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START in KOBE (5) – Why You Should Start in Kobe Now?

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 previous articles of “START in KOBE,” we introduced Kobe’s philosophy on startup support, the joint acceleration program between 500 Startup and Kobe City, the new Startup VISA system, and the fourth article in the series, the Startup Support Project by Kobe City and UNOPS.  If you haven’t seen it yet, check them out here! [START in KOBE (4) What is UNOPS and Global Innovation Center Japan?]

This is the fifth and final article in this series. We asked people in charge of startup support of Kobe City about the future of Startup City Kobe, building on the initiatives we’ve introduced so far. We’re sure you’ll get the answer to why Kobe is the best place for you to start a business!

[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.

✔︎ Creative Smart Rokko Mountains
Kobe City has announced a plan to make Rokko-san a smart mountain for innovation creation. It aims to be a base for startups to create new ideas in a creative environment with the most advanced technology in the rich natural surroundings of Rokko mountain.
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✔︎ Kobe Biomedical Innovation Cluster
Japan’s largest biocluster innovation community, founded in 1988. The city of Kobe has built up its resources in the biomedical field through the operation of the cluster for over 20 years. They also focus on supporting startups in the life science field.(

✔︎ Startup Creative Lab
It is a shared lab for life science startups which is scheduled to open in October 2020, located on the 2F of Creative Lab for Innovation in Kobe, a laboratory to support research and development in the medical and healthcare field.(

2. Interview

Interviewer: Haruki Morikawa
-Takeshi Maruki, an assistant manager of the Research Division from Kobe Biomedical Innovation Cluster Department, Kobe City
-Atsunobu Kasagi, an Innovation Specialist from New Business Promotion Division, Kobe City
-Ai Endo from New Business Promotion Division, Kobe City

> In this interview so far, I have learned that UNOPS is an organization that focuses on the health care sector, and the 500 Startups Kobe Accelerator was also run last year with a focus on health tech. Is the city of Kobe planning to focus on policies that combine life sciences and startups?

Yes, exactly. In the beginning, there were two independent departments in Kobe for supporting startups, the Biomedical Innovation Cluster development, and the New Business department. However, until now, they were too vertically segmented, with each providing support for its own startups. Last year, as a result of focusing on the life sciences as the theme of the 500 Startups program, which the New Business department is in charge of, we were able to get a large number of domestic and international life science startups to participate in that program.

Currently, we are thinking that this kind of life science-focused startup clustering and nurturing is a strength that only Kobe can offer since Kobe has been running the Biomedical Innovation Cluster for 20 years and has accumulated a wealth of resources in that field. In fact, there have already been two cases of collaboration between startups and hospitals. We can say that we are beginning to realize the significance of supporting life science startups in Kobe.

> I understand. So, the two strengths of Kobe, the New Business Innovation field, and the Biomedical Innovation field, which originally existed in the city, are gradually being fused.

Yes, and in October, the Biomedical Innovation Cluster department will create a shared laboratory designed for life science startups called the Startup Creative Lab on the 2nd floor of the Creative Lab for Innovation in Kobe (CLIK), a biomedical research laboratory within the KOBE Biomedical Innovation Cluster. The KOBE Biomedical Innovation Cluster has grown over the past 20 years to become Japan’s largest biomedical cluster and will utilize its resources for development and research in the medical and health care fields. The Startup Creative Lab is fully equipped with the basic shared experimental facilities necessary for startups in the field of life science, providing an environment that accelerates research and development.

 In addition to providing these research facilities, the KOBE Biomedical Innovation Cluster as a whole provides a wide range of support, including funding support, mentoring by coordinators, and support for partnerships with hospitals and private companies. We hope that you will consider taking advantage of this lab as a way to scale your business by using it as a low-cost development place for life science startups.

> Now, we only have a few topics left in this interview. Let’s look at the potential of Kobe city as the global startup city.
Could you give us some examples of startups that are nurtured by Kobe City programs?

