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The forgotten tech giant - Japan

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

Japan has long-been known as a hotbed of invention and discovery. In fact, as far back as the 11th century, Japanese author Murasaki Shikibu is heralded as the creator for the world’s first ever novel – The Tale of Genji. This mind-set of creativity, fantasy and excitement has continued to deliver innovation ever since. Perhaps most famous is the Japanese development of video games, particularly through Nintendo and PlayStation formats, though the nature of Japanese inventiveness spans across audio and visual technologies, healthtech and of course entertainment – Karaoke anyone?

Despite the much-deserved fame and success that Japan has had from its technological developments, in the ever-growing and often overly saturated conversation that is the startup world – it seems a somewhat forgotten market. Japan just sneaks into the top 20 locations globally for starting a business according to Startupblink’s global ranking index, and many commentators are surprised to see it that high.

Many analysts suggest that doing business in Japan has long been associated with overinflated zaibatsu (large Japanese business conglomerate), and often a widespread aversion to any kind of investment risk. And let’s be honest, investing in startups can be risky. But, like any investment opportunity, high-risk comes with high-reward and Japan is no different. Japan is making it easier for investors and businesses alike. In the last few years, the Government has made it easier for a gaijin (foreigner) to launch a business on its shores. We’ve also seen a number of conferences and showcases come out of Tokyo such as #SLUSHTOKYO18 and electronic commerce and internet giant, Rakuten Technology’s Conference, now in its 13th year - underlining a clear desire for the Japanese to not only see new tech but be seen to deliver it.

The official support of a Government is imperative for an ecosystem to blossom. Silicon Valley wouldn’t be where it is today without public backing, nor would London, Israel or any other international startup hot-spots. In recent weeks, we have seen a real commitment from Japan to formally encourage startups to pursue growth, for instance, nearly €1 billion in public funds has been earmarked for startups working on space solutions. This, coupled with recent news that Japan’s university startups top 2,000 for the first time in the country’s history, shows a market very much on the move.

And here lies where we see an opportunity. We have opened in Japan and will be running the innovation accelerator programme for BMW Group Financial Services. The fact is that big business can help small business. We have developed a proven methodology around this premise that has scaled in the UK. We have seen this taking effect in our work with our clients in the UK and Europe, including Arsenal FC, International Airlines Group, Intu Properties and EDF Energy amongst many others. Exporting this model to the Japanese market through our partnership with BMW will deliver the BMW Innovation Lab 2018 for the financing arm of the global automotive giant and provide auto loan and lease products for BMW and MINI customers to purchase new and old cars in Japan.

So, what is it?

The BMW Innovation Lab 2018 is an entrepreneur-focussed programme that provides an opportunity for early-stage startup companies to partner with BMW Group Financial Services Japan’s operational and commercial divisions. The Lab will be run in partnership with L Marks and the entrepreneur programme will see selected startups join a structured 10-week course of activities. The programme is aimed at companies with disruptive business models or new technologies that could benefit BMW Group customers worldwide.

Participants will have access to mentorship from the BMW Group Financial Services Japan leadership team, a collaborative working environment at the company's Tokyo headquarters, a business education program with links to a network of industry experts, as well as access to investors and fundraising support from the team here at L Marks.

The programme is all about finding new ideas and new ways to work. And it’s not only open to Japanese companies. Japan will be its home, but the concept invites startups from all over the world to participate in this journey of innovation.

In 2016 L Marks ran the first programme in the automotive space with BMW Financial Services in the UK. Following the success of the first Innovation Lab, BMW have rolled the initiative out across the group internationally.

The BMW Innovation Lab was established to look for startup technologies and solutions that could help BMW Financial Services offer better solutions for personal vehicle financing, with a high focus on FinTech and the Approved Used car market.

Aside from the initial work carried out with BMW, we are also speaking with the major Japanese corporate brands that are ripe for innovation as well as Japanese startups themselves.

There is no doubt that Japan is a hugely exciting market. It offers some of the strongest corporate brands in the world and a large network of innovative technology startups. The agreement we have with BMW is the first of many innovation programmes that we hope to deliver in Japan, a country with an already established history of automotive and technological innovation.

We have successfully worked with BMW Group in the UK for the last two years and thrilled to have the opportunity to work with BMW Group in Japan. It is an exciting time to be accessing more of the fantastic talent and solutions Japan has to offer. Giving these entrepreneurs access to the leadership of BMW Group Financial Services Japan and to relevant functional teams will greatly accelerate their product development and business growth. So, while Japan is famous for innovation and discovery, it is no longer just home to big business – it is the tech giant ready to take the world by storm. And we’re there to help it along the way.

Daniel Saunders, Chief Executive, L Marks
Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible

Daniel Saunders is the Chief Executive at L Marks. L Marks is an early stage investor and works with some of the world’s best-known brands, including BMW Group UK, Arsenal FC and EDF Energy to create bespoke partnerships for innovation.