Ani Terada and Takuya Ogushi arrived in Israel in July 2014 to be among the first participants of an experiment. Samurai Incubate, a leading Japanese start-up incubator and co-working space headed by CEO Kentaro Sakakibara, had decided to establish its first overseas office in Tel Aviv and sent out a call for proposals for Japanese entrepreneurs who wanted to build their startup in Israel. Ani and Takuya, who had just started to work on their startup full time as CEO and CFO respectively, saw an opportunity to launch their startup, Aniwo, in one of the most robust startup ecosystems in the world. They submitted their proposal to Samurai Incubate and were selected to join Mr. Sakakibara to live in Israel as inaugural members of Samurai House Israel. Now, five months later, Ani and Takuya have been joined by COO and fellow co-founder Chikara Ueno and have begun putting together a local Israeli team.

Takuya (L), Ani (C) and Mr. Sakakibara (R) with other members of Samurai House Israel

Takuya (L), Ani (C) and Mr. Sakakibara (R) with other members of Samurai House Israel

Ani, Takuya and Chikara met as classmates while attending Kyoto University. All three graduated in 2013 – Ani and Takuya with MBAs and Chikara with an LLB. They all spent a year apart in various roles before reuniting as co-founders of Aniwo. Ani worked in marketing and business development at Benesse, a leading publishing and education company in Japan, Takuya was an associate at Accenture Japan, and Chikara was a manager responsible for web-marketing and risk management at Oisix, a Japanese e-commerce company specializing in organic vegetables and foods.

Aniwo co-founders Takuya (L), Ani (C) and Chikara (R)

Aniwo co-founders Takuya (L), Ani (C) and Chikara (R)

Aniwo recently took live their first project, Million Times, to run a startup pitch competition in collaboration with Samurai Incubate. The competition is towards a prize of a $100K round of investment with Samurai Incubate, and startups are invited to upload a slide deck with their pitch for consideration through the Million Times website.

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I had the pleasure of getting to know Ani, Takuya, and Chikara as well as some of Aniwo’s Israeli team members over the last few months, mostly at Samurai House Israel’s weekly Thursday night events.

Q&A with Ani Terada (adapted from email and phone correspondence, in English and Japanese)

You have been in Israel for five months now. What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned here so far?

I’m still amazed by the extent to which everyone seems to know everyone here. And not only that, everyone is exceptionally helpful. People are happy to immediately introduce us to potential partners and investors. They will volunteer ideas about people we should meet and then go ahead and make the introduction right away. It is very fast and efficient, and totally unheard of in Japan.

Can you tell me a bit about the Million Times project?

We are really impressed with the amazing startup ecosystem that Israel has created. Having been here for almost half a year, and comparing my experience here as an entrepreneur with my experience in Japan, I can say from personal experience that the ecosystem here is really special. Our mission, at its core, is to help recreate at least some of that “specialness” on a bigger scale. Our vision for Million Times is that it will be a platform for quickly and efficiently connecting startups with investors and users all over the world.

There are only a few Japanese guys here in Israel. Aside from being entrepreneurs, you must also spend time as a cultural ambassador. Do you enjoy that role?

Yes, I do. It’s funny because while people in Japan know so little about Israeli culture, Israelis seem to know so much about Japan. Israelis love Japanese products like cars and electronics and Japanese cuisine like sushi. It makes me appreciate my own culture all the more, after seeing it appreciated so much here.

Samurai Incubate and Kentaro Sakakibara (who is now also living in Israel) are quite well-known in Japan, but not so much here. What is Samurai Incubate, and what is it like working with Mr. Sakakibara?

Samurai Incubate was the first startup incubator and co-working space in Japan, and was a pioneer in creating the startup culture and community there. Now that Samurai Incubate is in Israel, I’m really excited about what will come out the intersection between these two cultures. As for Ken-Samurai (which is the name Mr. Sakakibara goes by here), he is a great investor and mentor. He is very energetic and is very good at motivating entrepreneurs to do their best, while maintaining a fun atmosphere. It’s like magic. His sees helping entrepreneurs as his personal mission, and it shows.