One example is Elixir, a Singaporean company that participated in our 500 Startups program two years ago and is now establishing a Japanese subsidiary in Kobe, and doing business in Japan.

Another company that participated in the last year’s 500 Startups Kobe Accelerator is the Native English Institute(NEI). NEI is a Seattle-based startup that runs an online English conversation business and is aiming to expand its business in Japan from Kobe, although there is a delay due to COVID-19. In addition, WTF in India, the first company to be certified for a Startup VISA in Kobe, is another company that was connected to Kobe because of the 500 Startups program.

> So, as a result of participating in the 500 Startups Kobe Accelerator, more and more startups are setting up base in Kobe.

In the past, the 500 Startups programs in Kobe required participants to come to Kobe. I think this enabled the participants to interact and understand better about the environment in Kobe regarding startups, gain Japanese collaborators, and think realistically about doing business in Japan, causing these expansions.

In addition, due to the social changes caused by the coronavirus, the location of the office is becoming irrelevant to the business success in Japan. It will become increasingly likely that overseas startups that used to be located in major cities like Tokyo will now be able to set up an office in Kobe without any loss of business chance. Still, you need to have a base of operations in Japan if you want to enter into the Japanese market. Additionally, the structure that allows for added business opportunities by being in Tokyo is disappearing on the basis that many startups which were in Tokyo are moving to other locations and also because there is no longer a need for a physical office in the first place. With this in mind, we would see an increase in the number of startups thinking about setting up a base in Japan, and in Kobe, where a variety of support systems and programs are available.

Also, a plan was recently announced to open a smart city on the Rokko mountain in Kobe. It was originally a tourist attraction; however, we are planning to build an environment in which startups can operate by providing communication infrastructure, offices, and workspace there.

Kobe is rich in nature with the sea and mountains, and it’s also a moderately large city. It also has a historical background of development as an international port, so it’s a good environment for people from overseas to live in and work in. Besides, we have established the unique startup support programs and system as we have been talking about in this series of interviews. Besides the Startup VISA system, from this year, we have also begun to subsidize a part of the cost of moving into Kobe for foreign companies setting up a branch in Kobe city.

> Finally, please give a message to the foreign entrepreneurs and startups who are considering setting up their business in Japan.

The change of the business environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged the trend of leaving Tokyo. Considering this fact that there is no longer a need to establish a base of operations in Tokyo, we hope that you will consider taking advantage of Kobe’s various offers to get your business off the ground in Japan!!

3. Summary

In this final episode of the series, we introduced the support for startups from Kobe city and its Biomedical Innovation Cluster development. We hope that you now understand why you should set up your business in Kobe!

Here’s the recap!

✔︎ Kobe City runs Japan’s largest biomedical cluster, which has been in operation for over 20 years.
✔︎ Kobe City is starting to fuse the resources of the biomedical cluster with startup nurturing to support life science startups deeper.
✔︎ A shared laboratory called the Startup Creative Lab for life science startups will open in October 2020. 
✔︎ Social changes based on the coronavirus have made it unnecessary for startups in Japan to establish a base in Tokyo.
✔︎ If that is the case, the city of Kobe, having the leading startup supports in Japan, with its good living environment for foreigners, is the perfect place for a startup base!

In the last five articles of the series, “START in KOBE,” we have introduced to you the No. 1 startup city in Japan, the City of Kobe. We hope you enjoyed the articles.

Now that you no longer need to establish a base of operations in Tokyo to do business in the Japanese market, Kobe is the best city for foreigners to live in and work in, and with its various international startup support programs, it would be the perfect place to establish a base of operations for you.
For those of you who are thinking about establishing a startup in Japan, please consider taking advantage of the Kobe City programs and policies!

Why not Start in Kobe?

Check them out too!

■Kobe Startup Support Department: Global Website


■ KOBE Biomedical Innovation Cluster

■ About CLIK from the KOBE Biomedical Innovation Cluster Department (Japanese)

■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?
(4) What is UNOPS and Global Innovation Center Japan?

Interview: 3rd, September 2020

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