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Japan's top business lobby aims to create boom in 'unicorn' firms


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The UK have attempted this twice in the last two decades, on the cheap, and not got very far. The best they have managed is a bit of university-based tech transfer, farming small, clever ideas cooked up by academics to tech companies. Not exactly unicorns.

It's not difficult, but you do need all the component parts. A large amount of cash and a willingness to lose a lot of it. Losing money is fundamental to VC, because you are taking risks. That doesn't come easy in Japan. You also have to trust young people with that money. Again, not something that generates joy in the boardroom. One solution is to employ senior, respected, middle aged people who have done the start-up thing and can act as interfaces. They can help the kids function in an alien environment and talk corporate speak to the old guys with the sacks of cash.

You need ideas folk to design next gen stuff (people forget that tech is designed before it is coded) and you need coders. Preferably ones mature enough to fully document their code. If they don't do that, you'll discover why it was so important a bit later on.

So, yes, Japan can do all that as it has sacks of cash, can buy talent, and coders aren't rare.

But, all tech is going to start infringing on patents very quickly. Lots of them. If you have a partner in big tech (ie. GAFA), then you are fine, as they share. Outside that, it's tougher. If the recent EU proposals don't require fair-sharing of patent access, they will be useless. Patents were intended to ensure that the originator of an idea got paid, but for decades they have been used very successfully to lock out the competition. That's a difficult one to fix.

The 'hanko mentality' isn't as much of a problem as you might think - Japan has SoftBank (be it Japanese, Korean, Saudi-funded or global, take your pick) and other big names. Sony have good content, which helps. It won't be a walk in the park, but running a start-up unit in a bubble inside a Showa-era outfit is do-able if it gets the official nod. Just remember to wear pants, stay off the mind-expanding substances and use the back entrance so you don't scare the rest of the staff.

But, is there enough new stuff out there to do? The jury is out.

GAFA have not innovated for some time, and the days of moving from 8-bit to 16-bit, mono to colour, dial-up to ADSL and floppies to new media have passed. Tech is quite stable now. There are still options for creating device-based tech. IoT is still a thing. AI and big data may be blind alleys but they still open wallets. The Metaverse is a great way to lose a lot of money, but there will be spin-offs along the way. The big shift from star topology to distributed systems offers a complete revolution in how we do everything online and could see GAFA replaced, and all with backwards compatibility, but few have the guts to give it a go.

Unfortunately, all of this is happening in a rather toxic environment, a million miles from the Silicon Valley of the 1980s. For the last couple of decades, alongside endless scare stories in the media, tech has seen creeping regulations, restrictions and censorship. This may prevent the next big thing from ever happening, at catastrophic cost to the global economy, which has been running on new tech development for the last four decades. Like Xi and Putin, Western governments are cracking down, albeit with more subtlety. Disruptive technologies are no longer allowed to disrupt, and you might not be able to roll out any of the cool things you cook up. That may present a glass ceiling on future tech, and on economic growth.

A Plan B would be to focus on small projects - bits of code that everyone uses - and collect fees from world+dog. Or to just take off the shelf stuff and apply it to anything that nobody has yet applied it to. This is not as much fun, and you won't be a unicorn, but at least you'll be able to pay the bills. Lots of tech start-up folks in China can't do that any more.

Will involving government in this help? Normally, any tech that government has a hand in fails miserably and expensively. But you may need someone in Kasumigaseki on the payroll to stop your tech simply being banned to protect women, children and small furry creatures.

It is as possible to do this in Japan as almost anywhere, because nowhere can really tick all the boxes any more. But, just as Xi has taken China out of the game, Western governments may also crack down on tech to the extent that nobody can do it any more.

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Unicorns but no mention of rainbows? What a flaccid statement. Things might change when a unicorn is seen in Ginza, there is no way this organisation has the brain power to understand it’s outdated and crippling the Japanese economically.

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It also emphasizes the importance of building an ecosystem in which companies have access to sufficient funding

Keidanren will be sure to get some taxpayer funding from the LDP for such ventures.

While continuing to ignore the "urging" for some, any wage increases to help sinking Japanese workers.

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Good luck, saying it and doing it are two totally different things, and your members are going to be very wary of loosing money to any of these new start-ups.

Not to mention if these start ups actually get off the ground, if they are run like a typical Japanese company they will be a burden more than a blessing, and it's going to take a totally new way of thinking and managing a business here to be successful!

Oh and by the way, Amazon and Facebook may once have been the darlings of the economic world, but they have become just as bad or worse than many Japanese companies in many ways. All you all see is $$$$$$

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Anyway those startups will obviously become extra feed for large corporations in Japan.

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