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START in KOBE (4) – What is UNOPS and Global Innovation Center Japan?

1. Introduction

In this series of articles of SUGEE Kansai, we are focusing on Kobe city, a city that has been selected as a Global Startup Hub City by the Japanese government, and is attracting attention from Japan and the rest of the world as “Startup City”.

In the third article of the series, we introduced the Startup visa, which was launched last year in Kobe to increase the opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs to start a business in Japan. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, check out this article! [START in KOBE (3) What is Startup VISA?]

This is the fourth in this series of articles. We will introduce the startup support program, jointly operated by UNOPS, Hyogo Prefectural Government and Kobe City Government. It is mainly composed of 2 topics, the Global Innovation Challenge, an incubation program that is attracting attention from all over the world, and the Global Innovation Center Japan, an international incubation facility to be open this fall in Kobe.

If you are looking for an English incubation program in Japan, check it out!

[Series: START in KOBE]

  1. Why Does Kobe focus on Startups?
  2. What is the 500 Startups Kobe Accelerator?
  3. What is Startup VISA?
  4. What is UNOPS and Global Innovation Center Japan?
  5. Why You Should Start in KOBE Now?

■Check out the key phrases in this episode.

UNOPS has been an independent UN entity since 1995, managing humanitarian and technical assistance projects around the world, focusing on solving infrastructural and health care challenges in collaboration with the private sector. Each year, it manages more than 1,000 projects in more than 80 countries around the world.
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✔︎ UNOPS Global Innovation Challenge
UNOPS Global Innovation Challenge is an incubation program run by UNOPS to turn ideas of entrepreneurs and innovators into businesses that contribute to solving the SDGs. The City of Kobe cooperates with them to manage this Global Innovation Challenge in cooperation with Japanese companies.(

✔︎ Global Innovation Center in Japan
UNOPS Global Innovation Center in Japan is an incubation facility jointly operated by UNOPS, Hyogo Prefecture, and Kobe City, which aims to create innovations that contribute to solving global problems through the integration of public and private sectors.(

Let’s explore more about the efforts of UNOPS and Kobe City!

2. Interview

Interviewer: Haruki Morikawa
Interviewee: Naoko Sugisako, An Innovation Specialist from UNOPS, Global Innovation Center Kobe

> First of all, could you give us an overview of the programs of UNPOS and Kobe City?

UNOPS is a UN organization that focuses on infrastructure and health care projects and its new initiatives around the Global Innovation Centers have two objectives. One is to create the innovation required to solve the SDGs. And the other is to expand the private sector’s access to the market opportunities provided by the SDGs.

To these goals, UNOPS is planning to open about 15 incubation facilities called UNOPS Global Innovation Center around the world, with Global Innovation Center Japan (GIC Japan) being the third in the world and the first in Asia to open this fall. GIC Japan will be operated jointly by UNOPS, Hyogo Prefectural Government and Kobe City Government. These three will together manage the center, and private companies will also be involved in the operations. The establishment of the UNOPS center in Japan is aimed at utilizing the technologies and knowledge of Japan, a technologically advanced country, and Japanese companies to solve problems.

> How does the UNOPS realize innovation creations?

The UNOPS startup incubation programme, called the Global Innovation Challenge, is the core business of UNOPS Global Innovation Centers. On a global scale, they aim to create new innovative businesses that contribute to the solution of the SDGs by supporting startups together with global companies. On a local level, Hyogo Prefecture and Kobe City are collaborating with Japanese companies and universities to provide opportunities to learn about SDGs business and to create business opportunities.

For global entrepreneurs, the Global Innovation Challenge is the main program, which will be carried out in collaboration with Japanese private companies.

>  Could you elaborate more on the Global Innovation Challenge?

Let me explain the processes of the Global Innovation Challenge. UNOPS conducts about 1,000 projects a year in more than 80 countries around the world, and the theme of the challenge is decided based on the business needs which are discovered from such UNOPS projects. Based on the theme, we invite startups from all over the world to submit their business ideas, and the selected companies are then invited to come to the GIC Japan incubation facility in Kobe to receive intensive training and brush up on their business plans. Afterward, there is another selection process, and selected startups will move into GIC Japan, where they will receive support from UNOPS and collaborating companies, and work on activities that will lead to the piloting.

