How to Start a Business

If you're considering to startup a business in Japan, this community is a must to visit

February 28, 2024

Common concerns for startups looking to enter Japan

When overseas startups enter Japan, "networking with locals" is a common concern for both major corporations and startups alike.

- Which communities should you go to to connect with Japanese startups?

- What kinds of organizations actually invest in Japanese startups?

- Is the Japanese startup scene really getting bigger right now?

I visited Venture Cafe Tokyo, an organization run by CIC Tokyo, which aims to be the first home for startups expanding. Their mission is to "connect people with each other," focusing on three keywords: LEARN, CONNECT, and SHARE.

While talking with Ryusuke Komura, Director of Venture Cafe Tokyo, he explained how the organization helps global startups network and share knowledge when setting up business in Japan.

"The process of building a new business, in other words, innovation, is all about human connection. If I had to sum up what we do at VentureCafe in one word, it would be 'connecting people to people' - that's our mission." - Ryusuke Komura, Director of Venture Cafe Tokyo

(Source : ZIPANG)

Place where major Japanese companies and startups alike gather

Q.Hi Mr. Komura. Thank you for taking time for this interview.

Komura: It's a pleasure to meet you, Jin! Thank you for traveling all the way to Tokyo. And welcome to our Venture Cafe Tokyo.

Q. Could you start by introducing yourself and tell us a little more about Venture Cafe Tokyo?

Ko: My name is Ryusuke Komura, and I'm the Program Director at Venture Cafe Tokyo. We launched Venture Cafe Tokyo in 2018 with funding from Boston. In Japan, we have five locations: Tokyo, Nagoya, Tsukuba, Gifu, and Osaka.

Q. What kind of support can startups get at Venture Cafe Tokyo?

Ko: We mainly work to match people with people. Human contact is critical in the process of starting a new business. That's why our mission is to create a place where people can meet and make innovation.

(Thursday Gathering at Venture Cafe Tokyo, Source: ZIPANG)

Q. I'd like to ask you about the first thing you mentioned, which is networking. Specifically, what kind of networking events do you organize at Venture Cafe Tokyo?

Ko: Well, to be precise, we have a MeetUp event called 'Thursday Gathering'. There are three core keywords : Run, Connect, Share.

Learn is our Educational Session, where we hold talks or workshops on topics related to innovation such as panel discussions, lectures, and seminars. 

Previously, various companies and organizations ranging from large, well-established enterprises to startups in Japan hosted sessions. \

Recently, I held a generative AI-themed session. We also invited startup CEOs, executives from IT giants in Japan and abroad as well as the Director of the Digital Agency(デジタル庁).

(*the role of the Digital Agency is to supervise the affairs of the departments, organizing the work of the agency).

The second keyword is Connect.

The networking space will remain open during the event, and we're encouraging people to network freely. We also give out free drink vouchers to people who come, so they can get something to drink, like beer, water, or juice.

We're trying to create an atmosphere where people can feel comfortable and meet new people.

The last one is Share. Our Thursday Gathering, which I mentioned, has about 400 people come every Thursday. It's been going on for five years now, since 2018, and participants come from all walks of life.

We also have a wide network of connections in Japan.Through that network, we've arranged office hours where mentors share their knowledge.

At Office Hours, the mentees attended sessions with Mr. Uchiyama, President of UNERRY(a business that interprets data), Mr. Osaki of NVIDIA JAPAN, Mr. Fukuda who is CIO of Fujitsu, Mr. Asanuma of the Digital Agency(a government organization that has a policy of fostering startups).

Q.Mr. Komura, what kind of people attend Office Hours?

Ko: Most of the mentors are entrepreneurs or business professionals who have started their own business. There are also many people who have started a business before and want to share their knowledge. 

In terms of participants, we have a lot of people from the startup ecosystem, from universities to startups, government to venture capitalists.

Q. So literally anyone involved in the startup ecosystem can come.

Ko: That's right. About 25% of the attendees are involved in the startup field. CVCs and startup support organizations are about 25% of the total. And 10% are students, 10% are from administrative organizations. There are also people who are thinking about starting a business as their future careers.

