Startups rapidly emerging from Central Japan - local entrepreneurs explain why
JETRO and Central Japan Startup Ecosystem Consortium (CSC) organize a media tour
Central Japan, Dec 05, 2022 - (ACN Newswire) - Central Japan, the region in which a new anime-themed park famous for its sci-fi fantasy machines and vehicles debuted earlier last month, is quickly becoming the homeland of startups paving the way towards the future of mobility. Last week, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), together with the Central Japan Startup Ecosystem Consortium (CSC), organized a tour to show the media how this lesser-known part of Japan, compared to Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto, was rapidly giving birth to local entrepreneurs, keen on opening up the century-old industry and network of suppliers in Aichi, Nagoya and Hamamatsu to collaborate with startups from all corners of the world - as the result of education, collaboration, and homegrown determination.
Yukiko Konishi, vice director of the Startup Promotion Office at Nagoya University, or NU, explained how rival universities in the Central Japan region came together to form the Tokai Network for Global Leading Innovation Platform [Tongali] in 2015. Today, 18 universities stand behind a vision to "cultivate human capital that creates and delivers value leading to the future and enriching people, society, and earth" through entrepreneurship education. In 2020, over 4000 high school students, scholars and graduates participated in Tongali's educational events and programs. As a Tongali founder and Startup Consortium member, she noted NU was a staple in the outcome of this endeavor. 67 startups have taken flight from NU (as of Nov'22) including Optimind, a Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2020, and Acompany, a Forbes 30 Under 30 Japan 2021.
Three NU startups shared their stories. Deep-tech startup TIER IV's chief strategy officer, Ko Miyoshi, explained the world's first open-source software for autonomous driving, which runs on multiple platforms and provides a full-stack solution for the commercialization of intelligent vehicles, Autoware, is the equivalent of "Intel inside" for autonomous driving, adopted by over 500 companies across the globe. Toyota's battery-electric shuttle buses and Robotaxi also partner with TIER IV, while Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn has agreed to a joint development project for autonomous personal cars with a precondition of Autoware in future EV platforms.
Turing to Delivery Robots, and the spotlight on Nigeria's Dr. Jude Nwadiuto, Ph.D. and postdoctoral fellow in autonomous driving and robotics at NU, and founder and CEO of Fainzy Technologies demonstrated the warm and "cute-looking" Mira X and ZiBot models as more gung-ho than met the eye, going beyond delivering payload. Mira X's artificial intelligence (AI) avoids getting stuck by predicting its path and detecting when food is taken, with a 3D Holographic fan for advertising quality. ZiBot can make highly accurate decisions from AI-based demand forecast data collected through 360-degree environment sensing.
Another lab-born startup, PotStill's demonstration was a fine blend of technology and psychology. PotStill was established in August 2020 to develop a "driver agent that promotes the improvement of driving behavior", and elemental technology for reducing elderly drivers' accidents based on human interaction research. PotStill director Takahiro Tanaka Ph.D., professor at the Institute of Innovation for Future Society at NU, took participants on a drive with an adorable 8-inch-tall robot alerting for speed and stop signs in a narrow residential area.
The City of Nagoya's Innovation Department stressed how Central Japan's startup ecosystem provides everything a startup needs. On top of the local government's generous support, the region has everything from startup hubs and venture finance to business matching sessions with highly trained workers in specialized fields, such as mobility. Representatives from Aichi prefecture and Japan's largest incubation hub-to-be, STATION Ai, added that "the region invites entrepreneurs and capitalists from all corners to facilitate state-of-the-art open innovation by infusing new ideas with local craftsmanship." Participants witnessed several examples:
Home-grown startup SkyDrive's Hiroyuki Murai, chief strategy officer, showed renderings of their new SD-05 two-seater flying car scheduled to fly at the 2025 World EXPO. His team comprises industry specialists from diverse backgrounds, including Bombardier and BAE Systems. But he also stressed that they would not have come this far without the partner ecosystem supporting them in mass production, flight control, charging facilities, parts procurement, leasing, and port architecture.
Koji Ishizuka, senior director of the Electrification Systems Business Group at DENSO, praised Urban Air Mobility (UAM) startups for accelerating technological advances, which would take far longer with larger established enterprises. Ishizuka described how their alliance with Honeywell led them to develop a propulsion solution for German air taxi startup Lilium's All-Electric Jet. DENSO and Honeywell have global project teams in Japan, the EU, and the United States, to expand supply from their Electric Propulsion Unit to meet growing UAM market demand.
In addition to the collaborative nature of the local business community, noted Dr. Yoshihiro Takiguchi, president of The Graduate School for the Creation of New Photonics Industries (GPI), the area's location, landscape, and climate made it a microcosm of the nation. "The unique environment, combined with close ties between academia, industry, government, and finance, makes the region a perfect testing ground for startups, regardless of where they are headquartered," added Hamamatsu City officials.
