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Top 10 Start-up Accelerators in Japan

If you’re looking to start your business in Japan, you probably want to understand the unique start-up culture within Japan. Due to governmental support, the most in-demand industries are healthcare, finance and insurance, robotics, food, agriculture, and deep tech. The national government is currently investing money into biotech and financial technology. However, there is demand for logistics, mobility, energy and materials, space materials, entertainment technology, and e-commerce. Overall there is a demand in these industries for solutions that include AI, Cloud, AR, and VR. Different cities in Japan such as Aichi, Kobe, Fukuoka, and Tokyo, are currently competing to attract start-ups to create high-paying jobs and develop their industries. 

Japan for business

What are start-up accelerators?

Start-up accelerators are growth-led cohort programs that often provide funding and a space, with heavy mentorship. The maturity of the start-up ecosystem in Japan is not as advanced as in countries like the US and China, for example. So, start-up accelerators may not provide the same level of mentorship as they do in those countries but they also don’t charge relatively high prices. Rich with innovation and vibrant breakthroughs, the ecosystem is an exciting and new landscape. What, then, is the biggest barrier to entry for incoming entrepreneurs? Capital. 

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Start-up accelerators vs other venture capital types

Loans from banks, especially by foreign nationals, have been famously difficult to obtain but today, the ways of getting that capital are narrowing in on company growth. This article will focus on one of the most growth-led programs: Start-up Accelerators. 

Not to be confused with angel investors or other forms of venture capital, start-up accelerators offer early-stage growth and development support and guided mentorship for an established period. Often, the program includes consultation with customers, program directors, guest speakers, and more. Start-up accelerators most closely resemble start-up incubators but there are key differences.

  • Program Time-frame: Start-up accelerators typically last for 3-6 months while incubators can last anywhere from a few months to multiple years
  • Start-up stage: Start-up accelerators offer programs for start-ups with a minimum viable product (MVP) while incubators offer support for start-ups often without a product and are in the idea phase.
  • Investment: Start-up accelerators often invest in their program mentees, called seed funding while incubators typically offer free rent and guidance. There are non-investment style start-up accelerators in Japan as well as market-entry start-up accelerators that help foreign companies enter the Japanese market without equity

To know more about the difference, we took an in-depth look into them in our podcast on incubators and accelerators.

To know more about other venture capital that you may be interested in or that would better suit your start-up, listen to our podcast about angel investors and take a look at our list of other venture capital

Why you need start-up accelerators in Japan

Japan is hard to penetrate without a  network

While typical start-up culture is marked by a free and open dynamic coupled with proactive young workers, Japanese start-up culture is tense by tradition. From the age-old customs keeping women from the workplace to the treacherous navigation through Japan’s bureaucratic jungle, it seems that Japan has huge barriers, especially for the up-and-coming. As we talk about in our article on establishing a start-up in Japan, market penetration could be difficult because of a lack of networking. 

Start-up accelerators have meeting that allows networking

Aside from the capital seed investment, this difficulty is one of the main reasons to choose start-up accelerators over other options. With start-up accelerators, your network is grown by the mentorship program and the accelerator’s list of connections. Torana, Inc. a toy rental subscription service for toddlers and infants is a new example. After having gone through the Samurai Incubate accelerator, it has now been featured as one of the Financial Times ranking’s high-growth companies in the Asia Pacific. Read more on this below.

List of start-up accelerators

To help you start, here is a list of potential start-up accelerators for start-ups in Japan.

