Technology

Expert tech scene appeals to Japan firms

Awards help innovators visit London

  • Competition promotes UK base as springboard to global market
  • Winners to meet investors and established firms
  • British strengths in finance, manufacturing and online sales

Three Japanese technology firms are receiving support as they leap into the British market this year, thanks to the first Japan-UK Tech Awards.

Launched in November by Minister of State for Trade and Investment Lord Livingston, the awards are designed to encourage Japanese firms to select the UK as their overseas base. By so doing, they can expand their business in a booming new market, which can serve as a springboard to a wider global audience.

Some 15 firms entered the inaugural competition, organised by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) in Japan. Judges then selected three winners—translation specialist anydooR Inc., online eyewear store Oh My Glasses, and all-in-one marketing solutions provider iRidge, Inc.

The winners will travel to London next month to see for themselves Britain’s vibrant tech scene.

During their trip, they will meet representatives of Japanese firms who have already set up in the UK, as well as UK investors, established businesses, firms that provide professional services, and others that operate as technology accelerators.

The winners will be allocated a space for one month at The Bakery Worldwide Limited, a specialist incubator space in London for start-up businesses.

“This is a huge opportunity for us”, said Naoki Yamada, who in 2009 founded Conyac, a social, crowd source-based translation service at anydooR Inc.

“We have been trying to go global for the last few years, but it has been quite hard to find customers outside Japan”, Yamada told BCCJ ACUMEN. “Having this chance to go to England to meet potential clients and partners will give us an opportunity to grow our business”.

The company’s business model aims to provide a short translation “for the price of a cup of coffee”. The firm presently has no fewer than 40,000 translators operating in 75 languages, although the majority work between English and other Asian languages.

Supported by British Airways, The Bakery, NTT Docomo Ventures, Inc. and Tohmatsu Venture Support Co., Ltd., the awards required Japanese businesses to submit a business plan of up to five pages.

A panel of five judges then assessed each of the entrants, awarding them points based on three main aspects: the freshness and appeal of their product, service or business model; the degree to which it would fit into the UK market; and the prospects of the business’s growth there. The winners were announced on 19 December.

Speaking at the announcement of the initiative, Lord Livingston said he was “delighted to launch the Japan-UK Tech Awards, but also to celebrate the strength of Britain and Japan’s ties in the technology sector”.

“Japan remains one of the most important and biggest investors in the UK”, he said.

“In the ICT [information and communication technology] sector alone, hundreds of Japanese companies have operations across the UK. We value these companies greatly and want to encourage more companies, in an early stage, to consider the UK as a base for their international operations.

“As so many Japanese companies already know, the UK is a great place to grow your business”, Lord Livingston explained.

Firms already operating in the sector in Britain benefit from an advanced technological infrastructure, a wide array of support, and a public that is happy to purchase goods online with credit cards or through other electronic transfers.

It also helps, Lord Livingston pointed out, that Napoleon Bonaparte’s jibe, that the British are “a nation of shopkeepers”, has a ring of truth to it. As well as excelling in manufacturing and financial services, Britons are successful online sellers.

The UK, he pointed out, is the number one e-commerce exporter in the world.

While similar technology-award campaigns have already taken place in the United States and Canada, and another contest is currently under way in Finland, Lord Livingston stressed that the decision to launch it here “reflects the great strength of the Japanese technology sector”.

Also attending the launch was Masayuki Kimura, director of the Advisory Service Division at Tohmatsu Venture Support, who detailed the help available for firms that want to set up in the UK.

“It is a very attractive environment—backed by the government and established companies—that fosters specialist start-ups across many sectors”, Kimura said, adding that UK financial investment in start-ups has soared 800% in just five years.

“It is very easy to set up in the UK, and with the support of the British government and UKTI, meetings between key players that would normally take months to arrange now take place much faster”, Kimura added.

The judging criteria
• Innovation
• Product/market fit
• Potential

Winners
anydooR Inc.
This Tokyo-based firm launched its social, crowd source-based translation service, Conyac, in 2009.

Oh My Glasses
TYPE, a brand of this online eyewear store, offers glasses named after and inspired by print typefaces.

iRidge, Inc.
The brainchild of this business, popinfo, sends location-based push notifications on smartphones.