Entrepreneurship – Kyoto style I

Kyoto v1

source: Philipino Japanese Journal


Entering into the station at Kyoto is like future – meets past, a double helix of contrasts and contradictions, yet coupled and balanced with beauty, a marriage of peace of yin and yang.  Somehow it works, somehow the secret recipe of history and craftsman ship, whipped with innovative ideas, co-working spaces and design labs brings new blood to old soil.

What I found about Kyoto was that there is a hunger for activity and action.  Fortunate enough to have been the former capital of Japan, and blessed with beautiful shrines and temples, Kyoto is not in a hurry to choose a partner to match them in their dance.

neverendingvoyage.com 1

source: neverendingvoyage.com


On the contrary, Kyoto can choose whom they partner with, and who they wish to associate themselves with.  As I spoke with many entrepreneurs, professors, business people and Government advisors, they share a few trends with me, some ranging along the spectrum:

  • There is a growing tend of foreigners wishing to set up in Kyoto, like Osaka and Fukuoka
  • The local Government and Government agencies do want more businesses setting up in Kyoto
  • There are pockets of entrepreneurship however, there is yet to be a central point or hub for entrepreneurship
  • History and craftsmanship is Kyoto’s key strength
  • Trust and relationship plays a vital role in doing business in Kyoto
  • Kyoto has the largest number of students and hence talent both local and international for companies

Some more diverse views include:

  • Kyoto is open, and closed at the same time
  • Kyoto is a place based on the preservation of history with innovation
  • Change is hard
  • There are outer and inner circles and being invited is important

My overall observation was that Kyoto is very inviting, and not wishing to oversimplify it may be a matter of bringing those pockets of innovation, startups, accelerators, coworking spaces together.

Kyotostartupschool v1.jpeg

source: Kyoto Startup School


I had a chance to visit the Kyoto Design Lab and met with Associate Prof. Sushi Suzuki who is instrumental in setting up the Kyoto Startup School.   A pioneering program offering the tools of the trade of entrepreneurship, entrepreneurs apply to the program and for about 2 weeks are deeply engaged in workshops, seminars, lectures, mixers, company visits, panel discussions and a startup weekend.  There is a diverse and talented team of facilitators and coaches on board and from the looks of it the participants are equally diverse and global.  One could sense however, that the number of applications coming locally are relatively small compared to applications coming from abroad.  Why is that?


Kyoto startup school v2

source: Kyoto Startup School


Language could be a potential barrier to entry.  This is a theme I have observed in industries such as law and education.  Risk, is another factor and it depends on who you speak to.  Perhaps I should explain a little what I mean.  And my explanation is by no means conclusive, rather it is interpretative.

Risk compared to certainty is much to be desired in Japan, according to some of the entrepreneurs and professors I have spoken too.  When one senses about 80% of young graduates still aspire to working for a corporate with a stable job and income – embarking on entrepreneurship seems, for a less of a better word – bonkers.

webretailer.com v1

source: webretailer.com


Why take the risk of becoming an entrepreneur and live the life of uncertainty, when one’s stable career is?  Is it?  There was a mix of opinion.  Professor Philip Sugai from Doshisha University, and expert in marketing has a much more positive outlook on entrepreneurship in Japan.  The opportunities seem to be optimistic and positive particularly for the early stage startups, provided of course they make the right moves, get their marketing right, approach customers accordingly and build trust and the right relationships.

The Millenial Agoda v1

source: The Millenial- Agoda


For some foreign startups, it may be perceived too hard.  Then again, should one really be doing a startup if that is the kind of attitude one has?  When I went to visit Murakami Aya, Manager of The Millenials, a hotel and coworking space designed and targeted specifically for entrepreneurs and startups you get a sense that they are onto something.

A few years ago, I figured out that entrepreneurs can be mobile and work anywhere.  They actually do not need to be constrained by place, language or geography.  The Millenials is tapping into this mobile market of entrepreneurs and they organise daily get together through drinks and regular events.  The sentiment is similar to other discussions with entrepreneurs, the community would all benefit if they shared more information and resources.


source: The Japan Times


I truly appreciated this insight and was particularly pleased when I was invited to meet Wang Runan of Kyoto Shinkin bank and also with Hila Yamada of NPO Global Human Resources Development Center at the bank.  The World Association of Overseas Japanese Entrepreneurs (WAOJE) aims to assist and empower overseas Japanese entrepreneurs and startups – through events, funding and connections.

My discussions with Wang san and Yamada san has led me to believe that there are individuals as much as collective groups that are passionate about seeing the entrepreneurial scene in Kyoto thrive.  This is important from many angles – from combining the benefits and beauty of what Kyoto has to offer and keeping Kyoto at the forefront of developments of the latest.  From the angle of NewSpace, I have come to an assessment of re-defining Newspace of meaning non-traditional space actors to the point of needing to reach out to consumer markets engaging with activities that the public enjoy – including arts, theatre, events which have the ability to reach out to as many people as possible.

When I worked on a smallsat project with the International Space University and the CEO of Spire said, “Forget about space”, I was somewhat taken back and surprised.  However, having spent a few months researching NewSpace intensely I understand where that phrase is coming from.  It would appear, NewSpace can gain much from being actively engaged in communities like the arts, social sciences and business, embedded within the community and more about space with a small ‘s’ than space with a big ‘S’.  The consumer or market needs to be ready and willing to accept whatever service or product the NewSpace market is wishing to sell.

At this point, my focus is about developing and growing the ecosystem, so the community’s ability and willingness to accept, converse and engage with NewSpace is vital.  Like an organ for the body, the body has to be ready and willing to accept this new vital part before the operation can proceed and even them, to ensure the body does not reject this part, many things need to be in place.

Ideally, I would like to engage the conversation of NewSpace to the point where it is no longer special or unique.


japan-magazine.jnto.go.jp v1

source: japan-magazine.jnto.go.jp


Along that line of thinking, I made a conscious decision to visit Ken Takahashi, Production Supervisor of Kyoto Toei Studios.   Supervisor Takahasi also runs the Kyoto Historical Film Festival.  Most people may know of Kyoto Toei Studios as a film set for traditional samurai films and there is an element of that.  What if there was a production incorporating space?  Where are the films or theatre that feature space?

There is plenty.  When I embarked on this research on NewSpace and space applications, little did I expect I would expect myself half way through, though the reality is I am thinking that Space entertainment and space arts may have a far more productive, effective and impact way of engaging consumers, investors and people generally interested in NewSpace than traditional STEAM methodologies.


source: Kyoto Historical Film Festival


The proof of the pudding for instance would be the day when a NewSpace company goes out to sell a service like a human space flight, or a NewSpace technology or app that would benefit the consumer on earth and/or in space.

Till then, I am fascinated in finding out what drives consumers and what is the appetite for NewSpace.  Clearly, Kyoto is the epicentre of beauty and history in Japan for many good reasons.  Could this be translated into thriving entrepreneurship and NewSpace?  Only time will tell.



What do you think makes a successful NewSpace startup?

How can we develop the NewSpace ecosystem?

Got ideas and would like to share?


We would like to hear from you.  Share your thoughts at #newspace2060 or by email newspace2060 and get featured in newspace2060.com sharing newspace updates with the NewSpace ecosystem.


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