Unleash Tokyo 2021 is an inaugural summit organised by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Aimed at re-introducing the already familiar city from a different angle, this online event spans 3 days, 9 – 11 March from 1 – 3pm (SGT). Subscribe to the Invest Tokyo channel to re-watch the event!
Collaboration and Innovation with Startups in Asia
Kicking off the last day of Unleash Tokyo 2021, was the Chief Investment Officer of Sony Innovation Fund, Gen Tsuchikawa.
As introduction to Sony Innovation Fund, Gen shared that they currently run three funds: Sony Innovation Fund financing early stage startups, the Innovation Growth Fund financing growth middle to late stage startups. Most recently, the Sony Innovation Fund (Environment) was launched to harness the company’s efforts in Impact Investing. Over the last 4 and a half years, Sony Innovation Fund invested in over 80 companies.
The Sony Innovation Fund (Environment) in particular ran a recent project name Synecoculture in Burkina Faso, Africa, successfully turning dessert into arable land. Besides aligning themselves with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Sony Innovation Fund also champions diversity. Gen highlighted the company’s desire to continue supporting female founders and CEOs in making their mark in the world.
The Sony Innovation Fund is interested in collaborating with a diverse range of startups, including AgriTech, FoodTech, BeautyTech, EdTech and Sports powered by 5G. Recent efforts in innovation also comprise gaming, entertainment and automobiles.
Diversity and Tokyo — New Values
Moving on to the panel hosted by Robyn Tan, Managing Director of KrASIA, guests speakers Maria Li, COO of Tech in Asia and Mariko Nishimura, CEO and Pollinator of HEART CATCH Inc. shared their thoughts on the growing awareness around gender diversity in Tokyo.
Maria noted the attraction of incredible talent in Tokyo for foreign entrepreneurs, with the very long history in hardware and software engineering. Mariko chimed in to say that large corporations are increasingly open to collaborating with foreign startups. With the pandemic’s recent push to use online communication tools, pre-existing cultural barriers have been dissipating, creating a more equal playing field when communicating with traditional Japanese corporations. Maria also shared her hope that working women could be viewed through the value of their quality work as opposed to pure symbolic gestures.
Additionally, there seems to be a new period of re-balancing the perception of gender duties with remote working. In the case of working parents needing to telecommute from home, it seems to have welcomed more fathers to be more active in child-caring activities. Mariko recalled that she was very encouraged when she had a few zoom calls with fathers and saw that they were watching their children while taking the call.
In spirit of International Women’s Day, Maria made a nod to choosing to become an ally for gender diversity and empowerment as the important first step in enacting change. Mariko as a female business leader herself shared her hopes to continue supporting and encouraging other younger female leaders and workers. She also highlighted that setting an example for those around her through her own professional attitude is something she actively works on.
Current Status of Startup Investment by Major Financial Institutions
Powered by the largest banking group in Japan, the MUFG Innovation Partners is led by its President and CEO, Nobutake Suzuki. In this presentation, he shares the company’s open innovation strategy with foreign startups.
As a corporate venture capital, MUFG Innovation Partners manages a USD 185 million fund and seeks to collaborate with global fintech and other related startups that have strong synergies with the larger MUFG Group. With its global mandate, MUFG Innovation Partners has invested in 18 startups in the past 2 years. Familiar names in their portfolio include Coinbase (US), Grab (Singapore) and Moneytree (Japan).
Speaking on its partnership with Grab, Nobutake shares an example of how both companies are able to work together. For example, in Thailand, MUFG’s subsidy bank began providing loans to grab drivers. This would not have been possible in the past due to the lack of credit history. However, now, with access to Grab’s data sets, including how much each drivers daily income and how safely they drive, the bank can provide loans with appropriate conditions.
Additionally, for the past 5 years, MUFG’s Digital Accelerator has been supporting foreign startup’s expansion into Tokyo. The 2019 runner-up, Moxtra, a US-founded video telecommunications company, currently holds a partnership with MUFG as a digital banking solutions provider.
Rounding off his presentation, Nobutake welcomes foreign startups to venture into Tokyo and shares his excitement in working with startups from all over the world.
Why Global Companies do Business in Tokyo, What Makes it Attractive, and How to Succeed
Joshua Barry, founder and CBDO of ZAIKO, shared the story of how Amazon Web Services (AWS) helped his startup scale. The white label ticketing company specialized in offline events and had seen steady growth since its founding years. Alas, COVID-19 hit the events space hard. Recovery for the meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions (MICE) industry at large remains to be seen.
With events getting cancelled back to back, they quickly pivoted to the online realm. As a tech company at heart, ZAIKO was able to build an online event streaming platform within five days. Nonetheless, it had leveraged on an external partner to develop the platform, so he soon turned to AWS which allowed ZAIKO to create and retain ownership of their intellectual property (IP), and scale quickly, particularly in countries where AWS has a presence.
James Miller, Head of Public Policy at Amazon Web Services Japan piqued that the success of ZAIKO’s streaming platform reflects the uniqueness of the local culture and that Japanese customers have set several trends that permeated across the globe. Joshua added that the locals are strong in creative thinking and cited an example he witnessed during the early days of the pandemic outbreak. When the government mandated a lockdown in Japan, countless of F&B establishments were impacted. To negate the impact of dampened traffic, the regulatory agency swiftly worked out a licensing system to permit the sale of alcohol via take outs.
Turning Shibuya into a Creative and Cultural City with 5G
The Shibuya 5G Entertainment Project aims to tap on the diverse backgrounds of people who live, work and gather at Shibuya, to expand on the potentialities of urban development and design innovative projects. Since its inception, it has united over 60 companies.
Ichiro Miura, Innovation Director at KDDI Corporation, and Shinko Osada, Director of the Board and Vice Secretary General at Future Design Shibuya, shared their experience of working together to shape Virtual Shibuya. Virtual Shibuya was constructed with the iconic Shibuya culture in mind; to retain and develop the culture in a time when physical interactions are not possible. The inaugural virtual Halloween event attracted over 400,000 attendees.
Both panellists added that this unique collaboration, between a city and an established corporation, is the first of its kind and was only possible through their shared vision for Shibuya. Shinko also highlighted that the agency is looking forward to working with various startups, both local and foreign, with solutions that may be integrated into the project. Ichiro added that he hopes to attract a global audiences and find opportunities to cooperate with cities around the world.
Unleash the true attractiveness of Tokyo
Masafumi Yonazu, Senior Director at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG), in his closing statement, expressed his gratitude toward the 30 speakers who participated in Unleash Tokyo 2021. He was heartened to hear the honest opinions and experiences of the participants, and shared that they helped him rediscover the attractiveness of Tokyo.
Since 2011, TMG has been actively engaging, attracting and inviting foreign companies, to expand their businesses in Tokyo. Masafumi said that the government will strive to continue their efforts in the years ahead, as he firmly believes that the power of diverse thinking will help to unleash the true potential of the city.