11 Mar 2019

Discuss Deep Tech in depth – To Foster More Disruptive Innovation in Japan -

OIST Forum 2019 was held at Kandamyojin Hall, Tokyo on March 5th, 2019 and focused on the theme “Deep Tech evolves the world.” The event provided a great opportunity for over 200 participants including business people, entrepreneurs, researchers and students to think about the future of Deep Tech in Japan and the promotion of the technology.

The event started off with an icebreaker activity, which allowed participants to get to know each other, followed by opening remarks by State Minister of the Cabinet Office, Mr. Akira Sato; Vice Chair of the Board of Councilors and Chair of the Committee on New Business and Medium Enterprises KEIDANREN and Chairman and Representative Director of Asahi Group Holdings Ltd., Mr. Naoki Izumiya; and OIST Executive Vice President, Dr. Robert Baughman.

State Minister of Cabinet Office, Mr. Akira Sato concludes his opening remarks by saying “I expect scientific research at OIST to benefit our future life in many different ways.”

“To foster the startup ecosystem in Japan, it is important that large companies open up their assets to startups as well as support them through M&A. Also, universities can play an important role to dig out and nurture seeds of deep tech science buried within the campus, and integrate expertise and data which companies have accumulated,” says Mr. Naoki Izumiya on behalf of industry. (Vice Chair of the Board of Councilors and Chair of the Committee on New Business and Medium Enterprises KEIDANREN, Chairman and Representative Director of Asahi Group Holdings Ltd.)

OIST Executive Vice President Dr. Robert Baughman explains OIST’s outline and its initiatives to create an Innovation Ecosystem, which encompasses the OIST Startup Accelerator Program and its new Innovation Square Incubator, inviting participants’ to learn more about Deep Tech development in Okinawa.

Prof. Tsumoru Shintake gave an inspiring keynote speech. He developed the wave energy converter unit to tackle global energy problems. He shared the challenges he and his team faced during development, their encounters with angel investors, and their ongoing pilot project of turbines in the Maldives.

Prof. Tsumoru Shintake, whose original research field is accelerator physics, now leads the Quantum Wave Microscopy Unit at OIST. Prof. Shintake, who was engaged in creative activities from early childhood and later learned logic at university, shared some key components in technology development: good judgement gained through experience, the ability to identify the essential, a sense of speed, and a passion for the work.

Then, the event’s second keynote speaker, Mr. Tetsu Nakajima, Director of Japan Deep Tech General Association and the Chief Investment Officer of Mistletoe Inc., took the stage. His speech focused on what Deep Tech is and how it can lead to innovation.

Mr. Tetsu Nakajima defines Deep Tech as the technology that is based on deep scientific research, requires great amount of time and investments, will be repurposed by the market, and becomes a big gamechanger. Nakajima maps out Japan’s Deep Tech success enablers, and emphasizes the importance of collaboration among startups, established companies and academia, and attracting foreign investment to nurture Deep Tech in Japan. Nakajima recognizes the significance of the global network and collaborative ties OIST has developed, and he shows the intention to follow suit. (Director of Japan Deep Tech General Association and the Chief Investment Officer of Mistletoe Inc.)

 

The panel discussion followed, where Mr. Katumasa Niki, President & CEO of DEEPCORE, Inc.; Ms. Shoko Takahashi, Founder and Owner of Genequest Inc.; and Mr. Akihiko Nagata, Vice President of euglena Co., Ltd and CEO of REAL TECH FUND had a lively discussion.

Mr. Norihiko Sasaki, moderator of the discussion and Chief Content Officer of NewsPicks, asks questions including ones from the floor. The panels share their opinions on how to address problems Deep Tech startups are facing. 

The panelists suggested that interdisciplinary collaboration is critical to research-inspired entrepreneurship, and what Japan needs to do is to create a system which allows university students to pursue a double major – working for two university degrees in parallel – and to allow researchers to work on the side.

The panelists made some concrete suggestions to the various stakeholders in Deep Tech: They said, because Japan has a limited number of Deep Tech entrepreneurs, so investors should take a proactive role to create precedent for entrepreneurship in this field. Startups - Successful entrepreneurs have a responsibility to return the favor to their universities, build networks with other entrepreneurs, and assist younger generation. In the private sector, large companies should look beyond their area of expertise and evaluate research in different fields through their fresh eyes. Academia - Universities should recruit more talents from overseas. The discussion stimulated momentum among those present towards creation of Deep Tech Ecosystem in Japan.

To nurture momentum towards Deep Tech Ecosystem in the society, “we need more attractive universities that recruit young and excellent faculty from overseas for cultural diversity, just like OIST does. Interdisciplinary is the key.” says Mr. Katumasa Niki, President & CEO of DEEPCORE, Inc.

 “ I was surprised to see so many people with different backgrounds getting together to think about Deep Tech today. I am confident that we can turn the situation in Japan around if all of us here deepen our understanding of Deep Tech and start taking actions right here right now.” says Ms. Shoko Takahashi, Founder and Owner of Genequest Inc.

As an investor himself, Mr. Akihiko Nagata, Vice President of euglena Co., Ltd and CEO of REAL TECH FUND says “Researchers need to shine. Investors with a broad perspective act as connectors, meaning people who connect key persons across fields, to connect shiny research from all over the world with experts in finance, marketing and licensing.”

Mr. Norihiko Sasaki (Left) , Chief Content Officer of NewsPicks, suggests that researchers engage with show business to make movies/TV series featuring Deep Tech in order to make Deep Tech connects to the society further.

The finale of the forum was a networking event. A stage was set up for research teams and entrepreneurs who aspire to make a difference with Deep Tech to deliver their pitch. Participants spent their time listening to pitches they were interested in, and networking with other participants. One of the participants, who is a company researcher, said “The forum gave me a deep understanding of Deep Tech, and I found all the research presented today very intriguing. I will share what I learned today with my colleagues and relevant departments in the office.”

OIST teams aiming for startup business gave their own pitch, including research on microbial waste water treatment that would provide solutions for small and medium companies as well asglobal water issues; a “lab-on-a-chip” microfluidic device that can easily test blood or urine; and solidification technique for powered protein, etc.

At OIST Forum 2019, drastic reduction on use of plastic products is aimed at.  The photo above shows the limestone-based products called LIMEX by TDB Co., Ltd.

By Tomomi Okubo


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