#Start-up AcceleratorFundingLanguage
1Samurai Incubate10 to 100 million JPYNot Specified
2ABBALab3 to 100 million JPYNot Specified
3Dream IncubatorNot SpecifiedNot Specified
4Open Network LabNot SpecifiedEnglish 
5The Founder InstituteNot SpecifiedEnglish
6Plug and Play Japan14 million JPY (average)Not Specified
7NTT Docomo VenturesUp to 2 million JPYNot Specified
8500 Global Japan0 JPYEnglish
9Sap.IO0 JPYEnglish
10Scrum Ventures15 to 145 million JPYNot Specified
  1. Samurai Incubate
    • Location/s; Tokyo, Japan
    • Industr/ies: technology, logistics, energy, material, healthcare, life science, electronics, agriculture, retail-tech, fintech, robotics, semiconductor, augmented and virtual reality sectors.
    • Investment Size: 15 to 20 million JPY (seed to stage a)
    • Introduction to Start-up accelerator: Samurai Incubate is an early-stage, seed fund venture capital firm that offers mentoring in management, marketing, sales, human resources, and finances. Starting in 2008 to put a code of conduct into business, they are now looking to expand globally.
    • Language: Not specified
    • Portfolio: Liferary, GramEye, Sotas (241 start-ups)
    • Link to website of accelerator:  https://www.samurai-incubate.co.jp/
  2. ABBALab
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan
    • Industr/ies: IoT hardware and ancillary service
    • Investment size: 3 to 100 million JPY
    • Introduction to start-up accelerator: Started in 2014 as support for hardware start-ups made for the Internet of Things (IoT), ABBALAB supports the funding, know-how, and equipment required for each phase of prototyping and mass production. 
    • Language: Not specified
    • Portfolio: PLEN robotics, Arblet inc., Andeco (30)
    • Link to website of accelerator: http://abbalab.com/en/program
  3. DreamIncubator
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan
    • Industr/ies: Internet, media and entertainment, e-commerce, healthware, software
    • Investment size: Not specified
    • Introduction to start-up accelerator: Dream Incubator is a strategic consulting and business development firm helping companies with their growth and expansion.
    • Language: Not specified
    • Portfolio: Farmo, Moneyview, Brandit (73)
    • Link to website of accelerator: https://www.dreamincubator.co.jp/en/
  4. Open Network Lab
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan
    • Industr/ies: Internet, generative AI, climate-changing solutions, alternative food, etc.
    • Investment size: Not specified
    • Introduction to start-up accelerator: Starting in April 2010 as a pioneer of seed accelerator program in Japan, they have since invested into over 100 start-ups. They believe passion and people are some of the main attributes to success of a start-up.
    • Language: English (though Japanese speakers can still apply)
    • Portfolio: Nobi for Driver, Cavin, WAAK (145)
    • Link to website of accelerator: https://onlab.jp/en/
  5. The Founder Institute
    • Location/s: Global
    • Industr/ies: Education, grocery, logistics, application software, entertainment software, and business applications.
    • Investment size: Not Specified
    • Introduction to start-up accelerator: Founded in 2009, The Founder Institute has now become one of the largest start-up accelerators in the world. It prides itself on an in-depth core program that looks at the leaders and their temperaments, finding that leadership and willingness to collaborate makes or breaks a company.
    • Language: English
    • Portfolio: Andalin, Comparamejor.com, Intelocate (94)
    • Link to website of accelerator: https://fi.co/overview
  1. Plug and Play Japan
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan
    • Industr/ies: Fintech, insurtech, mobility, health, smart cities, new materials, energy, food and beverage 
    • Investment size: 14 million JPY (average)
    • Introduction to start-up accelerator: Founded in 2006, Plug and Play started out in SIlicon Valley before expanding globally. It’s been established in Japan with the mission of building the world’s leading innovation platform and making innovation open to anyone, anywhere.
    • Language: Not specified
    • Portfolio: nanoni Inc., Crezit Holdings Inc., Easy Technology Inc. (90)
    • Link to website of accelerator: https://japan.plugandplaytechcenter.com/
  2. NTT Docomo Ventures
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan
    • Industr/ies: Lifestyle, AI, Big Data, Cloud, Communication, Education, Enterprise, FinTech, IoT, Medical, Healthcare, Electricity, Robotics
    • Investment size: up to 2 million JPY
    • Introduction to start-up accelerator: Founded under Japan giant NTT DOCOMO Inc., NTT DOCOMO Ventures is a venture capital arm that specializes in developing and investing in incubation, early stage, middle stage, and later/pre-IPO stage companies.
    • Language: Not specified
    • Portfolio: Otter.ai, Regional Fish, Metawave (132)
    • Link to website of accelerator: https://www.nttdocomo-v.com/en/
  3. 500 Global Japan
    • Location/s: Aichi, Japan
    • Industr/ies: FoodTech, Healthtech, Digital
    • Investment size: No investment in Japan
    • Introduction to start-up accelerator: 500 Global is a globally active accelerator. Today, it is collaborating with the Aichi Prefectural Government to develop a larger and more diverse startup ecosystem to create jobs and innovation for the community.  They currently offer 2 programs for startups: one for Japan-based startups (for growth & scaling) and one for international startups (to enter the Japanese market). This year, they are searching for Japan-based Japan-based startups with global exposure goals.
    • Language: English
    • Portfolio: 3DK, Autopass., Bitskout
    • Link to website of accelerator: https://500.co/accelerators/accelerate-aichi
  4. Sap.IO
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan
    • Industr/ies: Energy and natural resources, discrete industries, financial services, etc.
    • Investment size: Not Specified
    • Introduction to start-up accelerator: SAP.iO is a zero-cost, zero-equity start-up accelerator that effectively curates Japan’s startup ecosystem to extend the value of SAP solutions. They also localize their content selectively based on the market that you want to work with.
    • Language: English
    • Portfolio: Voyc.ai, Obsess, Blendoor
    • Link to website of accelerator: https://sap.io/
  5. Scrum Ventures
    • Location/s: Tokyo and Silicon Valley
    • Industr/ies: Does not discriminate
    • Investment size: 15 to 145 million JPY
    • Introduction to start-up accelerator: Founded by Tak Miyata, a seasoned entrepreneur from Japan with startup and executive experience in Silicon Valley, Scrum Ventures is a diverse team with headquarters in San Francisco and Tokyo with additional offices in Minneapolis, Seattle, Illinois, and New York.
    • Language: Not specified
    • Portfolio: Noom, THIRDLOVE, GrubMarket
    • Link to website of accelerator: https://scrum.vc/investment/

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Application process

While each application process differs, the general process starts with an application through a form (typically on the accelerator’s website), a form screening, a few interviews,  and finally the pitch or presentation. 

