Tokyo and the borderless startup economy

My trip to Tokyo has opened my eyes to that ecosystem. Despite very little perceived activity outside of Japan, there's an extremely vibrant scene there. For example:

  • there's a public securities market called Mothers, where many of the startups do go and list because of easier listing requirements
  • extremely active VCs and CVCs in B Dash, Global Brain, Atomico, Fresco, Rakuten Ventures, Softbank ventures, DNA, Digital Garage and others
  • an intense interest in AI and robotics, which is at the forefront topic of most startup ecosystems around the world
  • investors that are extremely patient

The reason this ecosystem has traditionally been perceived as closed has been that the ecosystem is extremely self-sustaining. Investors are getting returns through Mothers, they're investing back into the ecosystem through the form of accelerators, and entrepreneurs are building companies. There are virtually no angels - but that's fine because the corporates do early stage activity as well.

Because of the self-sustaining ecosystem, the issue is that there are very few global startups developed. The barriers to global startup development including English speaking ability and the willingness to go abroad. It's no surprise that the entrepreneurs that have global aspirations tend to be the ones that have studied overseas.

After having seen the Tokyo, Seoul, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong startup scenes, I remain passionate about a borderless global startup economy. Individual city ecosystems can survive by themselves, but the global startup ecosystem misses out on the synergies that each city and culture can do together.

In order to develop a borderless global startup economy, we need to have a few elements:

  • free exchange of ideas: faciliated by English as a front-end language. That's why I'm extremely passionate about Lingvist (Techstars company) as a learning platform, to help other non-native English ecosystems bridge the language gap
  • free flow of human capital: good people should be able to move easily from country to country. Solutions like the Estonian e-residency allow for that to happen, I hope in the near future
  • free flow of intellectual capital: because visa issues won't be solved overnight, in the interim solutions like work flows that promote borderless work. Like Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, and Deekit (a Techstars company)
  • free flow of financial capital: AngelList as an ecosystem-wide angel raising platform. Bitcoin as the digital currency.

    The piece I'm personally passionate about is how to develop this borderless startup economy across Asia. There are cultural similarities across Asia, the ecosystems all have their competitive strengths, and by combining these strengths we can strengthen the entire Asian ecosystem. This is a commitment for the next years here.

    Thanks to the founders at ChatCast, Maxwell at BDash, Shin at Atomico, Taka at Digital Garage, and Adit at Rakuten Ventures for great learnings.

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