Category: entrepreneurship

Microsoft Digital Youth Awards

I recently participated in something called the Microsoft Digital Youth Award 2013

It was interesting in that it was part promotion of Microsoft’s new Windows 8 Operating System running on the Surface Tablet and also part getting people with diverse backgrounds to think of interesting applications for the new format. I had contributed to some of the development of the award itself and apparently it had over 1,100 applicants.

By the time we did the 1st round of judging, it was whittled down to 22 applicants. In the final round of judging, it was down to 12 finalists.

Here are the judges for the event:

Here are the 2013 winners: Congratulations!

Some news articles that have come out on the event itself:

March 6th, 2013 09:41 PM

Venture and Social Capital: A Vision for Japan (Part 3 of 3)

Continued from last week, my essay on “Venture and Social Capital”:

3. Break through the glass ceiling
In a future in which business will he under extreme pressure to eliminate waste and increase efficiency, it’s hard to see how Japan can continue to underutilize half its population: women. The higher ranks of corporate Japan, in particular, are astonishingly absent of women.
According to the 2009 report Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI), women accounted for only 17 of roughly 1,200 seats on the boards of Japan’s 100 biggest companies – roughly 1.4 percent. Japan even lagged behind Arab countries such as Oman, Jordan and Kuwait. Some of the most truly international Japanese firms were the worst offenders. Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Panasonic and Toshiba do not have a single woman director.

Japan’s top universities turn out large numbers of exceptionally bright, talented women who then cannot find suitable employment in Japanese companies. In a phenomenon known as “gender arbitrage,” Western firms are hiring these overachieving women, giving them responsible positions and good salaries. It is Japanese companies that are missing out on this talent pool.

The biggest problem Japanese firms have in promoting women to directorships is that there are so few women managers to promote. Even companies whose customers are all women are generally run by men. In other words, a bias in hiring and a quite low glass ceiling after entering a Japanese company create a self-perpetuating situation.

Looked at from any perspective, getting more women into work is the only economically rational choice for Japan. The population is both aging and shrinking; there is substantial resistance to increasing immigration; and the economy desperately needs ways to revitalize growth.

A recent study by Goldman Sachs examined this assertion and concluded that if the rate of female participation in the labor force rate could be raised to that of men (almost 80 percent), it would create over 8 million jobs and add as much as 15% to GDP.

November 14th, 2011 08:43 AM

Venture and Social Capital: A Vision for Japan (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from last week, my essay on “Venture and Social Capital”:

2. Encourage a culture of empathy through volunteering
At my high school in California, every student had to perform 100 hours of community service in order to advance to the next grade level. The focus was not on impersonal activities like cleaning up a park, but on providing meaningful service to the less privileged people in our community. Volunteering to help people instills the idea in young minds that “giving back” to society is a natural part of life. Young people discover that volunteering pays rich dividends in community appreciation, self-esteem, compassion, humility, and gratitude. Equally important, they learn that asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of.

Japan would benefit from such a program for a number of reasons. First, it would help young people learn empathy for others, and thus grow into compassionate adults. Second, it would lead people of all ages to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses. And third, it would teach people to ask for help when they need it and both give and receive assistance from others as a matter of course.

A broader, deeper culture of empathy could also help to energize the business environment. One of the main reasons that so few venture businesses appear in Japan and far fewer succeed is that people in established companies, in banks, and so on, feel no sense of responsibility toward or even kinship with individuals who build their own businesses. Reaching out to help others is essential to helping a venture business succeed, just as employees being willing to help each other inside a start-up company is essential to its success. Many Japanese are too concerned with their own department, their own company, their own clients. The empathy response to help others, especially those who are somehow disadvantaged, is just not there.

November 4th, 2011 06:51 PM

Venture and Social Capital: A Vision for Japan (Part 1 of 3)

I recently had the honor of providing a chapter for the best-selling book in Japan titled Reimagining Japan: The Quest for a Future That Works, published by McKinsey & Company. You can buy the book in many forms, including two types of electronic format. I am posting my essay as a 3-part series.


In the 1980s, it was “Japan bashing.” In the early 2000s, it was “Japan passing.” And now it has become “Japan missing.”

In the past two decades, the country’s once-vocal critics have fallen silent, largely because the world is no longer interested in Japan (with the possible exception of manga and anime). The sad truth is that Japan is becoming increasingly irrelevant, even though it is still one of the biggest and strongest economies in the world. It deserves more attention than it receives.

Japan bashing was never useful. But there is value in constructive criticism, especially if it can be offered in the form of a careful examination of the issues or characteristics that may be holding Japan back. I have spent my career in and around venture businesses, as an entrepreneur, an investor and as a judge of venture competitions worldwide. Along the way, I’ve developed some strong views about what works and what doesn’t in growing young companies. Some of the problems that I see in Japan today relate to social capital issues that are necessary precursors to the growth of a vibrant economy.

