In the global, interconnected world of business and innovation, certain cities rise above the rest by attracting key players and emerging as global hubs for collaboration and growth, and Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city and part of the country’s largest innovation ecosystem, is rapidly gaining recognition as one such destination. Its allure extends far beyond its picturesque waterfront, historic charm and diversity; Yokohama has become a focal point for key global players in the business world.
During a launch event held in March for the upcoming Y-SHIP Convention from November 13-15, international business leaders from all over the world well-versed in innovation and startups shared their enthusiasm for Yokohama’s potential as a thriving business hub. Their collective message echoed the sentiment that Yokohama is a city on the cusp of something significant, drawing the attention of major players from around the world.
A Global Stage within Tokyo’s Ecosystem
One central theme discussed during the event was Yokohama’s strategic location within the greater Tokyo ecosystem. Victor Mulas, Founder of Quantum Visioning and a strategic advisor on innovation and tech startups, moderated the discussion and preceded it with a presentation on Japan’s startup ecosystem. It was emphasized that Yokohama’s presence within the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area—Japan’s largest startup ecosystem that accounts for 80% of national startup funding and activity—coupled with the city’s unique identity and growth trajectory, makes it a dynamic player in the global business landscape.
“The [Greater Tokyo] ecosystem has been traditionally dominated by domestic corporations and services, but that is starting to change,” Mulas explained. “You have more international VCs coming and more independent VCs in the ecosystem. They are growing the fastest…at a rate of eight times in the case of international VCs. That is also a very good trend that we are seeing, and part of why we’re having this panel now.”
Mulas continued, speaking on the attention that Yokohama and the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area are getting “We’re also starting to see other accelerators that we didn’t have [in Japan] that operate globally like, Tech Stars or 500, starting to enter the market, thanks to the JETRO Programs, and starting to also support [these] startups.”
And as more attention focuses on the Japanese startup ecosystem, Yokohama in particular has had a rapid development and innovation-driven ethos that resonates with entrepreneurs and businesses seeking opportunities in Asia’s premier business region. With a large number of R&D centers and engineers located in Yokohama, the region is known for its disruption and innovation.
“If there’s a place in Japan [which] combined creating chaos and creating new value, that’s Yokohama,” said Akihiro Hikita, Co-Founder and CEO of Global DX. Hikita lives in Yokohama and supports POCs between Japanese large corporations and foreign startups. “Yokohama [was] the first port to open up after 200 years of isolation back in the Edo period,” continued Hikita. “If Yokohama can do it, Japan can do it.”
Openness to Innovation and Collaboration
Participants in the discussion expressed their admiration for Yokohama’s willingness to embrace innovation and its open-minded approach to collaboration. This was highlighted by Isamu Koyama, Co-Representative Director of Japan Innovation Park GIA, who supports companies and POCs in Switzerland and other EU countries as well as market penetration for EU and Swiss companies into the Japanese market.
“A very good part about Yokohama City from my experience is that they are very flexible to welcoming POCs—Proofs of Concept” said Koyama. This receptiveness to POCs makes Yokohama an ideal testing ground for cutting-edge ideas and projects. This flexibility and eagerness to experiment align perfectly with the global business community’s quest for fertile ground to nurture innovation.
Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan in terms of population and area, which enables it to offer a variety of valuable test beds for POCS, including a port, mountainous areas, agricultural fields and more. In fact, Yokohama just announced a recent new project to recruit and support POCs from both foreign and domestic companies, which represents a great opportunity for any companies looking to start their business in Japan. Just make sure to apply before the September 22, 2023 deadline.
Jerrick Tee, the Singapore-based Assistant Director for the Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) who works in building international ecosystem at and startup development, also chimed in on Yokohama, noting his desire to create more connections between it and Singapore.
“Yokohama has a strong reputation for innovation,” said Tee. “It will continue to play that part, I believe, and on the global and local perspectives, I feel. If we look at innovation within Asia…as an interconnected ecosystem, there are certain areas that certain countries are probably a bit stronger in where other countries may not be, and the resource sharing and the collaboration between Yokohama City and Singapore, for example, can actually address some of the existing issues.”
Explaining his idea for collaboration further, Tee said, “On the topic [of] sustainability and clean tech…[and] in regards to deeptech, there are also very strong researchers and IPs coming from Japan itself, and I think we’ve also seen that in Yokohama. That can collaborate with the technologies we have [in Singapore], the researchers we have here, or even the spin-offs, and then land in Singapore and then the Southeast Asia region, and then we can do the opposite.”
Yokohama’s commitment to sustainability and clean tech innovation is another aspect that resonates with the panelists and wider international business community. Its strong research base, coupled with a dedication to environmentally responsible practices, positions the city as a global leader in sustainability efforts. This focus aligns well with the growing demand for businesses to operate with a conscience and embrace eco-friendly practices.
Nurturing Startups for Global Success
The potential to nurture startups and help them expand on a global scale was also highlighted during the discussion. With numerous research facilities and a burgeoning startup ecosystem, Yokohama has the ingredients to cultivate the next generation of global leaders. Many global players are recognizing the opportunities to collaborate with these startups and help them achieve international success.
“We are very familiar with the very research-oriented facilities…[and] many companies have either headquarters here or a global research base here,” said Phillip Vincent, Managing Director at Plug and Play East Asia. “So there should be a lot of seeds here that are ready to go global. Hopefully what we can do is make those seeds open to the public and then match them with business creators…to create those meaningful engagements and projects that become larger projects out of Yokohama.”
When asked what more Yokohama could do to accelerate its connection with global startups and corporations engaged in open innovation, Vincent said, “Besides Plug and Play hopefully being more involved with Yokohama, and through events or partnerships or programs [we] would love to explore doing something more with a big ecosystem like this… I’d say a ‘startup visa’…If Yokohama can somehow brand itself the most startup-friendly city in terms of being able to create a company, bring a company, and [be] somewhere that companies can grow, and stay, and live and eat and be entertained, then I think it has a good chance to become a really big startup ecosystem.”
The truth and good news is that Yokohama is actually well on its way towards this goal already. Yokohama already has a startup visa program that allows foreign entrepreneurs to apply to receive a special visa designation for living in Japan, which allows foreign startups and innovators to move to Yokohama and conduct business with lower restrictions than normal business owners would encounter. Add on to that all of Yokohama’s benefits for families and its reputation as a city to live, work, and play, and Yokohama seems well poised to achieve that goal.
Yokohama is now undeniably capturing the attention of key players across the business world. The Y-SHIP launch event’s Business Session discussion served as a compelling showcase of the city’s appeal, and the interest that international stakeholders have in it. Its strategic location, openness to innovation, unique blend of chaos and value creation, commitment to sustainability, and nurturing environment for startups all contribute to its growing reputation as a dynamic and innovative business hub.
As Y-SHIP Convention 2023 approaches in November, new and exciting business opportunities are sure to become available for companies looking to establish themselves in the Japanese market, and Yokohama is positioned as one of the best places to get started.