On 11 April, an event called If Conference (‘If Con’ for short) was held in New York City, aimed at connecting the tech scenes of Japan and the US. The venue was filled with some 250 visitors. The event got particularly lively in which many questions were thrown among the participants.
Keynote 1: Pathway to Success in America for Japanese Companies
If Con started from 12:30pm on 11 April, at Microsoft Technology Center in Times Square.
First of all, William Lohse, who is founder / general partner of Social Starts and founder / CEO of Pivot Conference in addition to also being an investor, gave the keynote speech about tips for Japanese startups upon developing in the US and gaining success there.
Lohse garnered much attention due to his familiarity with tech trends in both Japan and the US. Although it was a weekday and on a Monday afternoon to boot, the venue was filled to capacity from the onset!
As he frequently flies back and forth between the two countries as well as is renowned for being knowledgable about Japan’s tech scene, questions for the keynoter from the audience centered on Japanese entrepreneurs or Japan’s tech community within the US.
Nulab CEO Hashimoto presents “The Tech City Fukuoka”
From 2pm, Nulab CEO Masanori Hashimoto took to the stage and introduced Japan’s Startup Visa system which has been newly implemented for issuance of visa for foreign entrepreneurs coming to the City of Fukuoka as the initial case for Japan, or the collaborative event between ‘tech’ and ‘creative’ called Myojo Waraku organized by Hashimoto and others.
His speech peppered with jokes sometimes drew laughter from the audience, with active discussions taking place during Q&A afterwards. He appeared to be very nervous, but the staff was relieved that he was able to contribute to the promotion of Nulab and the City of Fukuoka.
The Nulab CEO answered a question as to whether Myojowaraku will be held also in New York City or not:
The reason why we could carry out the event in Taiwan and London other than in Fukuoka was the support provided by the respective city. If New York City will support us, then I would like to hold it as well.
In retrospect, he noted:
I was very nervous because it was my first speech in New York City, but receiving good responses to a story about Ramen noodle as an introduction of the City of Fukuoka allowed me to speak as usual after that.
Meanwhile, other sessions regarding ‘Tips to Work with International Startups in New York’ was held in another place within Microsoft Technology Center, and that enlivened the venue as well.
Panel Discussion: Global Macro Trends / Launching Products in Japan
From 3pm to 5pm, two large panel discussions were held. One was on the theme of ‘global macro trends’ as mulled by CEOs of New York-based Japanese / US startups or analysts. The other was about perspectives on business development into Japan, by CEOs of startups which had actually developed their business into Japan.
Moderated by Ash Ryan (Developer Evangelist, Adobe), joining this panel were Ada Gries (CEO, OKPanda), Yoki Gibo (Director, Noom), and Odile Baneiflah (Head of International Operations, Meetup.com).
In another hall, several sessions having ‘Mental Game for Innovation’, ‘Structuring Your Startup for Success’ or ‘Trends in Japanese / US Startups’ as themes were held.
Keynote 2: How to Disrupt Personal Mobility Industry
As a finale to the event, CEO of Silicon Valley-based Whill Satoshi Sugie gave an evening keynote speech about development and future of next-generation powered wheelchairs. This session was also very well attended, with standing audiences!
Sugie shared the corporate philosophy of Whill which had just started in 2012 and episodes from the development of the Whill wheelchair. He concluded that what he wants to create is not just a powered wheelchair, but a personal mobility in a new category, which makes everyone want to ride it.
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After 6pm, a networking event was held with light meals and drinks, where participants were asking speakers many questions, or discussing ideas among themselves.
The visitors were mainly entrepreneurs or students, and the ratio of men to women looked nearly equal.
I obtained the impression of the event from one of the If Con organizers, Masato Okunishi, after this.
The event was successful thanks to a lot of participants, more than we had imagined. Through this event, we could sense afresh the necessity or importance of the need for such events or communities, even in New York City.
We had received many testimonials like “It was worthwhile to come here today.” From US tech-related people, it was highly evaluated with comments like ‘I could come in contact with Japanese things for the first time’ including Japan-originated or Japanese startups through this event.
From Japanese or Japan-related people living in the US, we heard their impressions that it was nice to attend such a local event in New York. The common point in both feedbacks was that it was a new type of event that was not to be found before.
As an ambition for the future, we want to have more New Yorkers know about Japanese / US startups, and also have the Japanese become familiar with the tech situation in New York. We are happy if the community of If Con or our regular meet-up event Japan NYC Startups will enhance the circumstances for Japanese / US startups in New York.
It is expected that the relationship on the tech side between Japan and New York, or the US overall will be strengthened further in the future.
Photos taken at If Conference 2016
Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy and Masaru Ikeda