Applications for the first Global Innovation Challenge for this year closed on July 31, 2020. ( (wBQDSoCZcnXw8zLMjoR4UaJWIXWz1Kc) 

This time the theme was climate change, and it was provided in partnership with Sony Corporation. 624 companies from 98 countries applied for this program, the largest number of applicants coming from Africa.

> Do you have any specific examples of how the business plans of the participating companies have been applied to solve problems?

One example is the use of technology in the UN field; a case in Sierra Leone in the year 2017. In Sierra Leone, where a major landslide occurred during the earthquake, drones were used to measure earthquake damage and create a disaster map to provide a bird’s eye view of the damage. In addition, UNOPS is operating humanitarian call centers in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide information on life in the refugee camps there to refugees who are unable to read, using AI.

In this way, we would like to support this program by creating innovations in Kobe that are useful in solving problems and testing them out in the field.

> It means that startups will be able to get support in Japan to brush up on ideas to solve problems in developing countries that are supported by the United Nations, and also they can obtain support for activities to implement them in the real field!
So, who would you recommend to participate in this program?

This year, we received 624 applications from 98 countries, of which about 20 companies from Japan applied. Unfortunately, there are not many acceleration programs in Japan that are available in English, and the Global Innovation Challenge was originally designed to recruit businesses with an overseas market in mind. For this reason, I think it is a good opportunity for international students who have studied in Japan and want to start a business that focuses on an overseas market in the future. They could join the program whenever; while they are still in school, or after they have started their own business, or while preparing to start their own business.

Also, one of the attractive points of this program is the fact that we offer it together with Japanese companies. This time, you will have the opportunity to make business ideas and prototypes with engineers from Sony Corporation. This is one of the great opportunities to participate in Japan.

> Can you also tell us more about the Global Innovation Center Japan that you mentioned earlier?

Yes, this facility is under construction in Kobe and will open this fall. It is a combination of a business startup support facility run by Hyogo Prefecture, a startup support facility run by UNOPS, and an innovation facility run by Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC). We expect it also to bring about interactions between Japanese and foreign entrepreneurs.

> Who will be able to use this facility? 

The area run by UNOPS is a facility for residents, but part of a business startup support facility run by Hyogo Prefecture next door is open to the outside users as well, in the form of a coworking space. In addition, Hyogo Prefecture, UNOPS, and SMBC are planning to hold events in each of these areas, so the public is welcome to join us!

> Lastly, is there any opportunity provided in the collaboration of UNOPS and Kobe city that we can apply for in the near future? 

The most recent Global Innovation Challenge closed for applications in July 2020. However, UNOPS is trying to organize challenges with companies about twice a year. We are also planning to run other programs in collaboration with universities. Therefore, we are planning to organize two to three programs per year, so please wait for more news!

3. Summary

In this article, we have introduced the Global Innovation Challenge and the Global Innovation Center Japan, a joint initiative between the United Nations Organization (UNOPS), Hyogo Prefectural Government and Kobe City Government.

Here’s the recap!
✔︎ The Global Innovation Challenge is an incubation program run by UNOPS in collaboration with Hyogo Prefecture and Kobe City and private companies for entrepreneurs with ideas to solve the SDGs.
✔︎ This year’s first program was launched under the theme of “Climate Change” and received 624 applications from 98 countries, attracting attention from all over the world.
✔︎ Global Innovation Center Japan is an incubation facility jointly run by UNOPS in collaboration with Hyogo Prefecture and Kobe City, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020.
✔︎ There are many events open to the public. Why not pay a visit there!

In Part 5, we continue our series of articles on “The Future of Startup City, Kobe” and “Why you should start a business in Kobe” We’ll get to the answer.

Stay Tuned!!

Check them out too!

■Kobe Startup Support Department: Global Website


■ Global Innovation Challenge

UNOPS Launches Global Innovation Centre in Japan from UNOPS

■KOBE live+work

■START in KOBE Series Past Article
(1) Why Does Kobe focus on Startups?
(2) What is the 500 Startups Kobe Accelerator?
(3) What is Startup VISA?

Interview: 3rd, September 2020

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