Foreign entrepreneurs pitch business ideas in Japan startup competition

by Kantaro Komiya

Contributing Writer

Amid increased efforts to help non-Japanese talent launch businesses in Japan to boost foreign investment and international competitiveness, the domestic startup scene saw a contest for entrepreneurs with an overseas background last week.

Hosted by Tokyo Star Bank Ltd., seven finalists from 48 contenders for the Foreign Entrepreneurs Business Plan Competition 2018, which the bank claims is the first of its kind, presented their business ideas on Wednesday in pursuit of a ¥1 million prize.

The grand prize went to Xianhe Zhang, CEO of 3DNest Inc., which provides 3D image scanning services.

Combining original 3D cameras and software, 3DNest said it can offer low-cost yet quality virtual views of apartment interiors and building structures for real estate and construction companies.

For an apartment, such a modeling service could cost over ¥1 million and take a week to make. But 3DNest can do it in 40 minutes at a cost of ¥20,000, according to Zhang.

The firm operates as the Japan office of Beijing-based startup Zhongqu Technology, which was founded in 2014. Zhang, a graduate of Kansai University, has been promoting its 3D modeling system in Japan.

“Bridging the interaction between Japan and China has been my aspiration since I came to Japan in 2005 as an international student,” Zhang said. “From now on, not only for business expansion, we hope to contribute to Japanese society with our technology.”

The contest was open to non-Japanese entrepreneurs and Japanese born in other countries who have founded startups in the past five years.

The runner-up prize was awarded to Albert Okamura, the president of Tokyo-based One Visa Inc. Okamura, who came to Japan at the age of 8 with his Peruvian mother and Japanese father, once worked for the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau after his friend faced deportation.

One Visa offers online forms for drawing up complex immigration documents for individual newcomers, as well as Japanese companies hiring them, without the need to directly hire specialists, which is generally costly.

“We provide this product because I myself had troubles with visas,” Okamura said in a speech. “Our ultimate goal is to build a system where you can readily determine your eligibility to stay in every country without documentation troubles.”

The company is starting an open beta version this September and aims to expand the service to Japanese workers seeking foreign visas.

Alex Wang, CEO of Kawayuii Holdings Co., was presented the special award by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Japan for its online learning publications, which distribute lessons by illustrators, composers and culinary researchers in Japan.

Tokyo Star Bank CEO Seiji Sato, who was also a judge, stressed the significance of holding this kind of contest, citing the falling population and his belief that it is in the “national interest” to boost high-quality employment at home.

Sato added that ideas and actions based on the dual perspectives of foreigners in Japan “would be essential to the Japanese economy.”

The government has been eager to prompt non-Japanese entrepreneurs to start businesses here to boost foreign investment in Japan. For example, it aims to begin issuing one-year visas during this fiscal year for those preparing to launch a business.

As another motivation for sponsoring the competition, Sato mentioned Tokyo Star Bank’s unique status as the only Japanese bank affiliated with a foreign entity, the Taipei-based CTBC Bank Co.

The other four finalists pitched various services from mobile battery sharing to food tourism and health technology.

The six judges included representatives of Chinese and Taiwanese business associations in Japan, bank presidents and a university professor.