Fukuoka: Japan's Startup City - Focus On Fukuoka #4
How can F&B companies work with the local government in Fukuoka for a strong start in the Japanese market?
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Happy Thursday Market Brewsters! Today we’re bringing you our final instalment in our Focus on Fukuoka series: an interview with the local government of Fukuoka City. What opportunities await F&B companies here? Let’s find out!
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Fukuoka has all the trappings of a major startup hub, the likes of Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv. Lounging in a temperate climate between the ocean and mountain ranges, it’s a laid-back, feel-good place to live. But above the board shorts and sandals, Fukuoka is a thriving business hub firing on all pistons and dedicating major resources to attracting and supporting innovation.
In today’s article, we explore how the local government is supporting new businesses in Fukuoka and empowering them to go global. We spoke to the international coordinator at Fukuoka City Government, Tomoko Nakashima, to get the inside scoop about how companies can work with the local government.
Before we learn about the government’s activities, let’s take a look at some of the general benefits of doing business in Fukuoka.
Firstly, Fukuoka is Japan’s fastest-growing city. Both in terms of the population growth rate and new business openings, year on year, Fukuoka tops even Tokyo. The city continues to attract young workers who move there to take advantage of ample opportunities, low cost of living and ease of life compared to its hyperactive elder brother, Tokyo. What this means is that Fukuoka is packed full of talented employees that businesses and startups can draw on.
In addition to human resources, Fukuoka is within minutes of every conceivable kind of natural resource. Fertile land is plentiful, meaning businesses have access to fresh ingredients to make their products and menu items. The nearby ocean is also a rich source of seafood.
With so many resources nearby, it’s important to remember that Fukuoka itself is less than a few hours away from many of Asia’s major markets. This is thanks to excellent transport links for the city. An always-on-time rail network connects Fukuoka to mainland Japan and big domestic economies such as Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. There is also the international airport, 5 minutes from the city centre, which allows for easy access to most of Asia, as well as Japan. This all makes expanding your operations much more manageable.
In short, Fukuoka has a lot going for it. But, in part due to the monumental pull of Japan’s capital city, not enough people know about this. The government of Fukuoka have a plan to turn Fukuoka into one of Asia’s leading global business hubs.
The Startup City of Japan
Fukuoka City is working hard to promote itself as Japan’s number one city for startups. A hard-to-resists package of incentives beckons ventures, including those in F&B, to set up shop and do business in the city.
In 2012, Fukuoka declared that it would become THE Start-up city of Japan. The proactive and charismatic young mayor, Sōichirō Takashima, was a driving force behind this decision, having been struck by the impressive startup infrastructure that supported tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft when he visited Seattle.
Since then Fukuoka City has established MoU’s with 15 locations in 11 countries around the world to promote mutual support for startups.
The partnerships enable the sharing of local market insights between startups in Fukuoka and overseas locations.
To inspire local companies in Fukuoka to go global, the government is also conducting an entrepreneurship training program.
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Participants will visit San Francisco and Silicon Valley and participate in meetings with startups and local pitch competitions. This helps to give our local startups the knowledge and confidence they need to go abroad.
Not only do the government give a lot of love to startups, but they also make it easy to establish ventures in Fukuoka city.
Non-Japanese residents are required to have a “Business Manager” residence status to run a business in Japan… The requirements are difficult though. You need to open an office and have two or more full-time employees, and total investment capital of 5 million JPY or more.
This can really inhibit young businesses to go for it, so the government created a Startup Visa.
Even if companies don’t meet the requirements for “Business Manager” residence, they can still receive a startup visa.
By submitting a business plan to the Fukuoka City government, they can receive approval if it looks like they are likely to meet the requirements of “Business Manager” during the next twelve months. Then, after receiving a certification from the Immigration Services Agency of Japan, they can begin operating a business.
Thanks to the more accessible startup visa and being able to use a co-working space in the city, it has become possible for international students to start a business without returning to their home country.
Incentives like these are essential. With a shrinking population, skill gaps in the workforce - especially in tech, and low levels of innovation, Japan needs to leverage the skills of entrepreneurial young international students.
In addition to helping startups set up shop, the city of Fukuoka also offers benefits that make it easy to stay. These include reduced corporate tax for startups and subsidies on apartment and office rent for founders.
If you’re interested in doing business in Fukuoka, the city has set up the “Global Startup Center (GSC)” to give fluent English support to startups and help them to access all the benefits we mentioned above. The GSC also holds events and supports matching between overseas startups and Japanese companies.
Fukuoka is doing amazing work to break down the barriers for founders to take the plunge and start their businesses in the city. This is especially good news for food and beverage ventures who can leverage the city’s resources.
A haven for F&B companies
We’ve already introduced the wealth of natural resources that F&B companies and startups can use as ingredients for their products and services. But there’s plenty more that Fukuoka offers companies in the food and beverage industry.
On the government side, Fukuoka has established the Fukuoka Food Business Association (FFBA) to support local companies to grow their business across Japan and abroad.
According to a spokesperson in charge:
The FFBA has run stands at various kinds of food-related exhibitions as a joint exhibitor at home and abroad and offered its members lots of business negotiation/matching opportunities since its foundation 11 years ago. Also, this organization encourages active interactions between member companies on a regular basis where they can exchange their experience, expertise and latest information.
This is good news for companies looking to establish themselves and their product in Fukuoka. The government is ready, waiting and eager to support local businesses and help them work together.
In addition, Fukuoka’s unique food culture is an opportunity in itself. Famed for several local dishes, including tonkotsu ramen, Fukuoka attracts interest from businesses and consumers for its food.
Food culture such as yatai’s (Japanese road-side food huts) and a thriving shochu scene means Fukuoka is also a great market to test beverages and innovative foods.
A Gateway to Asia
Beyond the city itself, Fukuoka is a gateway to Asia. Closer to Taiwan, Shanghai and Seoul than Tokyo, the city gives companies direct access to global markets. Due to the lower costs of life and business, being based out of Fukuoka can make expansion to neighbouring nationals much more realistic and less expensive than if you’re based out of Tokyo.
Starting up, and then what?
Fukuoka City has clear benefits as a city to establish a business venture in Japan, but there are still challenges to be aware of when it comes to growing a business in the land of the rising sun. As we’ve said already, a lot of Japan’s business activities and opportunities centre around the capital. It’s certainly expensive to set up in Tokyo, but there are benefits in terms of proximity to the city's startup eco-systems and corporate headquarters. Businesses that choose to launch in Fukuoka should leverage the city’s support networks, such as the GSC, and transport networks to connect to opportunities in the capital.
There are also more general challenges in trying to grow a venture in Japan. The unique and opaque business culture for starters. It takes time and patience to adapt to the convoluted and lengthy decision-making practices of local organizations. The same is required for figuring out the often complex local regulations which surround food and beverage. All this is made harder by the lack of information in languages other than Japanese. In some instances, knowing who to talk to and being able to communicate with them in the local language is still a must.
Support from experienced experts can save you time figuring all this out…
…so you can invest your energy in what matters: making progress in Japan. GourmetPro’s network of experts has an average of 15 years of experience on the ground in Japan supporting everyone from startups to big corporates to execute successful F&B projects. Reach out to our team to brainstorm the best approach to achieving your goals in Japan:
That’s all folks
We hope you enjoyed today’s article exploring the opportunities open to startups and new businesses, including those in F&B, which await in Fukuoka. We’d like to say a huge thank you to Tomoko Nakashima and the Fukuoka Government for supporting this article with interviews, information and more.
See you next time.
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