Foreign Entrepreneurs Grab Startup Opportunities in Japan

More Opportunities Than You Can Poke a Stick At


An increasing number of foreign entrepreneurs are seeing opportunities to create a business startup in Japan, a country where its people see their culture as homogenous and where the business environment is very rigid.

Despite the cultural differences and rigid business practices, not to mention the obvious language barrier, more and more entrepreneurs from abroad are realizing that starting a business in Japan can bring them a lot of financial benefits.

Most of the business startups in the Land of the Rising Sun have been focused primarily on tech and various communications technologies. Tech startups with headquarters in Japan have been on a steady rise since 2010. Most of them were founded by foreign entrepreneurs, who have managed to transform cultural and language barriers into huge business opportunities, encouraging a rising number of aspiring businessmen to follow in their footsteps.

Big Foreign Startup Stars in Japan

While there are many businessmen from abroad who have succeeded in putting down strong roots in Japanese business environment, as it goes, some of them have managed to stand out from all the others. Those are the founders of the following foreign startups in Japan: Gengo, Moneytree, Zehitomo and Linc Corporation.

Tech startups with headquarters in Japan have been on a steady rise since 2010.

Gengo – Professional Translation within Hours


Gengo is a very intuitive platform for fast and scalable professional translation services. Its co-founder and CEO, Matthew Romaine, started the Japan-based translation outsourcing company in 2009 when he got inspiration from his translating experience while working at Sony.

After graduating at Stanford University, Romaine got a great job at Sony as a researcher. However, he was quite often engaged in translating for his work buddies, who were mostly Japanese. Breaking the language barrier was interesting until he found himself not having enough time to do his work research.

That’s when he came up with the idea for Gengo, starting by providing small businesses with translation services. Today, the company offers translation services in more than 35 languages to companies in various industries and has over 20000 translators from all over the world.

Moneytree – Personal Finance Made Easy


Moneytree, founded by Paul Chapman from Melbourne, is a personal finance management app that helps people get a complete view of their finances and control their spending. The founder and CEO established the company in Tokyo in 2012, when he realized that Japan was greatly falling behind when it comes digitizing its financial industry.

Fintech was not the term often spoken in Japan at the time and rarely anyone was actually familiar with it. Chapman saw an immense opportunity and took it, bringing also a lot of human resources and brilliant expertise to Japan.

Moneytree has quickly grown and evolved and now offers a platform that 35 corporate partners in Japan use as a financial identity service. Because of the company’s consistent growth and success, Chapman is about to revolutionize it even more by turning it into a global software company.

Zehitomo – Connecting with Local Service Professionals


Zehitomo is another very successful startup based in Tokyo, founded by two Americans, Jordan Fisher and James McCarty. The company provides a web and mobile platform for helping people find the best local service professionals.

The idea for Zehitomo sparked in Fisher’s mind after he spent months searching for the most cost-effective solution for soundproofing the windows in his condo, as he lived right next to the railway track. He found that there are plenty of skilled freelancers and small businesses that provide incredibly affordable high-quality services but don’t have good online visibility, so they have a tough time connecting with potential customers.

After realizing that, Fisher created Zehitomo, which now helps more than 20000 local service professionals easily get in touch with new clients, who can get custom quotes for their projects in a matter of minutes.

Linc Corporation – Supporting Foreign Students

Linc Corporation

Yet another one of the rising foreign startup stars in Japan is Shiyo Naka, the founder and CEO of Linc Corporation, a startup with headquarters in Tokyo that provides support services to foreign students regarding education and employment in Japan. Linc is providing materials for online learning to Chinese students who are looking to study in Japan. Since it began streaming the materials, Linc has gotten more than 130000 viewers.

Naka, a Chinese entrepreneur, has been living in Japan ever since he was six years old. For years, he has seen a great number of very talented Chinese students come across many difficulties finding a job in Japan, which made them return home soon after their studies. That’s why he founded Linc, which provides foreign students with useful, instantly accessible information for education and employment in Japan.

The Japanese Government Supports Foreign Entrepreneurs

Starting a business in Japan as a foreigner has become quite easier, especially since the Japanese Government started supporting entrepreneurs from abroad by extending the visa. Up until recently, they could stay in Japan for six months, but the Government has now extended the visa program to one year.

Foreign entrepreneurs now have quite enough time to handle all the paperwork for registering their company and obtaining a business manager visa. They can get the visa by investing at least ¥5 million, which is about $50000, into their company’s capital, thereby providing proof that they actually have the capital for starting their Japan-based company.

Tomoe Otsuka, the head of the division of the Japanese Government responsible for attracting foreign entrepreneurs to come to Japan and invest in the business environment by starting their companies there, said recently that aspiring businessmen from overseas are highly valued in Japan, as they “lead the promotion of innovation”, especially because the country’s population that is at a working age is increasingly shrinking.

While starting a business in Japan as a foreign entrepreneur is not as easy as it is in other countries, such as Singapore and France, which are increasingly expanding the pool of foreign talents, Japan is still becoming a very lucrative land for overseas businessmen. The country did only make the staying visa requirements a bit more relaxed, but it definitely holds many doors open for anyone looking to invest in its economy and start making real profit.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

Many foreign investors find Japan to be a suitable environment for startup investment despite numerous difficulties they face.

What do you think?

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