In March 2018, Rakuten began taking applications from organizations around Japan for a new kind of startup incubator program. This wasn’t a program for regular tech startups, Instead, Rakuten was looking for organizations with a social mission — entrepreneurs determined to solve some sort of social challenge.
“Through the Rakuten Social Accelerator, we want to find innovative solutions to social issues by connecting social entrepreneurs, NPOs and other organizations with Rakuten resources,” said Haruna Tanaka of Rakuten Asia, who co-heads the new program.
The program assigns Rakuten mentors to selected organizations, giving them access to Rakuten’s wealth of knowledge and experience in the online services industry. The mentors are volunteers from a wide variety of different Rakuten businesses, with one common goal uniting them: to make a difference in the world.
“We are less about creating the next big product and more about helping startups that are already doing something amazing to boost their profile and step out into the world,” Tanaka said, adding, “that’s something Rakuten can do as a company with scale.”
With the Rakuten Social Accelerator, the team wants to go above and beyond mere mentorship.
“Usually in this kind of situation, the “accelerator” plays a role much like that of a consultant, giving advice on how to run the organization,” explained Takayuki Mamabe of the Rakuten Sustainability Promotion Department, who leads the program together with Tanaka.
“With Rakuten Social Accelerator, we also want to provide concrete support through tech-based solutions for the problems these organizations are tackling, by sending Rakuten engineers to work with them,” said Mamabe. “Or, if they are looking to expand their operations, we want to provide employees to help with their marketing. We want our volunteers to become members of the team.”
Mamabe emphasizes that the program is different from other CSR projects the company has been involved in before. “Previously we have focused more on business activities — the Rakuten IT School, for example… We had never really utilized our people resources or our tech expertise in this way, despite being a tech company.”
The six Rakuten Social Accelerator teams were announced in July 2018 and will participate in the program over a period of six months. Read on for more information about each organization (and photos of the team members and Rakuten mentors.)
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