Central Japan's New Regional Branding Invites Startups to Give-it-a-try in the Homeland of Mobility 5.0
The power of convergence
In a panel discussion dubbed "Region × Innovation – Knowing Who and How to Engage," PDIE Group Founder Christian Schmitz cited Tesla as an example of the type of innovation startup ecosystems are tackling today. "We need to realize Tesla only looks like a car" but is, in fact, "a convergence of different technologies." He said so to describe how the Central Japan region's spirited hardware manufacturing craftsmanship can evolve by connecting with startups specialized in new digital areas such as AI, big data, material science, and nano-technology, as well as emerging business models. In addition, Christian welcomed the fact that there are now increasing opportunities after the pandemic to meet face-to-face in networking or matching events, which fosters the convergence of talent.
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, wrote that the "shift from simple digitization to innovation based on combinations of technologies is forcing companies to reexamine the way they do business." Citing the chairman's quote, Jonathan Soble said, "the means to connect and involve people is not limited to physical interactions." Jonathan is the Editorial and Communication Lead at the World Economic Forum Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) Japan. Today "I see more and more people in Japan, both expatriate and Japanese moving away from Tokyo, but are remotely connected to Tokyo or even Australia." He concluded that anyone interested in the Central Japan region could be plugged into the ecosystem without constantly being on the ground. However, Jonathan continued by provoking the area to also transform the work culture, if not, at the very least, "should embrace that creative people (or startups) prefer a different workstyle and lifestyle" from conventional Japanese manufacturing companies or plants.
A culture that embraces failure
Shinko Osada, a Board member of Future Design Shibuya, expanded on the cultural aspect, stressing the importance of defining the city or region as a brand before discussing the possibility of a cross-border ecosystem succeeding out of Japan. Based on her experience working behind the ongoing rebranding of Shibuya in Tokyo, she described how "the people make up the culture" and a sense of belonging, energy, and city pride were the key ingredients of what makes an appealing regional brand. "We need to connect and involve a diverse range of people" to raise awareness of the regional brand, which "attracts more people who want to take part" in evolving the Central Japan Startup Ecosystem.
Shinko continued that the region's culture also "needs to embrace failure," sharing how she faced many situations elsewhere of startups being asked to present a track record. "Innovation is an innovation because it has not been done before. If we can support those who throw themselves into uncharted territories, people worldwide will show interest in this region." Fortunately, the Central Japan region has been long known for its Yaramaika spirit, which means "Let's give it a try." Those who live in India might recall Satoshi Suzuki, the then-Japanese Ambassador to India, saying, "this spirit (Yaramaika) which comes from his homeland, is the second key to unlocking the potentials" of the development of the North Eastern Indian Region two years ago. Central Japan's new regional branding owes its open, diverse, and collaborative personality to this Japanese dialect popular in Hamamatsu, where the mayor is leading by example.
An open and energetic brand identity
The new official logo and branding for the Central Japan Startup Ecosystem will be applied beyond the consortium's website and LinkedIn account. The logo takes its cue from two facts. First, the region is geographically located roughly in the center of Japan. Second, the area has been the center of Japan's manufacturing excellence for centuries. The sphere circling the "C" is always open – not closed, representing the region's vision to become a place where open innovation is born for entrepreneurs of all corners and its commitment to support them. Yuki Goto, who works in the Startup Support Department of Nagoya's Innovation Promotion Division, is enthusiastic about the new visual identity because it mirrors her desire. She wants "a diverse range of people beyond the locals to join and co-create the ecosystem with them" because it is a crucial driver in nurturing a thriving startup ecosystem. Venture capitalists in Tokyo already tell her they hear much about what's recently happening in Central Japan. "I'm excited because we're getting noticed," she said. Born and bred in Nagoya, Yuki started working at a local manufacturing company. However, she joined the public sector driven by her passion for helping companies pave a new path toward the future.
In addition, two shades of blue will be used as the primary brand color. First, the chic, down-to-earth Hanada Iro represents the area's traditional craftsmanship and merchant spirit not limited to heavy industry. The color is a variant of indigo dye, which the town of Arimatsu in Aichi is known for. The second, futuristic, brighter blue represents the energy of the new and younger generation and the innovation made possible by the area's famous optoelectronic industry. Glowing Plasma Blue – a name coined for Central Japan's regional branding, shows the ecosystem's determination to lead the way toward Mobility 5.0 – an uncharted territory yet to be defined. Makoto Kanemaru, Assistant Director, Startup Division, Bureau of Economy and Industry, Aichi Prefectural Government, mentioned that the number of startup companies PRE-STATION Ai houses quadrupled in the past year. PRE-STATION Ai is the precursor to Japan's largest incubation hub-to-be, STATION Ai. When asked what to expect in the next ten years, Makoto concurred that unless the region promotes a unique and ownable concept like mobility, "we will continue to be in the shadows of Tokyo's stature."
The region's positioning statement 'An Ecosystem Integrated with Manufacturing Excellence' is "a powerful statement that we can build on," Yutaka Yamazaki, Deputy General Manager Innovation Initiative Division of Central Japan Economic Federation, affirmed. Furthermore, Yutaka pointed out that, while more and more people use the innovation hub and co-working space Nagoya Innovator's Garage, the most significant change is, "I notice a sense of heightened urgency." Soon, the region can be considered part of a new Greater Tokyo due to the Maglev Shinkansen, which will connect Tokyo and Nagoya in 40 minutes. More than halving the time of what it takes today will open up a whole new world, bringing software startups in Tokyo closer to manufacturers of Central Japan, thus creating an even more diverse startup ecosystem.
About the Central Japan Startup Ecosystem
There are 371 startups in Central Japan, of which 150 are university-launched. An estimated 18.615 billion yen (as of July 2022) of funds have been raised, in addition to accelerator programs, financial support systems, and innovative university seeds. Furthermore, collaborative partnerships with STATION F, INSEAD, BLOCK71, Paris&Co, Bpifrance, Venture Cafe, Plug and Play, Israel Innovation Authority, Tsinghua University, China Medical University, National University of Singapore, The University of Texas at Austin, Stanford University, North Carolina State University, University of Nebraska and the Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad attract a diverse range of entrepreneurs to the region. For more information, please visit https://central-startup.jp/en.
Scheduled to open in 2024, STATION Ai will be a world-first, top-notch global innovation center. The center will provide a one-stop, one-roof link to world-class startup support programs through liaison with leading-edge startup support bodies and universities. Please visit https://www.aichi-startup.jp/english/support/.
About the Central Japan region
In July 2020, Aichi prefecture, the City of Nagoya, and Hamamatsu City of Shizuoka became one of the four regional Startup Ecosystem Global Base Cities groups designated nationwide by the cabinet office. The GDP of this region is 44,093.2 billion yen (as of 2019), mainly attributed to key industries such as Automotive, Aerospace, Machine Tools, Production Machinery, Iron and Steel, Musical Instruments, and Photonics/Electronics. The region's mission is to positively impact society by bringing the future of mobility to our doorsteps as soon as possible. The 6,731 km2 area is currently home to 8.29 million people, out of which over 300 thousand are foreign nationals - and will be a home-from-home for entrepreneurs and startups who share the same will and passion. In addition, various chill-out activities such as surfing, hiking, camping, paragliding, and ski/snowboarding are easily accessible. At the same time, seasonal marathon events and Formula One races are also hosted in adjacent cities. Furthermore, the American Chamber of Commerce, Tokai Japan Canada Society, Chubu Walkathon & International Charity Festival, and Nagoya Vegan Gourmet Festival are opportunities to meet like-minded locals.