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Empowering Global Founders: Connecting with the US Markets and Resources from Japan

“How can I best approach customer interviewing to further develop our product in the US? What questions should I ask?” wondered Yodai Takeuchi, VP of Business Development at Renatus Robotics, whose product aims to fully automate warehouse operations for ecommerce logistics in the US market. Takeuchi wears a “kimono” everyday – traditional Japanese clothing, as a conversation starter.

Yodai Takeuchi, VP of Business Development at Renatus Robotics wearing a kimono and talking to the workshop

In today's dynamic world of startups and entrepreneurship, the journey from product ideation to international success is multifaceted. Establishing a product-market fit in an unfamiliar market requires one to overcome diverse challenges - bridging cultural, language and structural differences to attract and work with customers, investors, partners, employees, and regulators. That is why UC Berkeley’s non-profit Accelerator SkyDeck teamed up with Japan Government’s Jetro to send 30 Japan founders to its Silicon Valley-based program, to join a batch of 120 startups from global locations in November 2023.

Culturelabs' Shimada and UC Berkeley's Katherine Melchior Ray with their founders' class

On October 25, 2023, Culturelabs Founder Aya Shimada, along with UC Berkeley Faculty Member Katherine Melchior Ray and WeWork Japan CEO Johnny Yoo, hosted SkyDeck’s “send-off” BootCamp at the Jetro Headquarters in Tokyo. It was an all-day series of workshops that explored some of the critical aspects and strategies for these founders to approach the US market and startup ecosystem, all from the distinct perspective of being in Japan. The event was packed with 17 eager founders.

The day was kicked off by Caroline Winnett, the Executive Director of Berkeley SkyDeck who said "Skydeck's Mission is to become the world's top global accelerator while supporting UC Berkeley's public education mission."

Every startup founder practiced their elevator pitch, in which they introduced themselves in 30 seconds or less. The group included entrepreneurs originally from Japan, the United States, Taiwan, and Korea. They will approach the US market, mostly from deep tech sectors, including mining, aerospace, healthcare, manufacturing, semiconductor technology, materials, and digital technologies. As Skydeck participants, founders have access to over 770 SkyDeck advisors, including Culturelabs’ Aya Shimada.

Culturelabs' Shimada with her founders' workshop class
Skydeck's George Panagiotakopoulos Head of Europe & Global Expansion demonstating an elevator pitch using a chair as a prop.

However Jetro’s Noriya Tarutani noted that Japan’s startups often are bereft of international resources. “Problem is that Japan’s startups do not have international resources, that is why it is importance for them to connect with SkyDeck and other resources,” he said.

Kiyono Yoshikuni of Osaka Heat Cool shows off her innovative device which alleviates itches.

Among the participants was Kiyono Yoshikuni of Osaka Heat Cool who brought an innovative device to the event. Her creation aimed to alleviate skin itchiness and protect against scratches caused by nail scratching. During her time at SkyDeck, she planned to reach out to the US consumer market, focusing on individuals with allergies. She pointed out the staggering statistic that one in four children in the US suffers from allergies, emphasizing the importance of her work.

Another participant mentioned that Japan’s traditional business environment has not been open to their new product ideas despite proven academic research, and the startup hopes to find a more open-minded business-to-business partner in the US to jointly productize the technology.

Many founders saw the US market as open-minded and holding immense potential for their innovative ideas. The event served as an initial collaborative and bonding opportunity for these Japan founders who initiated conversations, which will continue while at Skydeck’s Berkely location, also to be facilitated by Jetro’s San Francisco office.

(Video: Caroline Winnett, Executive Director at Berkeley SkyDeck, talks to a selection of Jetro's startup founders)

One of the notable features of SkyDeck is the network and identity it offers. Participants are given a Berkeley email address, a symbol of credibility that can open doors to numerous opportunities. Additionally, founders can benefit from workshops such as this one and access to advisors, creating a comprehensive support system for their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Workshop participants, including WeWork Japan's CEO Johnny Yoo (suit and yellow shirt) and the Skydeck and Jetro teams

In conclusion, the event was a powerful platform for Japan-originating global founders to get ready for identifying business opportunities, and building products and organizations that transcend cultural boundaries.

Culturelabs believes in nurturing and empowering entrepreneurs breaking the global barriers, as part of its efforts to serve diverse communities and encourage cross-market innovation.

By leveraging Japan's unique cultural and business strengths and embracing a global mindset, the journey from a startup founder to a global, diverse culture organization is both attainable and rewarding.

While Japan sinks to the world’s 4th largest GDP, from the previous 3rd position in 2023 forecasted by the International Monetary Fund, and as the Japanese yen continues rto devalue, it is imperative that Japan entrepreneurs build products and services that resonate with a diverse, global audience.


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