2018 has seen a year of great ambition and activity in the NewSpace sector in Japan.
Starting with Prime Minister Abe`s launch of a new fund of 100 billion yen ($940 million) of venture capital contributed by the Development Bank of Japan, Industrial Innovation Organisations and many other stakeholders to make space happen in Japan.
Concurrently, the Government initiated S-Matching program led by members of about 46 members and investors teamed up to match-make the perfect startup- investor relationship. According to some, the success of such a program is too soon to tell, though my initial response is this is a very innovative idea, particularly when it is driven by the Government and supported by industry.
The few weeks, where I have had the opportunity to speak to many startups including: Astroscale, ispace, Infostellar, Gitai, Shojin meat Project and JAXA, Space Policy department from the Cabinet, Satellite Positioning Research and Application (SPAC) and stakeholders like Real Tech Fund, I started to ask what is the appetite for NewSpace in Japan?
For those already active in NewSpace, the answer is obvious.
If I had to make some preliminary observations about NewSpace in Japan it would be this:
- The individuals that I have spoken to regardless from industry or background, are interested in space
- They are keen to tap into the available resources be it private sector or Government to move their business closer to space
- There are challenges and particularly with startups how do they transition with working with just old space and connect with NewSpace or non-space players
- Space is exciting but hard, particularly for startups
So after much thought, it is the last comment that I would really like to build upon and make use of my time here in Japan.
What can you achieve with 6 months in Japan?
6 months is not a long time, 6 months is long – depending on how you look at it.
In a two hour meeting, which the ultimate question was what is your goal in Japan.
I humbly crossed my arms and looked up at the sky and thought – maybe a few more NewSpace startups?
It is difficult to talk business when you are talking about an infant sector, the prize is the vision of seeing the potential, and as all good entrepreneurs would say, seeing opportunities when those see none.
The journey has just started and I have to put my thanks forward to those that are welcoming me to visit their hometowns and cities, from Osaka to Fukuoka, Oita to Kyoto, Okinawa to Hokkaido.
My thinking is this. There is Silicon Valley, before that it was apricot groves, all good entrepreneurs would tell you this. Since Silicon Valley, every other city that has attempted to replicate the same buzz, the same talent has not quite got there. Why?
The magic is in the sauce, and nobody knows how to make it.
As I sat through a whole day on EU- Japan Regional collaborations, where city to city industries, share success stories and congratulate each other on collaboration. The more I listened the more I started questioning – what does it mean? Exactly?
In 2019, I am going to explore Japan and understand is there a potential for a EU-Japan Newspace hub and try to understand what and where exactly does the NewSpace appetite lie.
Is it dormant?
Is it alive and kicking?
Is it in its`infancy?
As I was invited to Nordic beer export tasting event, I asked the CEO, what are Japanese entrepreneurs good at? They answered,
improving things? The word kaizen came into my mind right away. What has Japanese business culture and etiquette taught us, much. Now I need to understand how can it go further? How can this talent, knowledge and capability be used to drive the industry upwards…..to space.
Hence, my logic of turning my original task into something more accessible to the people. I was tasked originally as part of my MINERVA fellow to deliver a 100 page report on how EU-Japan NewSpace businesses can collaborate together. Rather than doing that I decided a run a blog where I post weekly on my findings and invite submissions from startups, investors, and stakeholders themselves to contribute instead.
Also, I launched the EU- Japan NewSpace2060 Illustrated Haiku competition 2019 to engage the hearts and minds of the ordinary public. The vision is big, yet the task is simple. The simpler the better, they tell me, so I am listening.
Time, things take time, they tell me. Particularly in Japan.
So I will work with the available time, resources and talented individuals to see what we can achieve in the next 6 months.
Thank you everyone for making 2018 so great.
It has been a tough, exciting and engaging year. I look forward to 2019 and seeing NewSpace grow and particularly in EU-Japan NewSpace collaboration.
Emergent Technologies Expert Advisor on Space Applications & GNSS
MINERVA fellow, EU-Japan Centre