What global startups need when expanding into Japan

Q. Founders who want to expand to Japan usually have concerns such as finding a distributor in Japan, establishing a corporation, and how to open a bank account. Do you provide support in these cases?

Ko: For those people, I would like to say that they should join the Thursday Gathering because I believe that they can solve their problems through networking. In addition, it is a great channel as a community to take their first steps in Japan since you can join both offline and online by just applying for participation. 

From startups that you can collaborate with to major Japanese companies and VCs, you can resolve the problems you mentioned through networking. You can meet not only Japanese people but also international entrepreneurs who have obtained a startup visa in Japan. I recommend having a conversation with them.

In Venture Cafe Tokyo, there are a wide range of visitors from Japanese private companies, chief officers of US/Korea/Thailand firms to embassies from Europe.

Through various channels, you can gradually expand your footprint when starting a business in Japan. In particular, among Korean companies, we will hold an event in collaboration with Wrtn, which provides generative AI services.

*VentureCafe Tokyo Thursday Gathering information page :

Q. What are the requirements to become a partner of Venture Cafe Tokyo?

Koh: There are no requirements. We've mostly partnered with leading Japanese companies and industry organizations, such as JETRO. I still think it would be interesting to have an event to showcase the startup ecosystems in each country and have players interact with each other.

Q. I'd like to ask you about the mentoring services you provide at Venture Cafe Tokyo. Can we consider the 'Office Hours' you mentioned earlier as a mentoring service?

Ko: That's right. To summarize Office Hours in a nutshell, you can get free mentoring from our mentors while utilizing the networking that Venture Cafe Tokyo has.

The idea is that in the early stages of a startup, it's often hard to find someone to discuss your problems. We wanted to solve that problem for you.

Q. Have you ever offered mentoring services for women entrepreneurs?

Ko: We have some female mentors, so you can get counseling related to women's entrepreneurship.

I believe that Japan still needs to do more to become a gender-equal society. To contribute to this, we also hold sessions based on the keyword "women" in our Venture Cafe. 

(Source : rocket pitch festival 2023)

1000+ people come together to pitch their business around the clock

Q. I also heard that Venture Cafe Tokyo has a huge pitching competition called 'Rocket Pitch'. Can you tell us about the Rocket Pitch competition?

Ko: We started the Rocket Pitch competition in 2019. It's the largest pitching competition in Japan, which led to the expansion of Venture Cafe. It's a pitching contest that was set up with the idea of "let's just pitch like crazy for a whole day." A total of 80~100 groups participate.

Q. It's just pitching all day, right?

Ko: That's right, and now it's a famous event in Tokyo with over 1,000 participants per event. It's held twice a year. 

At the ROCKET PITCH NIGHT FESTIVAL in 2023, we had 1,200 participants. 70% of the attendees were offline and 30% were online.

All of the people who pitched were there in person. Recently, we've been trying to go in different directions by leveraging the IP "Rocket Pitch," such as Rocket Pitch Kansai and Rocket Pitch UNDER-18.

Q. UNDER-18 is a competition for young people who are 18 years old or younger. What are they pitching about?

Koh: There were about 30 youths who joined UNDER-18. Most of them wanted to solve social issues in their area of life.

In recent years, entrepreneurial education has been emphasized in Japan. More and more junior high schools, high schools, and universities are introducing entrepreneurial programs. I guess this social change has also influenced the participants.

Q. I was wondering who can attend Rocket Pitch Night and how does it work?

KO: The concept of Rocket Pitch Night is "Let's support entrepreneurs!".

We wanted to create a place where a lot of people can come together to promote innovation for startups that don't have enough resources, so that entrepreneurs can grow. The pitches are 3 minutes long, and the whole day is dedicated to pitching.

Q. Who else comes to the event besides those who pitch?

Ko: There are also people who comment on the pitches. They don't literally evaluate the pitches with a score or anything, but they give advice on what the founders need to improve. The commentators are people who support innovation, such as Japanese VCs, overseas VCs, and accelerators.

Q. At what stage does the judging process take place?

Ko: The judge doesn't do the actual jury, but rather the other attendees vote for the teams they agree with in the pitch. It's not about whether the idea is good or bad, or whether there's a grade difference, but how much the pitch resonated with them. If it did, they would vote.