My recommendations might seem unusual, coming from someone with a technological background. But one thing I have learned from my career is that sometimes an indirect route is the best way to bring about the kind of change that is needed. Here are three paths that I believe Japan might follow in order to invent a more promising, more dynamic future.

October 27th, 2011 10:25 PM

Never Fear: Entrepreneurship Is About Failure

One fundamental problem in reinvigorating Japan’s entrepreneurial economy is a misapprehension of the nature of entrepreneurship, and the factors that lead an individual to become an “entrepreneur.” While in the last blog, I mentioned how entrepreneurship is a mindset that everyone should embrace, today I will concentrate on the venture-building aspect of entrepreneurship, which Webster’s defines as “one who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” The key phrase in this definition is “assumes the risk.” Entrepreneurship is all about the willingness of individuals to assume risk — and their ability to calculate and mitigate against it. Not the blind willingness to just “take risks” as many tend to associate (incorrectly) with the definition of an entrepreneur.

In evaluating a business plan, although we might be able to discern something of its promoters’ awareness of risk and their readiness to contend with it, no amount of “process” will eliminate it. We must embrace failure as a factor required for success.

As only 18% of entrepreneurs in the U.S. succeed with their first venture (Gompers et al., 2008), many, if not most, only achieve success after repeated failure. Thus, entrepreneurship is as much about failure as success. Its essence is a capacity to accept the fear, the reality and, above all, the lessons of failure. This capacity is required of the entrepreneur and – critically – everyone surrounding him or her: spouses, in-laws, bank managers and peers. Without this capacity to accept failure, a grant from government to become an entrepreneur represents a poisoned chalice.

As an entrepreneur who has started ventures – successful and otherwise – in both Japan and the U.S., in this regard I can testify to a profound divergence in attitudes between the two nations. While Americans tend to have high regard for individuals who succeed by taking risks, there is a corresponding tolerance for those who try bravely but fail.

June 24th, 2011 04:32 PM

Do Japanese Lack Entrepreneurial DNA?

Having just returned from the World Economic Forum – East Asia in Jakarta, I was very impressed by the high caliber of participants (high government officials, Fortune 100-level executives, NPO/NGO leaders and numerous entrepreneurs) from around the world. For me personally, it was three days of incredible discussion and dialog with a large number of very smart and passionate people. From time-to-time, I was asked how Japan was doing–not only in the context of the recent disaster but also for the future going forward–and if they will “ever come back.” This got me thinking about this topic once again and also provided me with a foreigner’s perspective on the matter. I’ve been thinking about this issue since returning to Japan.
To assert that “Japanese bureaucrats can no more create an entrepreneur than a man can give birth” may seem an obtuse preface to a clarion call for Japan’s government to focus on creating entrepreneurs. But without such an emphatic proscription up front, the bureaucrats can be expected to charge off in the wrong direction.
While Japan’s government (or any other government) cannot proactively “create” a cadre of entrepreneurs, it is well within Tokyo’s power to stop practices that effectively prevent the emergence of successful entrepreneurs. Furthermore, as I have mentioned repeatedly, many of the most innovative companies in the world were founded during times of crisis. Therefore, it is critical to remove any barriers that inhibit entrepreneurial activities and to correct (well intentioned, yet) ineffective methods that have continued to waste public funds with very little to show for it.
The need is clear. If Japan is to stem an economic decline that continues after two decades it must generate a new wave of entrepreneurial energy. Since 1975-76, when Microsoft and Apple were founded, the U.S.
June 14th, 2011 04:02 PM
Author whsaito
Comments 1 Comment

Reigniting Japan’s Entrepreneurial Energy

When I lecture at universities on innovation and entrepreneurship, I show students a slide (below) of the top 50 innovative companies in the world and the year they were founded (the list source is not important, but in this case, it was from Business Week). Besides the fact that only four Japanese companies are listed here, there are some other striking points to note:

1. No world-class companies have been founded in Japan since 1946; and

2. Japan’s major companies (and others on the list) grew out of a time of crisis in that nation’s history.

(Actually, there are at least five unique points in this slide – maybe a future post…)

This begs the question we will deal with first: Why? And another essay will look at what kinds of innovative companies we can expect to emerge from this current crisis, caused by unprecedented natural (and manmade) disasters.

Japan’s defeat in 1945 unleashed a wave of entrepreneurial energy that stunned the world as it swamped global markets three decades later.
It began in burned-out cities with demobilized soldiers desperately seeking rice to put on the table and a way to recover their shattered pride. With nothing to lose, they had no fear of taking risks in order to succeed.
In Shinagawa, Sony’s founders, Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita, tinkered with rice cookers and radios. In Hamamatsu, Soichiro Honda strapped small engines on bicycles. On the very edge of Hiroshima’s blast radius, survivors at Toyo Kogyo scrambled to produce three-wheeled trucks under the Mazda brand.
This desperate entrepreneurial energy drove postwar Japanese to amass more wealth in the span of a single lifetime than any generation of human beings in history. For awhile their momentum seemed so unstoppable that rivals began to contemplate the likelihood of “Japan as Number One.”

