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Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012
An incubator for the samurai spirit
By AYAKO MIE
Kentaro Sakakibara, 37, leads a group of samurai. But his fortress isn't a feudal stronghold. Instead, it's an incubator of sorts to nurture startup businesses seeking to go global.
Sakakibara heads Samurai Incubate Inc., which offers office space at Samurai Startup Island near Tokyo Bay.
"I want to support entrepreneurs with the samurai spirit," said Sakakibara, "which means I would like to help people who can sacrifice themselves for others."
As more tech-savvy young Japanese launch startups, aspiring to become the next Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, the so-called incubator sector is burgeoning, offering promising entrepreneurs initial funding, mentoring programs and work space.
Samurai Incubate is aspiring to create a Japanese version of Silicon Valley.
Sakakibara meets three promising entrepreneurs a day and listens to their business pitches to decide if their projects are worth investment. If he sees potential, he invests on average of ¥5 million per business.
Since the launch of Samurai Incubate in 2008 with about ¥320 million in the form of a venture capital fund, he helped launch 60 startups, three of which were later bought out successfully.
Because most investors have little opportunity to meet up with entrepreneurs, Sakakibara has taken a more intimate approach. He lives one minute from Samurai Startup Island so he can see his entrepreneurs every day to talk about everything from business protocols, health matters to romantic relationships. His company has business advice sessions once a week with the startups he invests in, as well as consultations involving lawyers and accountants, and English lessons. He even offers business template sheets, including a chart indicating who is in charge of cleaning the bathroom for the day, so startups can focus on developing products.
After working for prominent Net-based startup businesses in Japan, Sakakibara said he founded Samurai Incubate because he wanted to launch an operation that can contribute more to society. He decided to help young startups after deciding job creation is the best way to invigorate society.
"I want to help launch 500 companies in my 40s as Eiichi Shibusawa did," said Sakakibara.
Eiichi Shibusawa was a well-known figure active during the prewar era and is considered the father of capitalism in Japan.
Sakakibara's ultimate goal is to help found a company with the global competitiveness of Facebook or Microsoft. To achieve that, he plans to open Samurai Incubate in Silicon Valley next year to provide an opportunity for Japanese startups to build strong networks with Silicon Valley-based venture capital.
"I want to show the world the potential of Japanese startups," said Sakakibara. "I believe we can create the next Facebook from Japan."