Over the last years, the political, social and economic crisis affecting Japan has become evident. At present, the third-largest economy in the world maintains its moderate economic recovery and it seems it will continue following this pattern for the time being.
Japan is an economy still centered around traditional companies to a significant extent. However, the startup ecosystem is taking off, particularly in Tokyo, and legal startups are at the forefront of change.
One of these legal startups is IP Nexus, a global online marketplace that seeks to make intellectual property advice and IP-related services accessible and affordable for startups of all sizes.
Founder and CEO of IP Nexus, Hidero Niioka, says “we want to be like LinkedIn for innovation and intellectual property – in the sense that LinkedIn isn’t a social network, but an online marketplace for human capital. Our users can connect to experts who can help them plan and execute their IP strategy and protect their business. Many don’t realize how important IP is for getting investment later. Investors want to avoid risk and see strong IP.”
Niioka, a Japanese-German, was born in Japan but raised in Germany and the UK. He has good connections at Stanford, Yale, and a former senior manager from Alibaba jumped on board, as did other private and institutional investors. They raised approximately US$900,000 in the initial seed round. Another major achievement has been partnering with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
Since launching in April 2012, IP Nexus has amassed 61,000 IPs belonging to 730 registered owners from around the world. About a third of the IPs are from Asia, with Japan accounting for a large portion of the company’s business.
The IP Nexus team, based primarily in Hong Kong, aims to expand deeper into the Japanese market because Japan is number one in the world when it comes to filing IPs, and number two for registered IPs behind the US.
Regarding the Japan startup community, StartEd is a network of award-winning startup legal advisory clinics integrated in the startup communities in Dublin, London, Tokyo and New York. It runs free open-to-the-public events where entrepreneurs can get startup-related legal advice from experienced advisers.
Naoise Gaffney, Co-Founder of StartEd, says “Tokyo is a particularly interesting proposition because there appear to be two semi independent startup movements: amongst the native Japanese, and amongst the “international set”. In this regard, foreign startups are increasingly incorporating themselves in Japan and StartEd initially targeted these circles in Tokyo. However, they are now looking to build awareness of and support for StartEd amongst native Japanese entrepreneurs.
On the other hand, Redbrick Ventures is an incubator in Tokyo that helps to form startup teams. Their aim is to bring the currently fragmented Japanese startup community together.
Redbrick´s leading initiative is Justa, a digital platform that provides recruitment for startups. Nikola Pavesic, a former international lawyer now helping to lead Justa, says “startups don’t have the resources to do this work themselves, so we can do it for them. We help bring in unique talents and strengthening the local startup community with our work.”
Ultimately, there are some interesting opportunities in Japan and particularly in the Japanese legal system. In this regard, the Japanese government, one of the main venture investors in Japan, is playing a key role in these developments. Indeed, with a focus on its strongly held objective of competing in the global economy, it is now funding its own startup incubator.