This is a guest post authored by Connor Kirk. He is a Kyoto-based writer/translator specializing in tech and startups. All pictures in this post are courtesy of Chihiro Taniguchi.
Startup Weekend, the 54-hour event series bringing together entrepreneurs, developers, and designers to pitch ideas, form teams, and build new products and services, began as the creation of writer and entrpreneur Andrew Hyde and is now a Google and Microsoft-sponsored Seattle-based NPO that has come to hold more than 1,500 events in 726 cities around the world.
This month, Kyoto’s 5th Startup Weekend was held at the Kyoto Research Park with a lively group of young entrepreneurs, coaches, and industry professionals in attendance. The event followed the standard structure laid out by Startup Weekend, featuring rounds of pitching, beer drinking, voting, and development. The first round of pitches were held to a strict 60-second time limit in which participants frantically and sometimes theatrically explained their concepts, with focuses on merit, feasibility, and potential economic value of their ideas. Quite a few of the participants were surprisingly young with several college freshman and even one 3rd-year highschool student stepping behind the microphone.
After the first round of pitching there was a vote, and the top few ideas were singled out. 15 minutes were then allotted for the creation of teams in which the five groups scrambled to form a group with as balanced a skillset as possible. The remaining time was given to development, designing, and coaching, culminating in the final presentations of each group’s MVP (minimum viable product), followed by feedback and final judgement from this year’s judges Questetra CEO Genichi Imamura and Lockon CEO Susumu Iwata.
The following are brief statements given by each of the four teams’ leaders explaining their services, starting with this year’s winning team, WithYou.
- Startup name: WithYou
- Team: Sushi Suzuki, Fumiya Tsujimoto, Haruna Kono, Megumi Matsuyama, and Kazutaka Sasaki
WithYou is an app and a platform that allows travelers to virtually connect with crowdsourced bilingual locals who can help them out with translation / interpretation, navigation, or even cultural explanations. Imagine sitting in a restaurant with no English menu and no one who speaks your language, trying to take meditation lessons from a Japanese monk, or getting your haircut from one of Paris’s best hair stylists. What are you going to do? Don’t let language be the barrier to your adventures. Connect with locals, expand your horizons.
- Startup name: 1mile
- Team: Masaki Tominami, Rio Fujimoto, Kouki Onishi, and ‘Taro’ Urashima
1mile is an app for getting recommendations on a variety of different restaurants, shops, and businesses within walking distance of your location, thus the name “1mile”. Designed for people who either have trouble finding good stores, feel that searching around is a pain, or aren’t normally the adventurous type, our service helps you discover great businesses and enjoy what your area has to offer!
- Startup name: Ouchlet
- Team: Yoshinori Ashikaga, Souichiro Tsue, and Taiki Sugino
What is the value of hearing someone’s painful story? It can be funny, or teach some kind of valuable lesson, or maybe even reveal a business opportunity. “Let’s make the world a better place by bringing together the stories of those who have tried and failed.” That was the concept that we tried to build this startup around.
- Startup name: Gamey
- Team: Shingo Yonemura, Midori Harada, Naoto Ando, Yuta Goseki, and Eiji Iwatani
Gamey is an online platform offering a variety of afterschool programs for elementary school children relating to sports, culture, nutrition and more, with professional instructors, for a monthly fee of 5,000 yen. Hundreds of different types of programs will be available through the website which parents can choose from along with their preferred day, time, and location, and have their kids participate in valuable learning activities.
While I did find the scarcity of actual programmers in participation seemed to pose a noticeable imbalance in team structure, each team worked tirelessly through the weekend to present their products with a surprisingly high level of professionality and completion. I think the Kyoto startup scene needs more events like these, and seeing as how Startup Weekends are now being held in Tokyo as often as once a month, I think we can expect these events will only continue to grow in popularity in the future.