Can Osaka be a startup hub?



This is an abridged version of the original report in Japanese.

The HackOsaka 2014 conference recently took place here in Japan, with the aim of boosting the startup community in Japan’s Kansai region. This year Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky and Berg CEO Matt Webb were invited as special guests. Pebble, of course, is the smart watch developer that was funded by Y-Combinator. Berg is based in London, offering an ‘Internet of Things’ cloud platform for third-party developers. Together with Masahiko Inada, the CEO of Kabuku [1], they participated in an panel discussion moderated by journalist Tsuruaki Yukawa.

While many major companies in Japan have their headquarters in Tokyo, many CEOs are originally from Osaka. Yukawa explained a little about Osaka’s history of entrepreneurship:

My father was a merchant. In fact, when I was a kid, all the parents except maybe one were merchants. Even though there are strong entrepreneurship roots in Osaka, the city is not the startup hub in Japan. Everyone goes to Tokyo. What should we do?

Matt noted that the situation is similar to what London previously experienced:

A lot of startups in London left for the USA. Because we didn’t have funds, there was no way to tie up with big companies. We didn’t have a community.

Of course, community plays an important role in any startup scene. And Eric stressed the benefits that the startup community provides in Silicon Valley.

hackosaka-2014-iot-ericWhen you develop a minimum viable product, you can get both positive and negative feedback from the community. Taking that feedback into account, and continuing development in a constructive manner is important.

At a large company, a CEO can get feedback from his or her board members. But at a startup, a founder often has to rely on himself or herself. Because of this, community support can be just as important as fundraising and market chance.

Matt said it is important to name a community if you want to develop it. The area around Old Street station in East London had been called Silicon Roundabout, but later the UK government named the area TechCity with the intention to invite more startups there. This has helped to raise public awareness. People started thinking about entrepreneurship, getting together in order to create a community.

Matt: Organizing events is important as well. In London, events related to hardware startups are held about twice a month. Job events and networking events are held almost every week.

Eric: People in Osaka have already started doing important things. This event has a pitch contest. This is quite important to help build a community.

TechCity in London took a much different path than Silicon Valley. In the same way, I’m optimistic that Osaka can develop it’s own unique startup culture, something different from Tokyo or Fukuoka.

  1. Kabuku operates 3D printing marketplace Rinkak.  ↩