SENDAI CITY, Japan, May 27, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- As the G7 Finance Ministers met in Sendai City last Friday, representatives of both the foreign and Japanese press descended on the INTILAQ Tohoku Innovation Center to learn about the region's strategies for growing new businesses. Sendai is the largest city in Tohoku and the center of efforts to rebuild the region in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami five years ago.
Masaru Akahane, a spokesman for Assista, Sendai City's own startup support organization, talked about the city's deep commitment to fostering entrepreneurism. While critics both at home and abroad claim that Japan actively discourages startups, Mr. Akahane reminded the guests of Mayor Eiko Okayama's promise that, "Sendai intends to be the most startup friendly city in Japan."
Assista, he noted, operates at the very earliest stages in the entrepreneurial growth cycle, a stage where venture capitalists and other seasoned investors usually fear to tread. Assista helps very young companies and would-be companies to formulate their initial business plans and raise start-up funding, then introduces key consultants in areas such as law and accounting to help them get started. He noted that there is a special program aimed only at female entrepreneurs, and follow-up support for all the companies they advise.
Immediately afterwards, Takashi Takekawa, a director of Impact Foundation Japan, the entity that manages the INTILAQ Center, explained how his group is helping an even broader spectrum of clients, from university-level startups to rapidly growing young companies. The Innovation Center's mission, he said, is to help local businesses of every size to grow, prosper, and expand beyond Tohoku in order to access the global markets. It functions as a catalyst for growth, leveraging the experience of its own team to help entrepreneurs succeed. In its short time in operation, he noted, it has already helped several local companies.
Responding to a question from the audience, Mr. Takekawa pointed out that both Assist and Impact/INTILAQ are servicing a rapidly increasing number of clients and are already seeing tangible results from their efforts.
He explained that the INTILAQ Center offers three distinct programs: Events, including in-house lectures on subjects of interest to young businesses; Training and Workshops, including courses in design thinking, fundamentals of entrepreneurship, and global communication; and Mentoring, a new program to bring experienced VCs, lawyers, accountants, marketing specialists, ex-CEOs, and others with knowledge and experience to work one-on-one with local business people.
As the G7 bankers' entourage prepared to leave Sendai, they had surely grasped the message about the area's future: with efforts such as the Assista program and the Impact/INTILAQ programs, new businesses are being born in Tohoku, and with sufficient guidance, one of them may well become a national and eventually a global brand that embodies the hopes and spirit of this vital region.
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