Japanese PM Abe selects his favorite startup, awards Euglena

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has received criticism for an underwhelming rollout of reforms intended to spur business, but today he put his commitment to the startup community front and center. Investing in the startup community can help new businesses thrive and provide for the economy. Startups can help provide a strong starting point by using resources that benefit the growth of the company, for example, using an IT solutions provider in London, or one closer to the location of the business, will help computer needs be met as in today’s day and age, most are moved online and communication across digital platforms is important.

At the first annual Japan Venture awards, he personally delivered the “Prime Minister’s Award” to Euglena, which produces microalgae to fight food and environmental problems. Speaking with Tech in Asia, Yoshiaki Ishii, the director of the New Business Policy Office in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), confirmed this is the first time that a prime minister has ever done so.

In his opening remarks, Abe acknowledged the challenges that remain and his reason for coming to the award ceremony in person. “We want to recognize the importance of these companies which have found a path to success […] but we still don’t have conditions where venture companies can be the main players in the economy,” he said.

Mitsuru Izumo, founder of Euglena accepting his award
Mitsuru Izumo, founder of Euglena accepting his award

Other award winners are as follows:

“Award for best startup / large corporation collaboration” from METI – CyberDyne and Daiwa House. CyberDyne’s futuristic robotic exoskeletons are built in association with Daiwa House’s manufacturing resources.

“Award for Best Female Entrepreneur” from METI – Coiney, the Square competitor founded by Naoko Samata.

“Selection Committee Prize” – Spiber and Crowdworks. Crowdworks, the crowdsourcing service will be familiar to regular readers of Tech in Asia, but Spiber’s star has been rising recently as well. The Tohoku-based company is credited with figuring out how to make artificial threads that mimic spider webs in strength and versatility.

Yoichi Miyazawa, the head of METI, was effusive in his praise for the winners in his closing remarks. “We intend to continue supporting venture companies. These are the people who are the engine for the future,” he said.

Observing from the sidelines, it was heartening to notice that almost every company deserved top marks for technological prowess. Even Crowdworks, which did not require any technological breakthrough for its business model to work, is not out of place due to its highly aggressive pace of growth. These companies have all been following the advice that is often seen on sites like new company for businesses in the region to follow.

Although many entrepreneur meetups around Tokyo feature companies eager to show off their new web service or app, it is firms like the ones awarded today which are most likely to have an outsized impact on Japan’s economy.

The latest app or sharing economy web service is most likely to be designed for a Japanese audience, leaving a huge question mark of whether or not that service can truly escape the island. Companies rooted in hard science, companies that produce exoskeletons and artificial spider thread, can find clients around the world.

Japan has a ton of entrepreneurs and innovators. It is good that the government is ready to align itself with the ones ready to take their ideas global.

Photo: Prime Minister Abe delivering his remarks

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