If you travel to Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island, you can find Fukuoka city. Ranked as the seventh most liveable city in the world in 2016 by Monocle magazine, it is well recognised for its access to nature, transportation, affordable rent and culinary options. On top of that, Fukuoka will be one of the 12 cities to be hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2019. Surely these reasons alone make Fukuoka highly attractive and definitely worth looking out for, but if that isn’t enough- it is becoming notorious for its budding start up scene.
In a country where most areas are facing an ageing and shrinking population, Fukuoka is the opposite. Home to roughly 1.5million people, the city is rapidly expanding. From October 2010 to 2015, the city saw a 19.5% increase for young residents between the ages of 15-29. This growth is stimulated in part due to the growth rate in start-ups, and is the highest when compared with other cities in Japan. In 2015 alone, the port city welcomed 2,800 new companies.
At the moment, Japan’s start up culture only makes up a small percentage of the country’s companies. Plans for a change started in 2012 when Takashima (the youngest Mayor for Fukuoka in history) announced a ‘Start-up City Fukuoka Declaration’. After visiting Seattle, the Mayor became inspired to follow in their footsteps and to create a start-up scene in Fukuoka. Since then, the government has cut taxes for new businesses and made it easier to hire foreigners with a ‘Start-up visa’.
The 6 month ‘Start-up visa’ was introduced in 2016 aiming to encourage non-Japanese entrepreneurs to establish their business in Fukuoka. This has been a central part of the discussion regarding Fukuoka’s position in the start-up scene, as this is the only city outside of Tokyo to offer this type of visa. It allows foreigners to make a start in building their business without having the fine constraints that usually apply. To get a ‘Start-up visa’ a business plan application is required, and the feasibility of whether you are able to meet the ‘Residential visa’ requirements after the 6 months is up is considered. An important factor to consider, is that you must meet the ‘Residential visa’ requirements in order to renew your visa after the ‘Start-up visa’ expires. These requirements include; having an office and having a minimum of 2 full time staff or an investment portfolio exceeding 5 million yen.
Another focus the city has introduced to make it more ‘start-up friendly’ is the ‘Fukuoka Growth Next’, a public/private start-up support facility. It is one example of a collaborative co-working space existent in Fukuoka. It provides entrepreneurs with everything they need to know to start a new business. It supports with initiation or company registration, is equipped with the designer training space ‘Fukuoka Design Nest’ and an engineer training area called ‘Engineer Lab Fukuoka’. Mentoring and guidance is already provided but in addition a dozen or so venture capital firms will jointly provide mentoring all free of charge.
So what else is so attractive about Fukuoka? Well one point worth mentioning is the demographics of Fukuoka city which make it so unique and appealing. The proximity to Asia is a huge advantage. Within a 1,000km radius you are able to access Dalian, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo. Beijing and Taipei are inside 1,500km and Hong Kong is in a 2,000km reach. This means access to a population of around 1billion people can be found within a 2,000km radius from Fukuoka.
The city has additionally taken lots of steps to make it more ‘foreigner friendly’ and make multilingual availability more accessible. For example, Fukuoka Asian Medical Support Centre supports non-Japanese patients by providing interpretation services on the phone and other language support. The city also has an international school and schools with international baccalaureate recognition. Additionally, Fukuoka Now, Ltd. publishes the only, free monthly multilingual magazine in Fukuoka. Moreover, there is the Fukuoka International Business Association (FIBA), a community for international executives, global-minded entrepreneurs and academics who come together to discuss and exchange ideas and opinions on issues related to doing business in Fukuoka.
One example of a UK company starting up in Fukuoka is Qurate Inc. Tom Brooke, the founder and CEO, moved to Japan in 2004 and set up his company in February 2014, dealing with producing online publishing tools for web development. Their tools make it easy and quick to develop and support multi-platform web and native apps from a single platform. They have successfully expanded their business to Tokyo and London. Tom Brooke was also one of the members who joined the ‘Tech City Mission’ (organised by Fukuoka City Government) in 2013.
Fukuoka is not at its peak start-up status yet, but it is definitely progressing in terms of ever more sophisticated support mechanisms for new businesses. If you want to take on a new challenge or are thinking about where to start your business, Fukuoka is certainly a city worth considering. They have every intention of becoming a global gateway!
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