Teaching entrepreneurship in Japan

Tokyo is well-known for being one of the world’s most famous tech-capitals, in the heart of Japan, home of multinational businesses such as Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nintendo and Canon. So, how is entrepreneurship being taught so that even more successful ventures are created?

The Vice-Director of The University of Tokyo, Yasushi Asami, believe that education in general have to change towards more practical and active learning among the students, entrepreneurship education included.

— The students can’t just listen to the lecturer, they have to experience it themselves. The challenge is that the university still focuses on teaching in the lecture-based way, Asami explains.

At the University of Tokyo, Professor Katsuya Hasegawa has for the past nine years been responsible for the startup companies from the institution. He also teaches entrepreneurship to both students and employees.

— Entrepreneurship is actually not that popular among japanese students. I think many students see it as something distant, and that the fear of failure is big, professor Hasegawa explains.

The Vice-Director of The University of Tokyo, Yasushi Asami challenged me to share my views on the development of excellent education.

The Dojo-program

He presents something called the Dojo-program. “Dojo” can be translated into the hall or room for the practice of material arts. The study program is described as a boot camp for aspiring entrepreneurs and has been taught for the past 14 years at the University of Tokyo.

— It is a combination of lectures, workshops and group project where the goal is to create the best business plan in six months. At first the goal was to create real businesses, now the goal is first and foremost to rather expose the students to entrepreneurship and business development as a career option, says Hasegawa.

Showcase your work 

It might not come as a surprise that Tokyo develops a lot of technology-based startups. These are mostly software which require small amount of resources to develop at first. According to Professor Hasegawa there are a lot of students who love to create new technology, but many of them don’t see their creations as a business opportunity.

-The Summer Founders Program is a good example. We attract the students who would love to get the opportunity to use their summer to build new technology, and give them the necessary equipment and suitable facilities. At the end we challenge them by arranging a demo day, forcing them to showcase their work to potential users, customers, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, Hasegawa explains.

In this way, the creators are forced to get some external opinions, which might lead them in the way of improving something that might actually become a real viable product.

Learning Entrepreneur’s Lab

Sharing the same view of pushing the students out of their comfortable labs and class rooms is Professor Takashi Tsutsumi. He is the founder and CEO of Learning Entrepreneur’s Lab, an incubator and learning arena for entrepreneurs since 2014.

Professor Tsutsumi also teaches entrepreneurship with focus on LEAN startup methodology in ten different universities in the Tokyo area. The LEAN startup methodology aims to shorten product development cycles by using a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning. Through his classes he is hoping to find students who have suitable ideas for Learning Entrepreneur’s Lab.

-The students in my classes are forced to talk to a number of people to actually get exposed to external feedback on their business idea during the course, he explains.

The LEAN startup methodology is at the core of the incubator. Professor Tsutsumi explains that there are a lot of engineers with good ideas who needs to get exposed to leadership and management through his program.

Professor Hasegawa strives to expose his students to entrepreneurship and business development, opening their eyes to the opportunity of building a career through their own startup.

The Professor himself has a broad experience; working as an intrapreneur, then a venture capitalist, before becoming an entrepreneur. He describes his experience as having the “second seat experience” before entering and teaching entrepreneurship himself.

Venture creation culture in Japan

According to Professor Tsutsumi, Japan has a lot of established companies in the age range of 50 to 100 years old. These do not have particular experience with new venture creation and new business models. They therefore see a demand for new businesses and ventures.

– It has not been a big interest and focus on new venture creation in Japan, but this seems to be increasing, says Tsutsumi.

The author

Karianne Hartviksen is a student at the NTNU School of Entrepreneurship. This August she visited Japan while participating in the annual Leadership Forum hosted by The Science and Technology Leadership Association (STeLA) in Tokyo. Karianne works with her startup within the field of educational technology and is above average interested in how to improve education and learning processes.