Tokyo & the Nordics: a New Innovation Hub in the Making

Fariza Abidova, CEO of Trusted Inc.

On Jan 22, 2021, Trusted Inc, Nordic Innovation House, CIC Tokyo, Mori Building, Innovation Lab Asia, and Venture Cafe Tokyo hosted a joint event on “Nordic startups and Japanese companies: open innovation strategies & exploring opportunities for partnerships in health tech and other business areas” at CIC Tokyo.

During the event, both Japanese corporations and Nordic startups presented their expertise and searched for and found solutions to healthcare challenges that especially Japan is looking for. The country has the highest proportion of elderly citizens of any nation in the world.

With 250 attendees from both Japan and overseas, the event was a huge success. Below is a short summary of the proceedings as well as direct contacts to take you one step closer to open innovation between Japanese companies and European & Nordic startups in HealthTech and other sectors.

The groundwork for a full support startup & innovation infrastructure

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government opened the event — and they got big plans for startups and open innovation. The city recently launched a new initiative that provides funding for large corporations entering joint projects with Japanese startups and research institutions — and further funds are available from the national government too. The city of Tokyo has further designated a special economic zone — companies settling into the zone with their headquarters can receive benefits including tax incentives, subsidies, low-interest loans, simplified immigration for foreign staff, and assistance with patent applications and investment procedures. To set up a meeting with government officials on the funding available for open innovation projects, please contact Trusted.

Getting physical on innovation with Mori Building

Getting physical in Tokyo

This was followed by a presentation by Mori Building on the future of smart cities. As much as we have lived and worked remotely the past 12 months — in-person networking is the backbone of business culture in Japan and the benefits of face-to-face exchanges are irreplaceable.

Mori building knows this: They are one of Japan’s most acclaimed developers that shaped Tokyo’s skyline with their iconic office buildings located in the Special Economic Zone. Mori builds on a sustainability philosophy to create green and human-centric smart cities — and their presentation beautifully showcased a connected and green city that benefits our work environment, social life, and a connection with the natural environment.

Their newest creation is the Toranomon Hills Business Tower with two floors fully dedicated to startups — called CIC Tokyo. The state-of-the-art office and coworking space is Japan’s largest innovation center and one of the largest startup hubs in the country. Startups can set up their business here at incredibly reasonable rates while enjoying a far-reaching network.

Regular events and initiatives connect startups right where they work with Mori’s heavyweight tenants all over Tokyo and open up opportunities for collaboration — from Japanese household names to some of the biggest global corporations. The best news is that CIC Tokyo is still taking applications for tenants and community members who want to be part of this network.

Entering Japan's close-knit startup ecosystem

We already learnt of two promising avenues into Tokyo’s startup ecosystem — but Fariza Abidova, CEO of Trusted — further presented a solid framework on how to create successful open innovation projects. Much-needed information, as Trusted sent out a survey post-event that revealed astonishing numbers: 90% of 66 respondents said they want to start open innovation projects, but only 5% felt ready for this.

Fariza took us through the base steps of developing an open innovation business plan and what not to miss out on — from assembling the right team of experts to appropriate budgeting and realistic timelines. Also: having a contingency plan in case your collaboration does not produce the desired results.

She further revealed the synergies between European and Japanese companies that make them great partners for international collaboration: Both cultures embrace a monotsukuri mindset and plan with careful attention to detail, resulting in long-term projects with high success rates. For those that want to know more about achieving innovation readiness and Japanese-EU startup collaborations, contact Trusted for a free consultation.

There’s a new love story on the horizon: Japan and the Nordics

An introduction to the Nordic startup ecosystem

Love is in the air between Japan and the Nordics — based on very practical considerations: one is an innovation hotspot for HealthTech, the other one in dire need of it with a rapidly aging population. The Nordic countries — which include the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway) as well as Finland, Iceland, and Estonia and their diverse startup ecosystem and unusually high number of unicorns were presented by Nordic Innovation House and Innovation Lab Asia.

This unique cluster of countries has established itself as a leader in HealthTech open innovation. This came to be by three main factors, according to HealthTech Hub Copenhagen’s presentation:

  • Healthcare providers in the Nordics are open to running innovation trials — including startups
  • A strong academic environment in terms of talent acquisition and funding
  • Non-dilutive funding options that don’t force startups to give up equity

HealthTech is big in the Nordic countries

Japan on the other hand with the world’s most aged population, is keen to incorporate innovations that make patients’ lives more livable and ease the healthcare system. Three promising startups pitched during the event:

  • Walk With Path (Denmark) has won numerous awards for developing innovative products (think: laser shoes!) that help people suffering from intractable diseases such as Parkinson’s disease walk and prevent falls.
  • Popit (Finland): By attaching a tiny Bluetooth clip to blister packs, patients can be automatically reminded on their smartphone to take their meds — but only if they forgot to! This convenient and non-intrusive system spares you false alarms and improved patients sticking with their medication by up to 80%.
  • Cognuse (Estonia) is building digital health solutions for healthcare professionals and patients with a focus on improving adherence to guidelines, quality of care, patient safety, and outcomes throughout the course of treatment — make healthcare planning faster and easier.

But does Japanese-European open innovation work?

For anyone wondering how Japan and the Nordics get on in real life — splendidly by the looks of it. The event was finished with a presentation by Nippon Gas Co., Ltd. on three reasons why to partner with a Nordic startup, based on their open innovation project with an Estonian company.

Nichigas is one of the largest gas providers in Japan and was looking for digital transformation of their data management and payment system:

  1. From AI to blockchain and digital ID — Nichigas was impressed with how advanced technologies were already seamlessly integrated in Estonia and other Nordics. They benefited from a developed ecosystem including superstar unicorns like Skype and Spotify
  2. A geographical advantage: After a direct flight to Helsinki, project managers were in Tallinn within 13 hours and the time difference gave plenty of overlap for synchronized work
  3. The cultural match: Nichigas found their Estonian counterparts to be open-minded, forward-thinking and was impressed by how fast things can get turned around in a lean management culture
The panel discussion revealed Japan’s strong desire for direction on launching open innovation projects

Open Innovation contacts for Japan & the Nordics

Anyone wanting to learn more about the Japanese & European open innovation process and startup infrastructure & benefits available in Tokyo can contact Trusted.

For those interested in market reports and regular updates on the Nordic startup ecosystem, please contact Nordic Innovation House or Innovation Lab Asia.

Inquiries on HealthTech innovation in the Nordics are best directed to HealthTech Hub Copenhagen.

Keywords: Open Innovation, Japan, Nordics, Scandinavia, Estonia, HealthTech, Europe, startups.

Trusted helps large corporations and tech startups accelerate innovation by analyzing, researching and consulting cross border/cross industry collaborations.

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