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Coming soon to Israel — Japanese Corporate Accelerators

In the wake of a pioneering program by Samuria Incubate, Japan Inc. is rushing to work with Israeli start-ups
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, January 18, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, January 18, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Samurai Incubate officially announced their Accelerate Program Israel to help Japanese corporations launch and run startup accelerators in Israel.

In an OpEd in today’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan’s leading business daily, Kentaro Sakakibara, CEO of Samurai Incubate, noted that he has come to realize after spending the past year in Israel that Japan has not only been latecomers in engaging with the Israeli startup ecosystem, but has also been running behind generally in how corporate M&A and R&D gets done.

While the concept of ‘open innovation’ has already started to catch on in Japan, many leading global companies outside Japan are taking open innovation to the next level by establishing their own startup accelerators, which provides multifaceted support for selected startups for a pre-determined period of 3-6 months. By first putting in effort to create a community, it becomes easier to indentify and attract promising startups.”

The goal of Samurai’s accelerator program is to run a series of 3-month-long accelerators in Israel in collaboration with different Japanese corporate partners. Samurai Incubate has already launched a call for partners, and plans to run about 10 programs over the next 3 years, with hopes of starting two this year.

Samurai Incubate has already run a similar collaborative startup accelerator in Tokyo with IBM Japan, called IBM BlueHub. The first class of five participating startups graduated in April of this year, and the program is currently reviewing applications for the next incoming class.

Shota Morozumi, Samurai Incubate's Director of Partnerships, at the IBM BlueHub kickoff event in December 2014
Shota Morozumi, Samurai Incubate’s Director of Partnerships, at the IBM BlueHub kickoff event in December 2014

In a phone interview, Shota Morozumi, Samurai Incubate’s Director of Partnerships and its point man in initiating and organizing the BlueHub project, noted that “Japanese presence in Israel is still relatively weak. Also, most Japanese corporations, even the largest ones, do not have experience in setting up or running startup accelerators. Therefore, even those companies that would very much be interested in having an accelerator in Israel may be discouraged from ever trying.

We hope to bridge that gap. We already have a lot of experience in helping many Japanese corporations interface with startups, not just IBM with the BlueHub program. Also, since setting up Samurai House in Israel over a year ago, we have built up an extensive network in Israel. We believe we are in an excellent position to help our Japanese partners get the most out of their efforts to reach out to the Israeli startup community.”

While Japanese corporations have made acquisitions of Israeli startups in the past, and have even set up local R&D centers through some of those acquisitions, the intensity of such R&D-oriented M&A activity has been modest relative to other countries, as well as to Japan’s GDP and long-standing hi-tech prowess. In addition, Japanese technology companies have traditionally preferred to conduct such activities under wraps, hoping to obscure their cutting-edge activities from competitors. However, with Japan Inc. starting to adopt a more open, collaborative approach to early-phase R&D, and thanks to initiatives like Samurai’s accelerator program, we can expect to see a more intense, and more high-profile, presence of Japanese corporations in Israel’s innovation ecosystem in the very near future.

About the Author
Grew up biracial (white/Asian) and tricultural (American/Japanese/Jewish), mostly in Tokyo and Palo Alto. Made Aliyah in October 2011 along with his loving wife and two adorable daughters. Passionate about intellectual property (he's a registered U.S. patent agent working at AC Entis IP), the Israeli tech scene and Israel-Japan relations.
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