On June 1, 2022, Japan Association of New Economy (JANE) celebrated 10 years of transforming Japan. The economic organization, which is supported by Rakuten and enjoys a diverse membership including world-renowned Japanese companies and promising startups alike, creates and champions proposals to the Japanese government for regulatory reform in new industries, including the implementation of information technology and promotion of the sharing economy.
“We’ve arrived at the point where the government is listening to what JANE has to say.”Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten Group
In celebration of this 10-year milestone, members gathered in Tokyo last week to launch JX: Japan Transformation, a new book in which JANE Representative Director and Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikitani joins JANE Vice Representative Director and CyberAgent President Susumu Fujita and several other prominent business leaders to outline their vision for the future of Japan’s economy.
Japan playing catchup on DX
“So much has changed over these 10 years,” Mikitani reminisced to members at the event. “In 2012, we were still transitioning to smartphones. There was no talk of AI, or blockchain and bitcoin.”
“During the last two years in particular, the pandemic has really driven our society to embrace the notion of a digital transformation (DX),” remarked Fujita. “DX is something we’ve been pushing for this whole time, and now it’s suddenly gained real momentum. We’re in the very middle of this transformation, which is why I think the next 10 years are going to be crucial.”
For Japan, however, Mikitani believes that this momentum doesn’t come without its pitfalls. “It’s not just Japan — it’s the whole world,” he countered. “And because of this, we’re seeing the distance between Japan and the rest of the world expand even wider — just look at our neighbors in China, and over in the U.S. In Japan, there are still all sorts of regulations left over from before the internet existed. This is something we need to continue fighting to change.”
“Even though we’re making progress here in Japan, we need to realize just how far behind we are,” Fujita agreed. “And I think one important role of JANE is to make everyone understand that if we put in the effort, we can close the gap with the rest of the world.”
“I think the establishment of the Digital Agency is a good sign that the government is embracing digital transformation,” Mikitani told journalists following the event. “But when it comes to issues like regulatory reform, I really think we’re only 10% or 20% of the way there.”
Nevertheless, Mikitani feels that JANE is helping direct policymakers in the right direction. “We’ve arrived at the point where the government is listening to what JANE has to say. They don’t take on all of our proposals, but they are taking them into account and involving us in relevant committees and seminars. I think our actions are having a meaningful impact.”
Embracing diversity in the entrepreneurial arena
The event included a panel discussion between several prominent entrepreneurs on the topic of female representation in the male-dominated world of entrepreneurship. Ari Horie has worked to support startups in Silicon Valley for the past nine years, founding the Women’s Startup Lab and launching the “Amelias” project for women and students in Japan.
“Most of the books you find on entrepreneurship are written by men who encounter very few life-altering circumstances and are in the position to apply themselves 120% to their companies.”Ari Horie, Founder and CEO, Women’s Startup Lab Impact Foundation Japan
“Less than 3% of funding goes to female entrepreneurs,” she revealed. “And over 90% of investors in this space are men.”
Horie warned that while venture capital visionaries make a lot of noise about the issue, the big talk does not always line up with reality. “There’s plenty of talk about funding women, even in Silicon Valley. But often when you pull back the curtains, there’s no real money in play.”
The unrealistic lifestyles considered necessary for entrepreneurial success don’t help. “Most of the books you find on entrepreneurship are written by men who encounter very few life-altering circumstances and are in the position to apply themselves 120% to their companies,” she continued. “I believe there need to be more paths to success for people who have other responsibilities, like caring for their family as they launch their companies.”
This sentiment was echoed by former Japanese policymaker and venture capitalist Yuji Suyama, who heads startup support outfit Zebras and Company.
“Often all people care about when you’re launching a new business is profitability and scalability,” he lamented. “It’s true that startups are primarily about launching new businesses, but they do more than that: They also create new cultures. I feel we need to pursue something that goes beyond just financials, growth and IPO potential.”
Suyama also takes issue with the way in which entrepreneurial support for women is administered. “It’s easy for governments to look at the issue from a macroeconomic perspective and say, we need more women, more entrepreneurs,” he explained. “But I don’t think enough people make the effort to see things from the perspective of those women, to work out what kind of support they truly need.”
Robotics pioneer Saki Corporation founder Sakie Akiyama called for cooperation from those in the majority to embrace diversity.
“I don’t think it’s up to women or other minorities to drive diversity in the entrepreneurial space,” she said. “Another way to frame diversity is that it’s about you accepting something that is different from yourself. This isn’t an easy thing to do — it’s uncomfortable and it doesn’t happen naturally.”
“I think that unless you go out of your way to do this, it just isn’t possible to create the kind of environment in which women and young people can raise their voices. What I want to see from people in the majority is a willingness to break out of their comfort zones — their comfortable communities. I think that’s the first step — welcome things that differ from yourself and make the effort to listen to and understand them.”