The second SF New Tech Japan Night was held in San Francisco’s SOMA district on June 28, 2011. Japan’s internet start-ups present the services offered by their companies at the event in English, before an audience of over three hundred locals, using it as a foothold for their global expansion. Following the first event last October, this is the second time the event has been held. Of the six companies which participated last time, myGengo succeeded in procuring funds from Dave McClure’s 500Startups, and so there was much anticipation this time, too.
Originally scheduled to be held in spring, this year’s event was held almost two months later than planned due to the 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake. This being the case, through the event the local audience was also looking at Japan’s economic recovery. As for the companies participating, public auditions began in early May, with countless applications from companies offering internet or mobile services abroad. The nineteen companies which passed our strict panel of judges, composed of San Francisco investors, venture capitalists, media and btrax staff, proceeded to the second round, submitting a video of their presentation. Here the companies’ English-language presentations were evaluated, and only those six considered capable of competing on the world stage went on to give their presentations live.
In spite of the threat of rain, uncommon for June in California, an audience of over three hundred people crowded into the club on the day of the event, leaving the converted warehouse feeling almost overcrowded. Having conducted detailed rehearsals both the day before and the morning of the event, the participants’ nerves were also beginning to show. About one hour before the actual presentations began at 19:30, local media conducted interviews with the participants. These involved some serious questions, such as the role start-ups play in Japan’s local regions and their vision of the earthquake recovery. Afterwards, the stage lights were dimmed and music with Japanese drums and koto (a traditional Japanese string instrument) played in the background, indicating the start of the event.
Out of their element with SF New Tech, presenters Myles and Matthew looked a little perplexed. Meanwhile the audience had already reached maximum tension in anticipation of what was to come. The order in which the services, companies, presenters and presentations appeared is as follows:
- Cacoo by nulab: Toshitaka Agata, Megumi Inoue
- ChatWork by EC Studio: Toshiyuki Yamamoto, Ash Ryan
- Feel on! by L is B: Taisuke Yokoi, Takeshi Kido
- Moso by Moso: Shinji Murakoshi
- BeauteCam by RakuRaku.com: Sadao Adachi, Chikara Shiratori
- Reengo by KAYAC: Hiroyuki “Cozy” Kojima
The event was structured so that the first two hours served as networking time involving both the audience and the participants, followed by the presentations. Each company had five minutes to explain the services they offer, with another five minutes for Q&A with the audience. The time for both presentations and Q&A sessions was closely monitored using a digital timer at the side of the stage, and anything which ran over was forcefully concluded without mercy.
Keep reading to learn how the companies got on.
Impressions from the event organizer:
Whilst only the second SF New Tech Japan Night ever held, the quality of services and presentations provided by the participating companies seemed to be even better than last year. There was great enthusiasm and response from the audience, and American companies and investors have since begun individual negotiations with participants. A number of weeks before the event was held, there were also several inquiries from venture capital firms and angel investors who had checked the list of participants. As can be seen from the remarkable increase in the overall number of applications and corporate sponsors for the event, the significance of Japanese start-ups’ international expansion can be felt every day.
I have the utmost respect for the courage and enthusiasm of those companies and presenters participating, evident in their rehearsals continued right up until their moment on stage, as well as the extraordinary effort that went into their successful presentations. At the same time, it is true that there are many hurdles that must be overcome when expanding abroad from Japan, and traditional methods do not always work. There has yet to be an instance of blockbuster success in a foreign market to date, and English-language skills when giving a presentation, or knowing how to effectively conduct Q&A sessions, draw in one’s audience or appeal to investors or foreign users can prove particularly challenging. However, challenging that which anyone would consider difficult is the calling of the start-up company, and is also a great opportunity to have an impact on the world.
This event may represent little more than the first step, but I would be thrilled if it could serve as an opportunity for more Japanese companies to gain global recognition and, by producing several models for success, show Japan’s existing and aspiring entrepreneurs what is possible. Through our assistance of companies aiming to expand globally, including those who participated in this year’s event and those who whose applications were regretfully unsuccessful, our greatest goal here at btrax is to create as many success stories as possible. We shall continue to make use of our service model and network to pursue and put into practice the necessary mechanisms and methodology to accomplish this goal. The next Japan Night will be held this fall.
We are eternally grateful to the participants, sponsors, audience members, judges and the many people who offered invaluable advice, as well as the btrax staff who oversaw the running of the event.
Author: Brandon K. Hill (@BrandonKHill)