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Top 10 Start-up Incubators in Japan

What are start-up incubators?

In the fast-paced world of technological advancements, Japan is an innovation powerhouse. Start-ups are popping up every day to try their hand at succeeding in the Land of the Rising Sun. Yet, even with Japan’s openness to these start-ups, there are intricacies to the Japanese market that act as barriers. 

In the heart of Japan’s relatively underdeveloped start-up ecosystem, a dynamic force has been quietly shaping the future of innovation and bypassing the barriers – Incubators in Japan. These nurturing hubs have become the driving force behind the country’s entrepreneurial churning, propelling startups to new heights and ushering in a wave of groundbreaking ideas. 

Start-up incubators are early-stage start-up growth programs that provide free office space, mentoring, networking, and seminars on how to develop and test your new idea. They also offer specialized tools for a targeted industry of start-ups. We’ll be exploring all types of incubators today, going into the details of what each one represents as a company. If you are looking to understand the macro picture of the startup world in Japan, check out our podcast episode with Tim Romero, host of Disrupting Japan and well-known startup founder.

Have a quick look at what we’ll cover with this table below. 

#Incubators in JapanUtilitiesIndustries
1JR East Start UP Co., Ltd.Venture capitalist and investor networkMobility (railway)
2Impact Hub TokyoCo-working space, community events, business programmes (a cyclical program for business growth)Any
3Aoyama Startup Acceleration CenterCo-working space, community events, business programmes (a cyclical program for business growth), office facilities, event spaces, venture capitalist and investor networkAny
4Dream IncubatorNot SpecifiedAny
5Beyond Next VenturesCo-working space, office facilities, venture capitalist and investor network, shared laboratoryAny
6Japans Venture AcademyStudent and founder network, fellowship program, community eventsAny
7JAFCOBusiness idea programAny
8Tokyo XR StartupsExtended reality (XR)Not specified
9DG IncubationBusiness development programAny
10Founders InstituteBusiness development programAny

The state of Japan’s start-ups 

If you’re considering establishing your business in Japan, it’s important to understand the start-up culture prevalent in the country. Japan’s start-up landscape benefits from vigorous governmental support, particularly in industries such as healthcare, finance and insurance, robotics, food, agriculture, and deep tech. The national government is also actively investing in biotech and financial technology, further fostering innovation.

Financial Tech

Moreover, various other sectors are witnessing a surge in demand, including logistics, mobility, energy and materials, space materials, entertainment technology, and e-commerce. Within these industries, there is a noticeable appetite for solutions incorporating AI, Cloud technology, and AR/VR capabilities, emphasizing Japan’s enthusiasm for innovation. There are a number of tech startups today. To learn more about the Japanese tech scene, read our article on Japanese tech companies. 

Several cities in Japan, notably Sapporo, Aichi, Kobe, Fukuoka, and Tokyo, are currently competing to attract start-ups to not only create high-paying job opportunities but also to propel the growth of their respective industries. Fukuoka City in Japan, for example, is hoping to attract Fintech and IT-related start-ups through its Fukuoka Global Start-up Center. Learn more about this exciting opportunity on our podcast episode with Akiko Nakagawa.

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These vibrant cities are manifesting entrepreneurship and offer a promising environment for businesses seeking to establish themselves within Japan’s thriving start-up ecosystem. If you’d like to have a comprehensive guide on creating your own start-up in Japan, have our guide on hand while you navigate through it. 

Start-up incubators vs. accelerators 

Many may be confused about the types of start-up support. They range from angel investors to accelerators, to incubators. Our podcast with Alexandria Cole, a venture capitalist at Incubate Fund, has a more in-depth explanation of each.  Start-up incubators most closely resemble startup accelerators, Here are a few key differences.

Incubators in JapanAccelerators
InvestmentFree office space to give your business a landing point aside, free specialized facilities, and guidanceSeed funding
Venture StageIdea Phase, without a product or teamMinimum Viable Product phase
Program Time-frameFlexible time-frame3-6 months

Foreign Startups

Foreign start-ups looking to enter the Japanese market probably don’t know the ins and outs of the Japanese market. Here’s a breakdown of the things you should consider when deciding whether to utilize incubators in Japan when you first start out.

Support for navigating regulations

For foreign business owners looking to establish a startup in Japan, navigating the country’s unique regulations and administrative processes can be challenging. Language barriers, legal complexities, and cultural differences all pose significant obstacles for the typical foreign business. But, this is where incubators in Japan can be instrumental in providing start-up support. 

These programs are well-versed in the local business landscape and have experience assisting foreign entrepreneurs in starting their business ventures in Japan and can help you navigate the paperwork side so you have more time to actually focus on developing a product that people want.

Incubators in Japan typically offer guidance on various regulatory aspects, such as business registration, licensing, visa applications, bank account creation, and tax requirements. Their expertise can help streamline the bureaucratic processes, ensuring that foreign startups can focus on developing their business without getting entangled in red tape–foreigners who don’t speak Japanese are often not serviced in these establishments because of translation issues. By leveraging the knowledge and network of incubators in Japan, foreign entrepreneurs gain a competitive edge and avoid potential pitfalls. 

