Tokyo is open for business—and the city wants entrepreneurs and their start-ups. That was the message from the city’s governor, Yuriko Koike, at a recent event looking at the support Tokyo is giving to people launching newly emerged firms.
Speaking at one of WeWork Japan’s office-sharing locations in the capital, Koike said efforts were being made to attract foreign entrepreneurs to set up firms in Tokyo.
“We established last year liaison offices named ‘Access to Tokyo’ in London, Paris and San Francisco. By gathering information on prospective companies by using different local contacts we can securely attract [foreign firms] to Tokyo”, Koike said.
“We also have an accelerator programme. In this programme we invite foreign successful new ventures to Tokyo and help them to further improve their business plan by providing them with advice from Japanese major companies and also by supporting matchups with companies in Tokyo”, she added.
At the event, Koike waxed lyrical about Tokyo’s benefits and positive points. “This is a place where manpower, goods, money and information concentrate. For example, about half of major corporations in Japan are based in Tokyo”.
So Tokyo is a great place to live and work and bring your business. But what if you are hoping to set up in the capital? How do you overcome the daunting task of incorporating and getting everything done properly and legally?
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) has its own service for helping people to launch new firms, and it’s a service that is offered in English with the aim of assisting foreign entrepreneurs, too. The Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center (TOSBEC) is based in Akasaka, and has satellite centres in Marunouchi and Shibuya. The facility offers a complete service, helping with all the documents and procedures necessary for setting up a business in Japan.
“They offer one-stop support in procedures required for setting up a business in Tokyo, so that you don’t have to make unnecessary mistakes or [have a] lack of stamps or seals”, Koike said.
TOSBEC assists with such items as company registration, filing tax returns, immigration matters, employment insurance, health insurance and certification of articles of incorporation for the setting up of a business.
Visitors to the centre can speak to members of staff for each item they need to complete, and can use computers to make online applications. Bilingual consultants are available.
Power of entrepreneurship
Koike explained that the city also had launched its Tokyo Startup Station, which she described as “a place where entrepreneurs can visit without any reservations to [obtain] the necessary information through a variety of events and seminars”.
“Please come to Tokyo, this is the message from our government”, Koike said. “These days the power of entrepreneurship is considered one of the barometers of national power.” Koike’s speech at the event showed that Tokyo is ready to accept foreign entrepreneurs and will make efforts to help them set up new firms in Japan.
But how helpful is TOSBEC from the perspective of those seeking to set up their own firms? Waka Ohashi, president and CEO of Ouchi Detox spoke at the event about her experience of setting up her own interior coordination firm in January 2018. She said she chanced upon one of the TOSBEC offices when shopping at a supermarket, and did an internet search to find out what was on offer.
“On 5 January this year I established the company at TOSBEC and I don’t want to forget the feeling I had that moment”, she said, explaining that she had gone from sole proprietor to CEO of a company through the move.
“I started my company last January, so I don’t have much experience, but I learned a lot of things,” she added, explaining that she had gone from working as a nurse, to setting up her own business with the help of TOSBEC.
Ohashi said TOSBEC had helped her achieve some of her life goals. “I was able to achieve one goal, which is that my salary became more than the salary I made when I was working as a nurse. So that goal has been achieved. Then from the sole proprietor to become the president of the company”.
Another positive account of using TOSBEC to set up a firm came from Erek Yedwabnick of Webguru, a firm billing itself as creating websites from global perspectives.
Yedwabnick said the firm offers “web development for companies looking to enter the Japanese market or global companies looking to enter the global market, as well as [help for] entrepreneurs to do the same”.
He said Webguru employs nine people, “all bilingual professionals living in Japan and around the world”.
“Why TOSBEC? Why would I go through all the trouble of making a corporation by myself when I could have just paid someone ¥60,000 to do it?” Yedwabnick said. “By not using any corporation services we were allowed to save a lot of money and then pass that on to our customers. Through TOSBEC we were able to achieve this.”
“If you don’t know the process, you could be getting ripped off. So I was confused. I was just searching on the Internet, ‘how do you do this’? A friend from university said ‘you should go to TOSBEC’”, he added. “I’m very impulsive, so I said ‘let’s do it’. I went there, the staff was very nice, [they] sat me down … they showed me how to do it, they offered translation services which you need.”
He said TOSBEC helped to advise him that some of the forms and articles of incorporation had been drawn up wrong, and helped to get them corrected.
“It was very helpful, and then the same day I was able to submit everything and I had a company a week later. There’s a lot of paperwork to do in Japan to set up a company. It’s horrendous. TOSBEC is a very valuable place to go to minimise that pain if you’re going to do it yourself”.
Yedwabnick heaped praise on TOSBEC during his speech at the end, and explained that “you can always go back to TOSBEC and you can always ask questions and learn. You’re still going to need to when you have to pay somebody, you’re going to have to pay social insurance and that’s even more paperwork. Tax returns are even hard for Japanese people to understand.”
Koike pointed out that one magazine had listed Tokyo at the top of a list of 25 best cities to live in for three consecutive years. She said this might be as a result of the city’s fantastic , but if you’re looking to start up a new company, the services of TOSBEC and the TMG might look a little more attractive than a plate of sashimi.