18/01/2022

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softbank-to-build-startup-campus-in-japan’s-aichi-prefecture

SoftBank to build startup campus in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture

SoftBank is building a sprawling startup campus in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture in hopes of nurturing more unicorns. (Illustration courtesy of SoftBank) 

WATARU SUZUKI, Nikkei staff writer | Japan

TOKYO — SoftBank Group’s telecommunications unit will launch one of Japan’s biggest startup incubation centers to nurture more unicorns — startups valued at $1 billion or more — in the country, the company announced Tuesday.

SoftBank Corp. won a 14.4 billion yen ($131 million) contract from the Aichi prefectural government to design and build the facility, Station Ai, in Nagoya. The facility is scheduled to be completed in 2024 and will span 23,000 sq. meters across seven floors.

The center will be owned by the Aichi government and a newly established SoftBank subsidiary will pay 255 million yen for the right to manage it for 10 years. SoftBank aims to attract startups, including those from outside Japan, by using its global network of tech investments and offering perks such as access to a supercomputer, and services such as mentorship at the facility.

SoftBank will also set up a dedicated fund to invest in startups in Aichi, although a spokesperson said details such as fund size are still under consideration.

SoftBank CEO Junichi Miyakawa, left, and Aichi Gov. Hideaki Ohmura attend a signing ceremony the Station Ai startup campus. (Screenshot from SoftBank’s website) 

SoftBank Group is one of the world’s most aggressive technology investors, but its two Vision Funds do not have any investments in Japanese startups. Chief Financial Officer Yoshimitsu Goto said in an analyst call in August that he was saddened by the lack of investment opportunities in the country, even though Japan is the world’s third-largest economy and ranked third in the gold medal count at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Japan was leading the world through its manufacturing industry, but it has stalled for the last 30 years,” SoftBank Corp CEO Junichi Miyakawa said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, it is the result of being digitally behind.”

Aichi, in central Japan, known for its manufacturing prowess and home to Toyota Motor, is especially under threat from rapidly emerging technologies such as electric vehicles and autonomous driving. The local government drew up a strategy to build a startup hub in 2018 and already runs incubation programs, including a partnership with China’s Tsinghua University that helps Japanese startups enter China.

Aichi has also launched a startup support center ins a shared office space in Nagoya run by WeWork Japan, a joint venture between SoftBank Corp. and WeWork. It provides free office space at the WeWork building and mentorship to several dozen startups, although it is unclear whether a similar program will be provided for Station Ai. The Station Ai project was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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