Start-up incubators in Japan

Costs associated with entering an incubator:

Foreign startups often face financial challenges when establishing themselves. Establishing a business in a foreign country can incur significant expenses, including market research, office space, hiring local talent, and marketing efforts. This depends on the stage and other factors which you can learn more about in our podcast episode with Haruka Takamori, a venture analyst at Plug and Play Japan. However, partnering with incubators in Japan can offer a cost-effective solution.

While there might be some costs associated with joining an incubator program, they are usually considerably lower than setting up an independent operation. Incubators in Japan typically provide shared office spaces, access to essential resources and facilities, mentoring, and networking opportunities. 

By sharing these resources with other startups, foreign entrepreneurs can significantly reduce overhead costs. Moreover, the guidance and mentorship provided by incubators in Japan can lead to more efficient and strategic business decisions, further optimizing the use of resources and minimizing unnecessary expenses.

Why foreign start-ups should look for incubators

For foreign startups eyeing the Japanese market, collaborating with incubators in Japan can be a strategic move. Beyond the practical support in navigating regulations and cost-saving benefits, incubators offer a host of other advantages that can boost the chances of success in a foreign market.

Overall, the learning experience gained within an incubator environment is invaluable. Foreign entrepreneurs can gain insights into the Japanese market dynamics, consumer preferences, and cultural nuances through interactions with local mentors and peers within incubators in Japan. This knowledge can be transformative in tailoring products or services to suit the specific needs and preferences of the Japanese audience. Mentors in incubators in Japan are well-versed in what’s failed and what’s succeeded. Their guidance may be instrumental in the ideation and development of a foreign start-up’s product. Learn more about the Japanese market and what products you could start selling through our article on market research in Japan.

List of 10 start-up incubators in Japan

  1. JR East Start UP Co., Ltd.
    • Location/s: Nationwide
    • Utilities: Venture capitalist and investor network
    • Industry/ies: Transportation (Railway)
    • Cost: Not specified

JR East Start UP Co., Ltd. is the incubator arm of the East Japan Railway Company, a company that operates numerous railway lines in and outside the Kanto region. They aim for points of collaboration with businesses on improving the railway system in Japan and regularly have investors watch in on investment days to scout potential. 

  1. Impact Hub Tokyo 
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan
    • Utilities: Co-working space, community events, business programs (a cyclical program for business growth)
    • Industry/ies: Any
    • Cost: 11,000 – 55,000 JPY/ Month

Impact HUB Tokyo serves as a thriving community designed by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs. It helps foster connections between people, ideas, and values to accelerate business growth. Emphasizing ‘people first, space later,’ they prioritize human connections as the catalyst for transformative change within their community, creating an environment where positive growth and development flourish harmoniously.

  1. Aoyama Startup Acceleration Center 
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan
    • Utilities: Co-working space, community events, business programs (a cyclical program for business growth), office facilities, event spaces, venture capitalist and investor network
    • Industry/ies: Any
    • Cost: Not specified

The Aoyama Startup Acceleration Center (ASAC), stands as an incubation hub with a primary focus on propelling startup enterprises through acceleration initiatives. This center offers a comprehensive array of services, including acceleration programs, access to co-working spaces, event venues, and office facilities. It also extends expert guidance on fundraising strategies and opens doors to an extensive network of corporations, venture capitalists, media outlets, and seasoned entrepreneurs.

  1. Dream Incubator 
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan
    • Utilities: Not specified
    • Industry/ies: Any
    • Cost: Not specified

At Dream Incubator (DI), the focus remains on actively harnessing investment functions to yield tangible results and actualize the potential of “business produce”. DI takes great pride in delivering substantial value to both clients and society through its diverse range of business product offerings.

  1. Beyond Next Ventures
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan
    • Utilities: Not specified
    • Industry/ies: Any (some focus on biotech companies)

Beyond Next Ventures, is an accelerator and incubator that provides support for the advancement of deep tech startups. The organization commits to investing capital, time, and various resources to bolster R&D, facilitate commercialization, and foster talent development initiatives.

  1. Japans Venture Academy 
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan
    • Utilities: Student and founder network, fellowship program, community events
    • Industry/ies: Any
    • Cost: Free

The JVA Fellowship program facilitates aspiring students from diverse universities in pursuing their startup ideas through a well-structured curriculum, expert coaches, driven peers, and the guidance of venture experts within a three-month duration.

  1. JAFCO
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan (global expansion with a focus on Japanese customers)
    • Utilities: Business idea program
    • Industry/ies: Any
    • Cost: Not specified

JAFCO is a start-up and incubator company that believes in setting initiatives to grow businesses and help lead them toward industry innovation. It also stands as one of the oldest venture capital companies in Japan and has now expanded worldwide, in places such as China, the US, Taipei, and Singapore. 

