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SUGEE person interview Vol.2 – Ken Man, Co-founder of Academics Extended Consulting Company (aX)

In SUGEE Person Interview, we introduce people from abroad living in Japan who are trying to realize their unique ideas in their own fields.

This time we interviewed Mr. Ken Man from Hong Kong who started a business in Hong Kong and doing business in Japan. In his business, he is supporting the internationalization of universities and university students. He shows a unique way to make a startup and doing business across borders.

Interviewee’s profile: Ken Man
My name is Ken Man and I am from Hong Kong. My qualifications and experiences are closely related to international promotion in English/Japanese/Chinese and collaborative project management, particularly for university’s internationalization and student’s overseas studying/career development. With my IT profession I am also a technician for remote computing environment buildup and computational simulation research. As an entrepreneur my current focus also includes startup management. After experiencing IT consultant, employment agency and university teaching in Hong Kong, I worked for Kobe University in Japan during 2009-2016. Reporting to Vice-president and research center directors, I was responsible for wide-ranging academic outreach activities such as university’s international linkage buildup, cross university co-research project management and career development program planning. With the expertise, I co-founded a Hong Kong based consulting company in 2016, supporting universities, individual researchers, students and university-based startups for their international development. As I originally majored in art & digital media, I am also a freelance artist & designer in Japan for corporate and product promotion/branding.

Academics Extended Consulting Company (aX):
Founded in 2016, registered in Hong Kong, we are a group of university academic administrator in international affairs, international promotion manager, education program planner, student adviser for overseas study, computational simulation expert & server management technician, digital media designer/art director for corporate promotion.
Academics, for us it refers to sorts of people/organizations closely related to higher education sector, include universities, research groups, individual researchers as well as university students.
We hope our services can EXTEND the WIDTH of their current activities for further international development.
For example, 
– universities can more efficiently promote them overseas in many other languages meanwhile recruit talented non-local students for international advancement;
– researchers can conduct their research not only on-site but also remotely, in particular for simulation research;
– students can get more easy access to information of overseas studies/internships and acquire financial support for joining such meaningful programs.

Thank you for accepting our interview, Mr. Ken Man. First of all, please tell us your current business in Japan.

Okay so first of all, I was an exchange student in Japan before, around 10 years ago, and now I’m running my company in Hong Kong and working in Japan mainly for providing services to universities for supporting their international activities. The main target of our business is to support university’s international development and help students to go study abroad. We provide information to students about the study opportunities outside Japan, mainly in Asia with scholarship and financial support.

Could you tell us about why and how you started that business?

Before starting my business in 2016, I was working at Kobe University for nearly 10 years. And mainly responsible for international affairs. And during that time I realized that not only the university wants to be internationalized, but also students want to get more opportunities to improve themselves in the international environment, especially for their career development. However, one major problem was the lack of targeted information. In particular for Japanese students, they find difficult to get information which really suits their needs and the efficient way to widen their eyes because they have a lack of  information resources and friendly guide. That’s why supporting students is also the target of my business.

Why I started our company in Hong Kong?  There are several practical reasons. One main reason is related to our clients.  For example we have close connections with some universities in Hong Kong. From our communications I learned that the  engineering school wanted to attract more Japanese students. On the other hand, they find difficult to promote or deliver information to students efficiently. I think we can provide support. So I  registered my company with my friends in Hong Kong as our first station. And then, if my business goes well and expanded, of course, I want to start another branch in Japan.

How’s current size of your company?

 Since our business is still in starting so now it is very small.e We want to focus on the efficiency of using resources. We have three groups but our businesses are not exactly the same. Instead, we have our focuses and we support each other with our featured expertise. For example for me, I support universities and students. But for the others, they support small companies.  We have the same goal, which is helping clients to be more internationalized. 

 In order to save resources from the start at this moment we don’t want to make it too big. And as you know, if the company is too big you have a lot of procedures to deal with. This is also time-consuming. Keeping focused and using resources efficiently is our keywords.

 Currently we have 3 full-time staff including me, and  3 part-time staff and one external collaborator.

