startup,japan,fukuokaFukuoka is aiming to become the startup capital of Japan

Fukuoka is positioning itself as the innovation capital of Japan.

The city is cutting taxes and visa restrictions to encourage entrepreneurs to establish their businesses in the region, which has been declared a National Strategic Special Zone.

The coastal city – pop. 1.5million – was the first in Japan to offer  Startup Visas, which give foreign entrepreneurs six-months to live and work in Fukuoka before applying for a Business Managers Visa.

Its bustling Startup Café, housed in a trendy bookstore in Tanjin, holds numerous events and seminars throughout the year and has given more than 2,000 consultations since it opened in 2014.

To help foreign entrepreneurs get a foothold in the city, a spin-off – the Global Startup Centre – has also been established to provide document translation services and networking support.

Elsewhere another start-up hub called Fukuoka Growth Next was opened in April, providing free server or cloud hosting. The centre – in a former elementary school – also houses a designer training space – Fukuoka Design Hub – and an engineer training space called Engineer Lab Fukuoka.

Fukuoka is the fastest growing city in Japan outside the capital region and its young mayor, Soichiro Takashima, has ambitions to transform the ancient harbour port into Japan’s answer to Seattle.

The focus on entrepreneurship appears to be bearing fruit. It has been reported that almost 3,000 new companies were established in the city  last year – many in the social and digital media space.

Founders of the city-led Startup Fukuoka initiative include entrepreneurs involved in online job boards, various social apps, fintech, drone consultancy, and online payment solutions.

Mumu Makinose, founder of sleep measurement tool, Nemu, says: “For startups, it’s important to choose the community where you start your business carefully. In Fukuoka, it was easy to develop my business quickly since it is simple to find all of the resources I need to support the venture. All of the partners, clients, and many of the supporters of my startup are actually new people I met after I moved to the city. In my opinion, Fukuoka is the best place to quickly establish a startup in Japan.”

The Fukuoka region has 125 higher educational institutions, 50 of which are in Fukuoka (including a cluster of seven medical universities and institutions), which help attract international meetings.

Fukuoka has been the second most popular international convention city in Japan for the last seven consecutive years. The city hosted 363 international conventions in 2015 alone.

Recently the International Society for Professional Innovation Management (ISPIM) confirmed it was holding its 5th ISPIM Asia-Pacific Innovation Forum 2018 in the city after being impressed by the convention bureua’s ability to round up support from the local innovation community.

Iain Bitran, executive director of ISPIM,  had been considering Fukuoka for an event in 2019 or 2020, but his decision was ‘accelerated’ when he had an earlier chance to visit the city for the ICCA Associations Meetings Programme, held at the end of June this year. The forum will be held at the Hilton Fukuoka Sea Hawk hotel and should attract 200 attendees from 30 countries.