Being confident and able to gauge one’s potential are key for a successful entrepreneur, traits Musashino University lecturer Atsuko Mayumi seems able to bring out in her female students as she coaches them on how to go into business for themselves.

Mayumi, who teaches at the Nishi-Tokyo women’s college, said that even if students have a hard time landing a job amid Japan’s protracted economic slump, they should never give up hope because they can always start their own business.

“I experienced a job-hunting ice age just like today’s students, but I found my own solution,” said Mayumi, who launched her own company in the U.S. and is now a representative of Amaria Co., a business consulting firm in Tokyo.

Using research she analyzed on behalf of Kanagawa Women’s Center in 2002 on women who give up starting a business, Mayumi’s course begins by highlighting qualities needed for entrepreneurs. She encourages her students to explore their potential.

The next step in the course includes case studies of different female entrepreneurs, so her students have role models, something many Japanese women lack when they attempt to pursue their own business.

Next comes the nuts and bolts of marketing, networking, and business planning.

Mayumi’s lectures are convincing, because she draws from her own experiences.

After graduating from college in 1982, Mayumi went through a tough time as there were few jobs for women in Japan.

Although she worked to acquire many English language certificates, such skills were hard for a woman to translate into a job, whereas similarly qualified men had no trouble landing good careers at large firms.

Mayumi gave up her job hunt in Japan and moved to the U.S., where she started an interpreting business in 1991 after obtaining two master’s degrees. Starting a company in a totally different environment from Japan was hard but fulfilling, she said.

Her effort was further rewarded when she was appointed New York representative of a United Nations nongovernmental organization, thanks to interpreting work she performed at the U.N.

“Through these experiences, I not only developed an entrepreneurial spirit but learned a lot about the U.S. infrastructure for helping women in business,” she said.

Mayumi returned to Japan in 1993, but was shocked to find that good jobs were still elusive for women.

Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Law had come into force in 1986, it lacked teeth and women stayed under a glass ceiling, she recalled.

This led Mayumi to ponder ways to improve the infrastructure for female entrepreneurs in Japan as she felt some would be better off starting up their own business.

Contacting influential U.S. women’s organizations, including the National Association of Women Business Owners, she acquired a grant to research U.S. laws pertaining to female entrepreneurs and started a political push to promote Japanese female entrepreneurs, urging then Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima to help them become a driving force in the economy.

Mayumi has given her students a new perspective. Many looked defeated at the start of her course, coming from a harsh job hunt, only to perk up near the end. Some were considering starting welfare-related businesses, others looked to start nonprofit organizations, she said.

Mayumi is now pushing the government to include female entrepreneurs in state-contracted business, like in the U.S., where the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 grants at least 5 percent of such business to women, including services and research. When women made up 38 percent of all entrepreneurs in 2000, an Executive Order was passed to enforce the act in recognition of their economic contribution, she said.

“Such infrastructure is also necessary in Japan,” she said. “The road is tough, but I hope my students fulfill their dreams.”

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