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From Site Selection magazine, May 2019

Where Innovation Startups Are Fast-Tracked

FinTech, AI and advanced robotics enterprises are members of Tokyo’s growing innovation ecosystem.

Photo courtesy of the Tokyo Municipal Government

You’re part of a new but rapidly growing industry, and you know you need to have a presence in key global markets. One of those markets is huge, and English is not widely spoken. Is it even possible to establish a presence and become part of the business scene in this sector in a timely way?

These are among the considerations and scenarios FinTech and other innovation enterprises face when they seek to be a player on a global scale, not just in a local market. Tokyo, for example, has long been a leading Asian financial center, and its municipal leaders understand the importance of making FinTech companies welcome, quickly operational and successful in the long run.

That was the experience of Privé Technologies, which provides digital solutions for the wealth management and the broader financial services industry. It’s in many major Asian markets already and couldn’t omit Tokyo, which is working to be a leading center of the FinTech industry — a cluster, in due course.

But the Japanese capital’s foreign direct investment plans are broader than FinTech alone, explains Rieko Tagawa, Director for Attraction of Foreign Companies, Strategic Projects Division, Office for Strategic Policy and ICT Promotion at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG).

“Tokyo is a city of high potential that brings together a concentration of people, goods, money and information,” she relates. “The metropolitan GDP in 2017 was US$97 billion, which is bigger than the national GDP of Turkey. Regarding FDI to Tokyo, we have been attracting foreign companies especially related to Industry 4.0, FinTech and asset management companies. From just this April, TMG has also started initiatives to create the innovation-ecosystem in Tokyo.”

Ms. Tagawa says TMG provides seamless support for foreign companies wishing to start their business in Tokyo, from administrative procedures to establishment of partnerships with domestic companies. For FinTech and asset management companies, her office provides a one-stop support service- — a Financial Desk Consultant with financial business experience in and outside Japan with a rich understanding of financial regulations in Japan.

Transparent and Fast

How is Privé Technologies’ experience in Tokyo going so far?

“We found the environment to be very supportive of new companies,” reports David Lee, senior partner. “First, the process was very transparent. Everything was made very clear for us, and every point was explained in an easy-to-understand manner. Second, the many institutions that provided assistance were very coordinated. For example, general information from the Business Development Center Tokyo (BDCT), along with the free consultation advice from special departments like the Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center (TOSBEC) and regulatory and tax advice provided to establish companies in Tokyo was very comprehensive. Everything was coordinated to make conducting business extremely simple. In addition, support from consulting companies, like Accenture, sped up our decision-making and business-establishment process by two to three times versus having no support from such institutions.”

“People support and help each other constructively in any way they can.”
— Tim Miksche, Artisense

In practice, these resources are critical to startups, particularly where language barriers may exist. “All basic tax, regulatory and other questions were answered in one place with translators available to facilitate communication,” says Lee. “All of the forms and processes were extremely easy-to-follow and clear. If anything was unclear, the persons working in these organizations were always enthusiastic and happy to explain the process and how to complete it.”

Silicon Valley-based Artisense develops 3D-vision technology enabling vehicles, robots and UAVs to navigate effectively in any space without GPS. It’s a newcomer to Tokyo’s innovation ecosystem.

“Tokyo is a great place to do business as an international startup,” says Tim Miksche, the company’s chief representative in Japan. “The formerly closed Japanese business society has opened up the innovation space and is actively seeking collaboration with foreign technology innovators.”

But business practices in Japan are still different from other parts of the world, he adds, and newcomers often lack access to local networks and support, which are critical in the early days.

“This was also true when we founded our consultancy transferNET that helps international startups to set foot into Japan,” Miksche notes. “Working with TMG however, we could improve market insights and build highly valuable connections for our portfolio of companies. A good example is the deep-tech startup Artisense. A little over a year after coming to Japan, Artisense has such a fruitful network that they asked us to set-up their own Japanese subsidiary. Now they can work directly with a multitude of clients and move the Japanese business further ahead.”

Tokyo brings additional resources to bear, he adds, to help launch new enterprises in these sectors: “Through the international ‘Invest Tokyo’ scheme, TMG has connected Tokyo to other capital cities, creating a global network,” he illustrates. “This has created an interesting community of like-minded foreign companies we can tap into to share experiences and to get input for our own business. Events and networking sessions foster informal exchanges and pragmatic support even further. People support and help each other constructively in any way they can.”

The Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Office for Strategic Policy and ICT Promotion. For more information, visit

Mark Arend
Editor Emmeritus of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend is editor emeritus of Site Selection, and previously served as editor in chief from 2001 to 2023. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.


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