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Tokyo – still the favorite destination

In our first post on Japan, we looked at the many great incentives that foreign startups may find in the city of Fukuoka. This time we focus on Tokyo, still the most important center of the Japanese startup ecosystem.

Size matters. The Tokyo metropolitan area has a population of 37 million. Shinjuku station has over 200 exits. And 77 % of all japanese VC investments went to Tokyo-based enterprises in 2018.

According to the Genome report 2019, Tokyo ranks second in terms of early stage funding per startup, and is seen as one of the top 12 upcoming ecosystems.

Not surprisingly, many foreign startups and scaleups prefer Tokyo as a first stop on their japanese journey. If you have the same considerations, read on for a few pointers on where to go…



Slush Tokyo is a successful subsidiary of the Slush conference, with 6000 attendees and over 700 startups attending last year. Out of these startups, 53% were younger than 3 years and the major industries were e-commerce, IoT, Edtech, health AI, Big data, mobile, blockchain.

The program is entirely in English, and has a specific focus on helping international companies interact with the Japanese ecosystem. Pitch competitions are held where startups have the chance to attract investors, mentors and potential customers. The event sees attendees split between locals and foreigners

Attending Slush Tokyo is perhaps the fastest of getting to know the Japanese ecosystem; understanding who’s who, meeting investors, finding talent and figuring out how to access the market.


Our two favorite accelerators

Scaling from the Nordics into Japan is no easy feat, but many European companies have managed to make the jump, some through the help of private accelerators. We highlight 2 with a track record of European startup participation:


Plug & Play

Plug & Play is both a VC and corporate accelerator that runs a 3 month program twice a year with IoT, fintech, insuretech, mobility, and brand and retail as the focus areas. They do not take equity or money from startups but the startups are required to pay their own fees.

However, the corporates pay for the acceleration program. They provide the startups with local network, investors, media, and government network, plus assistance on setting up an entity in Japan. All free of charge.

The startups are not limited by stage, but tend to be later stage – A, B or C+ startups. Non-Japanese startups from countries such as Spain, Netherlands, Germany, Russia, and Belgium have already participated in the program.

What makes Plug & Play special compared to other accelerators is a strict focus on scaling into the local market. This, combined with strengths in terms of corporate network, local network, and media, makes Plug & Play a resourceful option for startups looking to enter Japan.

In addition, Plug & Play has 26 spaces around the world, and startups can attend multiple programs to scale into markets in various Plug & Play regions.


Digital Garage

Digital Garage is somewhat of a heavyweight in the startup ecosystem, and was responsible for bringing both Twitter and LinkedIn to the Japanese market. The firm is  also an original LP (Limited Partner) in the Nordic VC byFounders.

With a focus on Fintech and data, this company is especially interested in the rapid development of Nordic societies towards cashless economies and the Nordic approach to public data. Thus, the team has worked with a startup in Finland to learn about the best infrastructures ethically using personal data.

While not a traditional accelerator, Digital Garage looks to nurture businesses moving into the Japanese market through a collaborative partnership.


If you’re interested in Japan, stay tuned to ILA: Our next blog will look into the many interesting japanese VC funds active in the Nordics.