Bank of Okinawa Awards Grant Funding to OIST Startups to Commemorate Memorandum of Understanding

Two startups will receive ¥1 million each to recognize their role in helping to build the innovation ecosystem in Okinawa.

The Bank of Okinawa has announced that Genome Miner and Menopause and Beyond, two startups participating in the Innovation Square Startup Accelerator Program at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), will each receive a ¥1 million grant to support their entrepreneurial journey.

The grant award is a key result of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed on 1 March 2021 between the Bank of Okinawa, Ltd. (President Masayasu Yamashiro) and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology School Corporation (CEO Peter Gruss) to promote the commercialization of OIST technologies, establish an innovation ecosystem in Okinawa, and contribute to the sustainable development of the regional economy.

The President of the Bank of Okinawa, Masayasu Yamashiro stated, “This memorandum is one of the regional contribution activities of the Bank of Okinawa, and we hope that our collaboration with OIST will help establish an innovation ecosystem in Okinawa.”

With the mission of contributing to the development of the local community through its management philosophy of "regional involvement and contribution”, the Bank of Okinawa has been involved in a variety of activities to date, including the establishment of the Okigin Furusato Promotion Fund.

OIST is helping to strengthen the innovation ecosystem in Okinawa by supporting startup companies through the OIST Innovation Square Startup Accelerator Program and by transforming lab research into solutions to local and global challenges, such as the environment, energy, agriculture, and health.

The OIST Innovation Square Startup Accelerator Program, the central focus of the MOU, is Okinawa’s first global startup accelerator program, launched in 2018 with financial support from the Okinawa Prefecture. Startup teams are selected from around the world to participate in the program where they receive funding, mentoring, connections to strategic partners and investors, and access to hi-tech facilities and equipment at OIST. The teams receive the full spectrum of support to establish their startups in Okinawa.

The program has resulted in four startups which are attracting attention in Japan and abroad. For example, EF Polymer, which upcycles agricultural waste into organic polymers to help farmers conserve water, acquired seed venture funding in March 2021 and won the Minister's Award at the Green Startup Pitch by the Ministry of the Environment in February of this year.

The most recent cohort of the program, Genome Miner and Menopause and Beyond, are being presented with the grant award from the Bank of Okinawa. Genome Miner combines genome sequencing and artificial intelligence to screen for new microorganisms with unique features for medicine and other important applications. Menopause and Beyond is a femtech startup developing a comprehensive support system for women in transition through menopause.

The program is expected to increase the number of startup companies in Okinawa in a wide range of science and technology fields and make a long-term contribution to the local economy.

“Entrepreneurs from around the world recognize OIST as an attractive place to incubate their startup companies because we provide the full-package of support that is critical to the success of early-stage hi-tech startups, from funding and access to state-of-the-art facilities to expert business mentorship,” said Peter Gruss, President and CEO of OIST. “The MOU between OIST and the Bank of Okinawa, which has financial expertise and is well-connected in the region, will further accelerate startup creation and contribute to the development of the Okinawa economy.”

The Bank of Okinawa and OIST will continue to exchange information and hold discussions on additional ways to support the Accelerator Program, establish an innovation ecosystem in Okinawa, and promote the sustainable development of the local economy. In addition, the two organizations will promote further collaboration by establishing liaison offices within the Bank of Okinawa and OIST.

Prior to the MOU, the Corporate Banking Division of the Bank of Okinawa had already been involved in the Accelerator Program by being part of the selection committee for new startups and by assisting in the opening of business bank accounts and corporate credit cards. The MOU allows the Bank of Okinawa to strengthen its support for the program, including this grant award.

In the future, the Bank of Okinawa plans to further expand its support for OIST startups by providing corporate banking services, business evaluation, financial consultation, and connections to companies in its network.

From left to right: Mr. Masayasu Yamashiro, President of the Bank of Okinawa; Dr. Olga Elisseeva, founder of Menopause and Beyond; Mr. Eli Lyons, founder of Genome Miner and Dr. Peter Gruss, President and CEO of OIST.

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