Then, the momentum suddenly disappeared after 1991.

May 18th, 2011 07:58 PM

Sweden & The Tällberg – 5th Global YES Summit

This last week, I was in Sweden, attending the Youth Entrepreneurship and Sustainability summit, or the 5th Global YES Summit – Rework the World, in Leksand, Sweden. I was invited to go to this event by my friend Dr. Mario Tokoro, President of the Sony Computer Science Laboratories (Sony CSL). The event itself is an annual gathering of 2000 entrepreneurs, opinion leaders, local and global leaders in politics, civil society and business. “Rework The World” is a collaboration between Tällberg Foundation and YES Inc.  The Tällberg Foundation was founded by Bo Ekman, a former executive from Volvo. YES is an international organization represented in more than 55 developing countries with a focus on youth, entrepreneurship and sustainability.

Anyway, I was asked to speak at several sessions at the event, including:

  • 6/4/2010 – Featured session: Rethinking the role of enabling technologies (462)
  • 6/5/2010 – Rethinking Finance – Future financial mechanisms (533)
  • 6/5/2010 – Plenary session V – Investment Forum

This is actually my first trip to Sweden, and since I was on my way from Rome (via London), there was no real time-zone change. While the flight was only about 4 hours into Stockholm-Arlanda airport, I then transferred to a train, heading to Leksand via a city called Borlänge (transfer station). This trip was scheduled to be only 2.5 hours. Unfortunately, about an hour into the trip, my train apparently hit and killed a person. Apparently, this is a relatively common occurrence in Sweden too. (I read somewhere that countries that have tough gun laws invariably have high suicide rates by train.) Anyway, long, long story short, what should have taken an hour or two at most to clear up ended up taking 13 hours. My reading of the situation was that the person killed was hit several kilometers before we stopped.

June 9th, 2010 04:11 AM

Japan’s financial markets – The (in)complete story

On Wednesday, I had the honor of participating in an Economist Conference panel titled “Japan’s financial markets: The whole story”.  I was one of four participants and was the speaker representing entrepreneurial interests that didn’t come from the finance industry.  During my opening remarks, I mentioned that I have personally been involved in at least a dozen financing mechanisms and would love to talk about them during the panel discussion.  Unfortunately, we did not have enough time yet several people expressed interest in hearing about the 12 points.  Therefore, I decided to put it up on blog.

Here is (my) list of financing methods that many entrepreneurs and start-ups go through.  Not everyone does every step but I have generally listed them in the general progression based on the maturity of the venture.

  1. The 3 F’s – Friends, Families and Fools
  • This is quite literally people who go to their parents, uncle, siblings and friends to “invest” money into your idea or concept.
  • Most people who invest at this stage really don’t expect much and mentally have tagged this money at the same level of going to Las Vegas.
  • Similarly, these people usually don’t get involved, sit on boards or provide feedback, oversight or other assistance.
  • Microfinancing
    • This type of loan is not usually found in developed countries but in a lot of developing countries.
    • It is primarily used in countries that don’t have established banking systems or where the amount of monies does not make sense economically for a bank to make.
    • Many of these loans are made to people in poverty who make less than a few dollars a day.
    • The most famous and one of the first is the Grammen Bank, founded by Nobel Laureate – Professor Muhammad Yunus.
  • The VC – This VC does not stand for “venture capital” but stands for the “Visa Card’
    • Popular in the United States, especially with college students since one of the first things you get are tons of credit card applications.
    May 21st, 2010 12:56 AM

    Entrepreneurism around the world

    Lately, I have been asked to speak at a LOT of events on the topic of entrepreneurism. I just returned from Switzerland and the St. Gallen Symposium and this week, since I’ve been back, I’ve been asked to talk about innovation and entrepreneurship to a variety of crowds. What’s interesting is that on one day, it would be a group of 20 or so MBA students from the United States. On another day, it was half-a-dozen fund managers, foundations and hedge funds with total assets of over $450 billion under management. The rest of this week I’ll speak at two Economist conferences and some smaller events throughout Tokyo. While I’m honored to be asked to speak at these events, I also enjoy learning something new every time I meet a new set of people.

    It goes to show how, in the last year, people are looking for ways to think innovatively. This is a good thing. Like I have said before, it’s sad to see people lose their jobs during economic crises, but it’s good to see people reevaluating the risk/reward of their current situation and wanting to do something new. While education, culture, risk profiles and politics drive entrepreneurship in a country, at the end of the day, it’s the individual who must take that leap of faith and execute.

    While I don’t have all the answers and don’t claim to even know 1% of what makes a successful entrepreneur, I hope to help steer people away from making some obvious and not-so-obvious mistakes when going down this path. Being an entrepreneur, starting a venture and converting innovation into something profitable is a very difficult endeavor, even when the stars are aligned. While each situation is different, by sharing information, experiences and examples, hopefully, the number of hurdles against a prospective entrepreneur can be reduced.

    May 18th, 2010 05:00 PM
    Author whsaito
    Comments 1 Comment