So the next question is what are the difficult points for starting your own business in Japan?
I want you to listen to your opinions from the perspective of a person who is staying and doing business in Japan.

In fact we had examined the opportunity of starting business in Japan comparing with in Hong Kong. One difficulty is the language. I learned Japanese for quite a long time, almost 10 years. But still, sometimes I find difficult to understand some professional or technical terms. For example about the difference in the types of companies. In Japan, they have a lot of forms and it’s not easy for  non-Japanese people with limited Japanese language proficiency to get deep understanding and consider which one is the most suitable for your business, because they’re all written in Japanese language. And sometimes you may need some professional advice, such as those from the consulting services provided by certain associations. However on the other hand, it is not easy to identify which association could bring us good  advice because most of them provide services in Japanese. So that’s why language is one of the difficulties, perhaps the major obstacle. 

Another one is the residence. My wife is Japanese it is comparatively easier for me to get visa.  However for other non-Japanese people, they need to firstly deal with their visa. The processes of taking them are so complicated under case-by-case situation.

So then, next we want to think about the business culture of Japan. How do you think about the difference in business culture in Japan and in your hometown, Hong Kong?

From my experience, the main difference is the image of starting a business. Not only for students but also for many working people, stability  seems to be the first priority when considering career. Mostly stability means working at a big company with long-time employment contract. In Hong Kong, on the contrary there are very few cases you can get a long-time or even permanent employment contract. Hence comparatively more people tend to find a way to deserve the opportunities  of starting their businesses even they are working. I can say that this is the difference in culture generated by different social reality. 

Furthermore, in Hong Kong you have got many chances to learn from other successful people on-campus. Even you study at engineering school,  career center of university organizes many kinds of seminars with OBOGs, especially those who have their own companies.

You are now doing business in Japan, but the company is in Hong Kong and you mentioned in this interview that you are thinking to register a branch in Japan. Even if you are recognizing difficulties in starting a business in Japan, what makes you want to have a company in Japan?

If you want to do business with Japanese companies, having a branch in Japan is easier. When I provide service to universities in Japan they will first check that whether your company can be trusted or not. And if your company is outside Japan, it is hard for them to find information about the company so that it is difficult to be trusted. This is one of the reasons why I want to make and register a company in Japan in future.

Another reason is the connection. If your company is located in Japan, it is easier to create connections with local companies and  also communication will be more efficient. Some companies in Japan actually have no background knowledge about the environment outside Japan because the company is completely based on the Japanese systems they  find difficult to know other systems in Hong Kong, Singapore, even in China. As a result they may worry that it causes a risk for their companies when doing business with foreign companies.

Why did you choose Japan as the main field of your business?

One reason is that I stayed here for a long time and here I found some problems that our company may be able to solve. If I want to start it from other countries, even in Hong Kong I need to take time to find where the problem is and how to solve it. 

In my opinion, business is based on solving problems. If you solve the problem of your clients or if you solve the problems of society, you  should get your success. You create your value to the society. So, starting in Japan is perhaps a good option for me.That’s also why I have been living here for more than 10 years.

How do you see your business going forward?

Although right now  our business focuses on the relationship between Japan and Hong Kong, in the future we want to link up Japan  with other countries. Because in Hong Kong we usually use English as communication medium, it is easier for us to get global. In Japan still some companies find difficult to communicate  in English. So perhaps we can provide some support for Japanese companies to link up with companies in other countries.

At last, please give a message to future entrepreneurs from abroad.

If you want to start a business in Japan, collecting necessary information would be your first priority. For that, communication with experienced people is a good way. In reality even if you seek many sites of governmental sources or the resources from associations, it is still hard to get information that fits your needs. However, you can learn many things based on your demand through communication with experienced people. 

I think projects like SUGEE is great because it provides us good opportunities for  information exchange and learning from experienced people. Targeted  information can  be obtained from experienced people, comparatively easier and efficient than just reading general information from official websites/pamphlets.

This interview is held on 17th January.

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