  1. Tokyo XR Startups
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan
    • Utilities: Not specified
    • Industry/ies: Extended reality (XR)
    • Cost: Not specified

XR Startups, at the forefront of innovation, is a burgeoning community of cutting-edge entrepreneurs and visionaries in the extended reality (XR) industry. With its base in Tokyo, it serves as a launchpad for groundbreaking startups that are revolutionizing the realms of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). Driven by a passion for pushing tech boundaries, Tokyo XR Startups is reshaping how we interact, learn, and experience the world around us, promising an exciting future in the realm of XR technology.

  1. DG Incubation 
    • Location/s: Tokyo, Japan and Kamakura, Japan
    • Utilities: Business development program
    • Industry/ies: Not specified

DG Ventures is an investment arm of Digital Garage Group to plays the role of “incubation technology” aiming for the cultivation of business and new media for a startup that can positively impact the world.

  1. Founders Institute 
    • Location/s: Global
    • Utilities: Business development program
    • Industry/ies: Not specified
    • Cost: Not specified

  Founded in 2009, Founders Institute is now one of the largest incubator/pre-seed accelerators having launched over 6800 companies globally. They are founded upon the idea that companies need to be started by founders who fit a certain aptitude. Therefore, the first step into admissions is based on you and your results from Founders Institute’s Entrepreneur DNA Assessment. They have already launched two programs with the second batch at the end of 2023 doubling in size as compared to the 1st batch of 10+ companies.

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Top 7 tips that will get you into an incubator program

Joining incubators in Japan is a process that requires heavy selection. If you’re considering applying to incubators in Japan, here are some essential tips to enhance your chances of success:

1. Thoroughly Research Incubator Programs: Japan boasts a diverse range of incubators, each with its unique focus and offerings. Take the time to research and identify the incubators in Japan that align best with your business goals and industry niche. Take a look through the essential list we’ve provided above, and search through other options like angel investors, accelerators etc in our list of investors who have supported or invested in foreign founders. Consider factors such as the program’s track record, success stories of previous participants, and the expertise of guides involved.

2. Craft a Convincing Business Plan: Clearly outline your business model, target market, revenue streams, and growth strategies. Prove how well you know your product’s market and the solution you provide. 

3. Highlight Your Value Proposition: Emphasize the uniqueness and market potential of your business. Clearly communicate how your offering stands out from competitors and addresses a pressing need in the market. Your “Why Now” is the best time to start your company can help move an evaluator from suspicious to interested in your idea. Demonstrating a clear value proposition will make your application more appealing to incubators in Japan because it shows that you have thought through the problem and have a hypotheses to fulfill that need

4. Showcase Traction and Milestones: If your startup has already gained some traction, highlight these accomplishments in your application. Whether it’s early sales, partnerships, or user engagement, or a technical team, a pitch with milestones encourages the incubator to choose your business. It shows that you are growing and moving forward and you only need to be pointed in the right direction. No one wants to pull the founder of another company and this can set you apart.

Pitching for Incubators in Japan

5. Prepare a Convincing Pitch: Essentially, be prepared to answer questions and to pitch your products in front of people. Your confidence and charisma should shine through in this stage.The expectation is to have a well-designed Silicon valley-esque pitch deck when pitching to incubators in Japan. To learn more about pitch decks, listen to our podcast episode with Alexandra Cole

6. Showcase Geographical Sensitivity: As you plan to enter the Japanese market, show that your solution is catering to it. This means examining your target user as a typical Japanese person with goals and ambitions that reflect society. A typical Japanese person would aim for harmony or wa, as an individual operates in a collectivist mindset within the culture. Place yourselves in their shoes, which can be more easily done with a Japanese co-founder or having experienced Japanese people on your team. 

7. Follow Application Guidelines: Read closely the application guidelines provided by the incubator, in order to submit all required documents and information within the specified deadlines. This shows your professionalism and work ethic which can reflect on your company. 

By applying these tips, you can present a compelling case for your startup’s inclusion in a Japanese incubator. These tips may seem easy to do on paper but it requires much time and effort to get your team to coordinate on these points. Have everyone on board beforehand to ensure a smooth process.

Final Thoughts

Overall, start-up incubators in Japan play a vital role in nurturing innovation and propelling entrepreneurial ventures to success. As Japan’s start-up ecosystem continues to grow, these incubators serve as dynamic forces, fostering groundbreaking ideas and providing essential resources and guidance. The Japanese government’s support and enthusiasm for various industries further contribute to the favorable climate for start-ups. By leveraging the expertise of incubators, foreign entrepreneurs can navigate complex regulations and minimize costs while gaining valuable insights into the local market. If you aren’t ready for that commitment, look to hangouts like–Startup Weekend–for people looking to create an idea and meet potential co-founders, but are one step before needing an incubator.

Successful founders who embrace a growth-oriented mindset and effective communication skills thrive within incubator environments, leading their businesses to exponential growth. For aspiring entrepreneurs looking to establish a presence in Japan, partnering with an incubator offers an exciting opportunity to flourish in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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