Q.  It reminds me of AKB48's general election or Korea's Produce 101-like system.

Ko: (Laughs) It may be similar in terms of voting, but I think the purpose is a little different. If possible, I prefer for everyone to participate, not just the managers. I believe that everyone who comes to Venture Cafe together builds Venture Cafe. 

Venture Cafe is a community of people. I don't think Venture Cafe Tokyo is owned by the staff. I don't feel like it's owned by the judges either. It's owned by the people who participate.

Q. Is it fair to say that everyone works together to build Venture Cafe Tokyo?

Ko: That's right. We want Venture Cafe to be a platform where everyone can be a part of it. That's why we have a wide variety of people come. We have people from the business idea stage to the Series A stage. 

Basically, anyone can join with an idea base, even if the service is not yet developed. The pass rate for pitching is about 2:1 to 3:1, and the proportion of selections is based on each stage. For example, we select about N people in the idea base stage, X people in the prototype stage, A people in the seed stage, and so on.

Q. Is there anything else that you consider important?

For instance, we try to provide equal representation in terms of gender. To remove the language barrier, we have both English and Japanese pitches, because we have people from all over the world.

Q. Are there any benefits to getting through the pitch process?

Koh: Well, the benefits are thanks to the support of many people. Last time, we gave the People Choice winners access to a co-working space at CIC, the largest innovation hub in Japan. One of our sponsors is Able Carry, a Hong Kong-based suitcase brand, and they provided the bags.

Q. Can foreign startups participate?

Koh: Absolutely. If you open the Rocket Pitching application page, you can apply by filling out the details there.

Q. Where did the VCs come from?

Ko: Both Japanese VCs and international VCs were involved. In Japan, traditional and well-known VCs and accelerators participated, and in Asia, Singaporean VCs participated.

Future of startup community and ecosystem of Japan

Q. Mr. Komura, in your opinion, how would you like to see rocket pitches in the future?

Ko: I would like people from other countries who are confused about how to start a business in Japan to join the Rocket Pitching Competition first, as it is really easy to participate. This event could become a global gateway to welcome people from all over the world to Japan.

(At Venture Cafe Tokyo, you can also see autographs from Prime Minister Kishida and other famous startups including Preferred Networks, Source : ZIPANG)

Q. Are there any additional things that major Japanese companies and venture capital firms are specifically looking for in a startup? 

Ko: As a Japanese VC, there is no difference in the characteristics that we look for in a startup. We look for growth, whether it is a business that fits the market, how big the business will be, and how well they can work as a team. 

And in Japan, there are different things that we look for depending on whether it's actually seed stage or Series A, and what the sector is. For example, it's hard for research-type startups to generate monetization right away, right? So for research-type, I assume that you need to utilize funding in the early stages.

Q. What are the trends in the amount of startup investment in Japan?

Ko: In Japan, the risk money market increased in 2022. Although the number of companies receiving investment decreased, the amount of money received per case increased. In 2022, Japanese risk money was 900 billion yen. There is a possibility that risk money will grow even more in the future.

Q. Lastly, do you have any message for overseas startups from Mr. Komura?

Ko: Please come to the Thursday Gathering by all means.

I think human-to-human contact is an important asset. You can create new businesses across borders. If you come to Japan, please feel free to apply for Venture Cafe Tokyo's Thursday Gathering and take a step!

*Go to Venture Cafe Tokyo event

‍Written by ZIPANG (Link)

※Original Source : 일본 진출 스타트업의 첫 번째 보금자리, Venture Cafe Tokyo 인터뷰 

※This article was not reviewed for English translation by the original author


Active Here: 0
Be the first to leave a comment.
Someone is typing
No Name
4 years ago
This is the actual comment. It's can be long or short. And must contain only text information.
Your comment will appear once approved by a moderator.
No Name
2 years ago
This is the actual comment. It's can be long or short. And must contain only what if text information.
Load More
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Load More


Japan business coaching, strategy consulting, business trend lectures, and more, to help overseas companies settle into the market quickly and reliably when doing business in Japan.