Ex-Rovio’s Japan head/Ex-Slush Asia CEO announces new global startup event from Tokyo

Antti Sonninen speaks at the Takeoff Tokyo launch party in Shibuya, Tokyo, on Tuesday.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

The man is back. Tokyo-based Finnish entrepreneur and startup ecosystem builder Antti Sonninen, formerly known as the Japanese country manager for Angry Birds developer Rovio Entertainment, handed over his CEO position at Slush Tokyo (formerly Slush Asia) to the younger generation in 2018 (Incidentally, Rovio just agreed to be acquired by Sega Sammy Holdings of Japan). Since then he has been involved in supporting companies and running an international hackathon event called Builders Weekend.

Takeoff Tokyo, a two-day pitch event for entrepreneurs aiming for the global market, was just announced to take place in Tennozu, Tokyo, on June 8-9. In addition to Sonninen, the new event will be organized by several like-minded individuals, including Haruka Furukawa, who took over the CEO role of Slush Tokyo from Sonninen (Slush Tokyo was rebranded into BARK but later cancelled during the pandemic).

Sonninen first came to Japan in 2007 as an exchange student at the University of Tokyo. In an interview with Bridge, he compared the Japanese startup landscape of about 10 years ago to that of today, saying, it has now become easier to realize the vision he used to want to achieve.

Antti Sonninen speaks at the Takeoff Tokyo launch party in Shibuya, Tokyo, on Tuesday.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

In many countries, startups usually expand into beyond their home turf early on in their history, which is just an extension of their everyday business efforts. Of course, the typical mindset of local entrepreneurs differs between countries that heavily depend on foreign demand and those with large domestic demand, but even so, it seems to Sonninen that Japanese startups have less ventured outside the country, which in his eyes is a rare occurrence. However, the situation has been changed, especially in the Web3 startup scene, and there has been a noticeable movement of entrepreneurs and investors from all over the world coming to Japan, as seen at ETHGlobal Tokyo a couple of weeks ago.

Sonninnen says,

During my days at Rovio, I recall how much I was impressed when I saw with my own eyes how one of the world’s best projects was born from the small Nordic country.

He continued.

Now it is much easier to take on the challenge of creating the world’s best business or project from Japan. In 1990s when Japan saw high economic growth, some people may have thought that the Japanese way on business works fine. They typically used to take an interpreter and visit destinations worldwide on business. But more people now think that this way doesn’t work anymore. Now we have a better environment in Japan, which encourages new challenges to take on.

There are many startup conferences in Japan and the rest of the world, but Takeoff Tokyo is particularly interested in helping and encouraging startups trying to go global, not only from Japan. However, the issue at hand for them is to help Japanese startups trying to expand globally. The team will focus on fostering a community which can also discuss issues such as securing the human resources and improving the skills required for the startups looking at global expansion. The June event will be apparently a kick-off to such community activities.

A huge crowd gathered at the Takeoff Tokyo launch party in Shibuya, Tokyo on Tuesday.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Our country has imported a variety of knowledge from overseas, and even Slush Asia and Slush Tokyo were localized from Slush in Finland. But Sonninen’s decision to launch his own brand, Takeoff, was based on the idea that he wanted to bring his original to the world instead of importing. The event is eventually expected to be managed on a community-driven basis where each participant can act as one of the organizers.

Slush Asia and Slush Tokyo have produced many entrepreneurs and budding entrepreneurs from the conference’s organizers and volunteers. In fact, we have often covered startups founded by their alumni, and they proudly say, “I am from Slush Asia (or Slush Tokyo)” when introducing themselves, which is less often experienced in other startup conferences, either domestic or international. We look forward to seeing the June event to understand what kind of community Takeoff Tokyo will foster from now on.