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Business

Tokyo expo building global launchpad for Japanese startups

A record 500 strutting their stuff to investors

The Slush Tokyo venue features many areas where entrepreneurs can pitch their ideas to investors.

TOKYO -- Slush Tokyo, a sister expo to the larger annual startup conference in Finland, has grown into an event capable of lifting next-generation Japanese enterprises onto the global stage.

The two-day show kicked off Wednesday with a record 500 ventures promoting themselves to 200 investors. Uber co-founder Garrett Camp said in a discussion that it took seven years for the ride-hailing company to succeed and that passion was the most important ingredient. Nissan Motor CEO Carlos Ghosn appears Thursday.

Finland has birthed 1,000 startups including Supercell, the mobile game developer purchased by Japan's SoftBank Group and later sold to China's Tencent Holdings. Many were founded by engineer alumni of once-mighty Nokia. The original Finnish Slush started in 2008 as the younger generation began to doubt whether big companies truly offered job security.

Slush Tokyo launched in 2015. CEO Antti Sonninen said he wanted to build it into a platform where Japanese startups can meet international entrepreneurs and investors.

The expo has grown steadily, with 40% more entrepreneurs in attendance this year than last. Four in 10 investors hail from overseas. A pitch contest pits startups against one another. Other entrepreneurs engage in animated discussions with investors at booths.

Triple W Japan, the developer of a wearable device that predicts bowel movements, hopes to market such a product to nursing homes abroad.

Tokyo-based Cerevo, which exports small robots to 55 countries, seeks to broaden its footprint through the event. "We will directly convey our appeal to foreign investors and grow overseas sales," a representative said.

Japan's technological prowess is renowned across the world, and its startups have gotten plenty of love from international investors. U.S. venture capital firm 500 Startups will start training entrepreneurs in Fukuoka and Osaka this April. Endeavor, a New York-based organization that supports entrepreneurship, will assist Japanese startups in offshore operations and fundraising.

Japanese startups tend to focus on the domestic market and so are seen as having weak growth prospects. As a result, this group has only a handful of unlisted unicorns worth at least 100 billion yen ($901 million). The hope is that global events like Slush Tokyo will lead to more internationally minded entrepreneurs.

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