change people", and being in a place like Venture Café Tokyo, where there are many high-level individuals, helps elevate my perspective.

(Source : remember_2020)
— What are your future goals?

The "Reclaim That Summer" project has been able to come this far because it's a nonprofit. However, being nonprofit has its limitations, and the lack of sustainability is not ideal. So, when I tackle another project in the future, I want to ensure it can "earn money properly," unlike my previous failure.

Also, there is one thing I am determined to do.

I often interact with "cool adults" who are leaders in their fields, and I owe them a great deal. When I succeed, I intend to repay them, but they invariably say:

"Don't pay us back directly; pass it on to the younger generation." 

It's essentially ‘paying it forward’. One way I plan to do this is by teaching at a university or similar institution about what I've learned, perhaps once a week. Of course, this isn't something I'll do right away, but when I'm in the position to do so, I fully intend to make it happen.

Written by Venture Cafe Tokyo (Link)

Visit Venture Cafe Tokyo website : 

*Original Post : HAPPEN #19: 大武 優斗さん(「あの夏を取り戻せプロジェクト」) - Venture Café Tokyo - Medium 


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Venture Café Tokyo
Venture Café Tokyo
Our vision is to connect Tokyo (& Japan) along with our global network - based individuals, communities and organizations into one tightly woven successful innovation network.