Overcoming The Odds: Can Japanese Startups Succeed in the US Market?

Sasha Kaverina
Jun 18 · 5 min read

For startups based in Japan, sharing and transferring resources abroad can help to gain entry to new markets. However, it comes with hurdles — especially because the US market, one of their main destinations, is already crowded with competitive startups that Japanese entrepreneurs might not be aware of.

During our series, we engage with startup founders, entrepreneurs and investors for a casual opportunity to openly discuss challenges, and also to create meaningful connections that can help our ecosystem to grow stronger. At our last edition, the core agenda of the meetup was to discuss how to win over the US market and develop a Japanese startup approach to internationalization. The event brought together entrepreneurs from a range of industries and at different maturity stages, all seeking practical takeaways on finding their product-market fit overseas.

How difficult is it for Japanese startups to succeed in the domestic market? Read about

East Coast vs. West Coast for tech startups

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The event kicked off with an introduction session from CEO Narimasa Makino who shared his key takeaways for aspiring entrepreneurs hoping to enter the US market. He highlighted the fact that San Francisco is the most famous dream for many young talents looking to work in the dynamic tech startup world, however, more and more entrepreneurs are choosing to settle down on the East Coast and propel their businesses ahead of their competitors. Makino recaped his recent trip to the East Coast, visiting startup hubs and introducing Japanese startups to US communities.

CEO Narimasa Makino: ‘East Coast is a top innovation hub with a strong tech ecosystem’

The second largest startup hub in the world and a hotbed of innovation, New York is known for its vibrant community, a massive concentration of capital and international talent. It is an exceptional place to launch and develop a new business thanks to accelerators and incubators like , , and .

Another West Coast city, Pittsburgh is also emerging as a new tech destination for AI, robotics and automated driving companies eager to get an access to the best in class resources. Much of the new activity springs directly from the AI and machine learning technologies pioneered at Carnegie Mellon University and boosted by hardware accelerators like .

AlphaLab Gear Managing Director Ilana Diamond (back), Makers Boot Camp Managing Director Nobuhiro Seki and Makers Boot Camp CEO Narimasa Makino discussing Pittsburgh startup scene with a group of Japanese corporate leaders.

This year, seven U.S. regions and four other countries, including Japan, sent their finalists to the in Pittsburgh. The semi-final battle to select Japanese finalists was held at HackOsaka,where eight innovative startups pitched their business to an international jury.

Read about the pitching contest here:

AT CO Ltd.: No Need For Needles

CEO Dan Takeno

Dan Takeno, CEO of healthcare Osaka-based startup , has been manufacturing and selling its medtech device to medical clinics and pharmacies in Japan and overseas for several years. His revolutionary microscope called Kekkan Bijin can easily and painlessly observe user’s ’ blood flow and display the nature of the blood flowing through them in real time. Dan Takeno believes the new technology could benefit a range of areas affected by blood flow and help in early diagnosis, monitoring of special conditions, and treatment of diseases. He is passionate about global health and healthcare access and has been collaborating with universities and medical institutions around the globe.

Scentee: Give Your Mood a Smell

Yuya Hattori (left) and Teruyoshi Takemoto (right) from are presenting their smart fragrance diffuser

Yuya Hattori and Teruyoshi Takemoto from Tokyo-based startup outlined how their startup uses an AI-powered diffuser to create a personalized ambience at home. According to their presentation, a visually elaborated device called Scentee Machina emits fragrances when prompted by a complementary mobile app. Thanks to a massively in 2018, they managed to raise more than $58K in funding and flew to Las Vegas to exhibit at CES, the largest tech consumer show in the world. ‘International trade shows have proved to be a good outbound marketing tactic for Scentee’, said Teruyoshi Takemoto. He thinks that startups interested in growing their network, or getting visible, should not miss the chance to participate in global tech events.

Are you interested in international tech shows? Read more:

Panel Discussion: At Co Ltd., Scentee, HoloAsh and DOKI DOKI

From the right to the left: At Co Ltd. CEO Dan Takeno, HoloAsh CEO Yoshua Kishi and Teruyoshi Takemoto, Business Development of Scentee

Both startups held a panel discussion to talk about their global entrepreneurial journey and identify the challenges and opportunities in the US market. They were joined by Yoshua Kishi, CEO of San-Francisco-based , that is developing an AI-powered assistant to overcome negative emotions. After being accepted to accelerator in Silicon Valley, his team has been tapping into the booming healthcare market with an aim to create a healthy social environment where differences can thrive.

DOKI DOKI CEO Takahito Iguchi has split his career between San Francisco and Kyoto for many years

Takahito Iguchi, founder and CEO of , facilitated the panel discussion. Hailed as an outstanding creator both in Japan and overseas, he has spent much of his career helping to strengthen human connections through technology and bringing his futuristic ideas to an international audience. Setting the tone for the conversation, Takahito Iguchi talked about the waves tech unicorns have made and multiple challenges startups are facing as they scale up. This prompted a lively discussion between participants and the audience who were eager to learn about the inspiration behind their startups, how the ecosystem helped their development, and what it means to succeed in the international market.

After the panel discussion, attendees were able to enjoy refreshments and a networking session.

This evening could not have been the success it was without our community attendees, showing up and engaging so powerfully. We aim to bring valuable opportunities for IoT startup founders to help solving their main challenges ー stay tuned for our or for our newsletter here!

Makers Boot Camp

A global VC focused on IoT startup investment. Support to hardware growth from business model to supply chain. #NYC #PGH #JP #ARINTech #EASEL @atmoph @cleanrobotics @bonbouton @bostonbiomotion @hoplitepower @kakaxi_usa @nonewfolk @veldtinc @smartshopping @teplobottle

Sasha Kaverina

Written by

Kyoto-based journalist and coffee lover

Makers Boot Camp

A global VC focused on IoT startup investment. Support to hardware growth from business model to supply chain. #NYC #PGH #JP #ARINTech #EASEL @atmoph @cleanrobotics @bonbouton @bostonbiomotion @hoplitepower @kakaxi_usa @nonewfolk @veldtinc @smartshopping @teplobottle