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Start up a startup revolution from Fukuoka!
For many companies starting out on their entrepreneurial journey, the first challenge they come up against is often the same: they have the ideas and the enthusiasm, but not the know-how. That's why Fukuoka Growth Next (FGN), One of the largest startup hub in Japan, was set up in 2017 to offer guidance to budding entrepreneurs. “FGN was launched to provide a support system for startups in Fukuoka City,” says Uchida-San, Executive Director for FGN. “In collaboration with the local government, we aim to accelerate open innovation in the city by giving startups access to a range of services: from accelerator and incubator programs to specialized training for engineers and software developers.”
Housed in a former school building in the central Tenjin business district, FGN also offers bright and airy office space at a discounted price, a startup cafe, where entrepreneurs can receive free legal, accounting, and marketing advice, and a Global Startup Centre to help foreign founders settle into Fukuoka. There’s also a weekly schedule of talks, mixers and matchmaking events to help startups connect with investors, customers and other entrepreneurs in the local ecosystem.
In terms of lifestyle, the city of Fukuoka is a great place for startups to be. Nestled between the mountains and the sea in Japan’s far west corner, Fukuoka has a vibrant food scene, a tight-knit community of foreigners and locals, as well as charming coastal views. “Fukuoka is a lot cheaper than other cities in Japan such as Tokyo or Osaka and people are open and friendly,” says Uchida-San. Fukuoka has also been given the status of a ‘National Strategic Special Zone,’ a system implemented by the Japanese government to stimulate economic growth by relaxing regulations in certain areas. According to Uchida-San, the National Strategic Special Zone benefits startups in a number of ways: foreign entrepreneurs can obtain a startup visa that lasts for a year, which is double the duration of the corporate visa which only lasts for six months. Additionally, startups can receive a corporate tax reduction of about 8 percent.
These measures have been put in place to encourage startup activity in Fukuoka and are part of a wider plan by the local government to revitalize the city’s economy and spur on urban development. Uchida-San says that Fukuoka’s mayor, Sōichirō Takashima, has a mission to help the startup scene become like the one in Seattle. Like Fukuoka, Seattle is a small, coastal city with a similar blend of nature and urban life.
“When the mayor went to Seattle in the United States, he was really drawn in by the landscape – the surrounding nature, the ocean, and the urban areas – and he saw some similarities with Fukuoka,” says Uchida-San. “He also thought about how Seattle is a small city, yet is has produced international companies like Amazon and Microsoft, which still have their headquarters there today.” Fukuoka’s Mayor wants to replicate Seattle’s success by becoming a center where companies can grow and scale their ideas. Creating a vibrant startup community will, in turn, help the wider city of Fukuoka grow too.
“FGN and the local government think that startups have the potential to revitalize Fukuoka’s economy and stimulate open innovation,” says Uchida-San. And, while there are issues with people leaving smaller cities in Japan in search of education or career opportunities in Tokyo, Uchida-San is confident that Fukuoka – with the help of the growing startup community – will become a city brimming with opportunities. “As Fukuoka’s startup scene is still in its early stages, it’s a really good environment for entrepreneurs to test their ideas, experiment with new things and also learn to tackle the inevitable challenges that running a company can throw at you,” he says.
As the most active startup hub in Fukuoka, FGN wants to provide guidance to entrepreneurs that are only just finding their feet. “There's a great support system in Fukuoka so startups should never be afraid to ask for help,” says Uchida San. However, he also says that entrepreneurs should never get too comfortable, and should always be tenacious in achieving their goals: “If you have an idea, don’t ever hesitate. Just go for it. Try not to see failure as a bad thing, and instead use it as an opportunity to push yourself and each other.”