Another recurring theme the participants heard was "social purpose." Shunsuke Toya, CEO of ProDrone, explained how a flying mini-truck concept was an answer to their aspiration to solve societal challenges such as aging or inaccessible communities, maritime disasters, and terrorist attacks. Their belief led them to develop a variety of industrial drones specially designed for goods delivery, sea & air integration, long-range, heavy-duty and surveillance. Earlier this year, they partnered with a pharmacy chain to deliver medicines to remote areas of Japan. Determined to go further, their macho-drone can carry payloads of 50 kilos distances of 50 kilometers.
eve autonomy, founded by Yamaha Motor and TIER IV, is an automated cargo transportation service for factories. Given the shrinking population in Japan, balancing human labor reduction and the safety of the plants is a pressing issue. Business development manager Iwakazu Nishikawa described how their award-winning products outperform conventional AGVs, which had difficulties operating between multiple buildings. Before the joint venture, AGVs, or Automated Guided Vehicles, could neither cope with congested traffic on-premise, maneuver irregularities such as ditches/manholes or slopes nor divert from a fixed guided route.
Director Haruyoshi Toyoda, Hamamatsu Photonics Central Research Laboratory, and his team demonstrated the microscopic photonic sensing technologies embedded deep inside various daily products. Autonomous driving would not be without the technology used in high-resolution LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). It is a remote sensing technology that measures distance by irradiating laser light on objects and catching the light reflected with a photosensor. Furthermore, the team said, "we are committed to continuously improving the performance of our lasers and sensors because it is a vital ingredient in achieving fully autonomous driving."
Participants learned that the element of sound (or noise) was an unsung hero in driving safety. The operating officer of Yamaha Corporation, Electronic Devices Division, Nobukazu Toba explained how their longstanding expertise in acoustic research is being applied to Electric Vehicles (EVs) available today. EVs are silent. However, noise helps pedestrians know that a vehicle is approaching. Likewise, an accelerating sound helps drivers recognize speed. He also indicated that the company is in discussions with a Finnish startup to equip cars with warning sound signals (ie. bells and whistles in the driver's seat) coupled with vibrating features to discriminate from which direction the danger originates. "Acoustics and vibration have a lot in common."
Keiko Ihara, a Japanese race car driver, and first female to stand on the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) podium in 2014, founded Future Inc. two years ago to save her hometown's economy from deteriorating with the pandemic. The series of carbon-neutral, maximum efficiency, lightweight e-bikes she designed takes many of its cues from racing cars. But her ultimate goal is to create a mobility-sharing service connected to a regional online portal with e-commerce, delivery, clinics, internet banking, and govt services. The grand vision of this new business model will not only revive local resorts and tourist spots, as she initially sought, but may even transform petrol stations into evolving community centers where people come together.
"The funds raised by startups in Japan are small compared to other parts of the world," noted Ihara in her talk. However, she cited Prime Minister Kishida positioning 2022 as the first year for actively fostering the founding of startups. "I believe clusters and pockets of communities all over Japan will start to connect to form an even bigger network of ecosystems. Because," she added, "there is only so much you can do alone."
About the Central Japan Startup Ecosystem Consortium
The Central Japan Startup Ecosystem Consortium (CSC) was organized by the Central Japan Economic Federation, Nagoya University, Aichi Prefecture, Nagoya City and Hamamatsu City for the purpose of building a startup-ecosystem. Aichi, Nagoya, and Hamamatsu district were nominated as a startup ecosystem [Global Base City] by the cabinet office of Japan in July of 2020. It is the region's mission is to positively impact society by bringing the future of mobility to our doorsteps as soon as possible.
As of July'22, there were 371 startups in Central Japan, of which 150 are university-launched, with an estimated 18.6 billion yen ($135 million) in funds raised. The 6,731 km2 area is currently home to 8.29 million people, with over 300 thousand foreign nationals - and will be a home-from-home for entrepreneurs and startups who share the same will and passion. The region is replete with accelerator programs, financial support systems and innovative university seeds.
Collaborative partnerships with Station F, INSEAD, BLOCK71, Paris&Co, Bpifrance, Venture Cafe, Plug and Play, Israel Innovation Authority, Tsinghua University, China Medical University, National University of Singapore, The University of Texas at Austin, Stanford University, North Carolina State University, University of Nebraska, the Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad and others attract a diverse range of entrepreneurs to the region.
Various chill-out activities such as surfing, hiking, camping, paragliding, and ski/snowboarding are easily accessible. Seasonal marathon events and Formula One races are also hosted in adjacent cities. The American Chamber of Commerce, Tokai Japan Canada Society, Chubu Walkathon & International Charity Festival, and Nagoya Vegan Gourmet Festival are opportunities to meet like-minded locals.
Learn more, see https://central-startup.jp/en/.
Source: Central Japan Startup Ecosystem Consortium
Sectors: Transport & Logistics, Electronics, Automotive, Science & Nanotech, Artificial Intel [AI], Startups, EVs, Transportation
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