To begin your journey with one of these start-up accelerators, align your industry and goals for the program with the right accelerator. Your choice is essential to create the network and mentorship that best benefits the growth of your company. Upon choosing, go to the start-up accelerator’s website to apply for the program and take note of the selection criteria. Tailor your application to their selection criteria by highlighting your vision and the value of what you do. List any notable significant achievements and integrate data and metrics into each milestone. 

Your pitch deck is your strongest suit in communicating your cause and need. What are your value proposition, your market, your business model, your competition, and your financials?  Outline this in a quick but comprehensive presentation that showcases your strengths and needs. If you want to improve on your pitch deck to cater to Japanese venture capital, check out our podcast episode with Schyler Alexendra Cole, a research associate at Incubate Fund in Japan.  But most importantly, flaunt your empathy and your team dynamic. Make the most of the humanity present in your work.   For example, one key tip is to clearly convey why Japan is important for your growth strategy in our pitch

Experiences from start-ups

What type of founders have success in an accelerator

Torana Inc., the same toy-rental service, is not a singular example in the list of successful start-ups. There have been numerous start-ups that have benefited from a start-up accelerator. A study found that a start-up accelerator participant raised up to 171% more capital 2-3 years after joining the program, which points to the efficacy of the concept. Such successful examples range from AirBnB to Doordash. Their founders were people who accepted the steady stream of guidance and wisdom that accelerators provided, along with an open attitude to networking. Allowing yourself to be open is one of the key attributes that founders need before joining an accelerator.

Other key attributes are a focus on your goals for the accelerator program, a growth mindset, strong communication skills, and adaptability. By embracing these qualities and leveraging the opportunities provided by start-up accelerators in Japan, entrepreneurs can unlock their full potential and drive their ventures to new heights.

How you can best prepare before the program starts

The goal goes beyond getting the green light of getting accepted into the program. It’s all about being open to learning and growing.  Set some clear learning goals, dig into what the accelerator does and its goals, strengthen your foundation, and keep your growth mindset going strong. Additionally, remember to prepare the following:

  • Incorporation documents (if applicable)
  • Financial documents
  • Licensing and permits
  • Any further requirements stipulated as per your industry
  • Additional market research 

For specific legal or incorporation advice, use our Launch Lab Service for a hassle-free experience.

How you can get the most from the accelerator

During your time in a start-up accelerator in Japan, there are key steps you can take to make the most of the program. First and foremost, define clear goals for your company’s growth and development. By having specific objectives in mind, you can align your efforts with the resources and mentorship available. Be open to feedback from experienced mentors and fellow participants, as their insights can offer unique perspectives. Actively engage with the diverse individuals you meet, thus building meaningful connections and fostering collaboration. By fully immersing yourself in the accelerator’s activities, workshops, and mentorship opportunities, you can maximize the value of your experience and accelerate your start-up’s progress. Remember, the 3-6 months are a prime time to leverage the resources and expertise offered, paving the road for your company’s success..

Signs of a bad accelerator

Be cautious, though. Take the following precautions before accepting the offer:

  • Watch out for any start-up accelerators that are not transparent about their program expectations, progress tracking, and clear deliverables. Look for an accelerator that provides a structured program with measurable milestones.
  • A low success rate based on alumni statistics is a huge red flag. Ensure that the start-up accelerator has a track record of putting their start-ups on a better track than they were on.
  • High exit over investment rate. This means that there may have been conflicts between the start-up accelerator and the start-up and/or a lack of tangible results. 
  • Remember to sign legal forms and contracts with legal representation to make sure that your contract is standard practice in the industry. If you think the contract may be unfair, renegotiate. 
  • Talk to the alumni regarding the network of investors the accelerator has in its deck and ask whether they have a strong relationship with the accelerator. 

Final Thoughts

Japan’s start-up ecosystem needs more than a venture to navigate, though the venture is definitely a priority. While the Japanese economy is rich and vibrant, there remain large obstacles and barriers to entry that are even larger for foreign start-ups. 

Overall, a start-up accelerator is a valuable program experience for start-ups in their seed stage. Finding what suits your start-up is essential because each one offers both different types of mentorship and a vastly different network. But each one still provides an opportunity, especially with the equity investment that sets accelerators apart from other forms of venture capital. 

To create a start-up in Japan, venture capital is difficult to obtain but with a newly rising ecosystem, applying for a start-up accelerator is the gateway into a better stage for your start-up. Mentorship is also always an advantage, at least, from the right people. Scaling your company also offers coaching services to better your organization and get your products or services out there.

For other cool start-up accelerators, check out Failory’s article!  Stay tuned to Scaling Your Company’s upcoming articles and podcasts for invaluable insights and resources to guide you on this journey. Fighting your way to the right accelerator can be made significantly easier with the right guidance and resources.

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