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Opinion

UK competition offers launchpad for Japanese startups

From future of mobility to cleantech, British Embassy in Tokyo seeks winners

A passenger vehicle travels autonomously using Oxbotica software in Oxford on June 27: the strength of U.K.'s world-class universities is an important factor.   © Reuters

The U.K. and Japan face rapidly changing societal challenges and we rely on new technologies to tackle them.

Our populations are living longer, creating new demands for medical and health care technologies to help elderly people lead independent, fulfilled lives. Climate change has accelerated the need for cleaner economic growth, low carbon technologies, the efficient use of resources and energy storage.

And the future of mobility -- of people, goods and services -- will rely more on connected devices, many of which are already in use: from tracking our daily commutes to speeding up journey times, from gathering information on air and noise pollution to reducing emissions.

That is why the British Embassy in Tokyo is running a competition -- the Tech Rocketship Awards -- from this month. It will provide a unique platform for promising and talented Japan-based startups and scaleups, which are ready to boost their international expansion and tackle these challenges.

The U.K. and Japan already have a close relationship when it comes to tech.

When I visited Level 39, a fintech accelerator in the heart of London's Canary Wharf, I was pleased to meet Doreming, a Japanese company based there. We have also worked with Global Brain, a venture capital company based in Tokyo that has set up in London with an ambitious goal of investing 35 million pounds into AI startups in Britain.

We were delighted to see that this summer, telecoms company Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, or NTT, decided to set up its new global business headquarters in London, choosing it over seven other major cities around the world. Britain is the perfect place for determined, ambitious tech companies to scale globally.

NTT Ltd. opened for business on July 1 in London and will eventually employ about 40,000 people in over 70 countries and regions. (Photo by Minoru Satake)

The U.K. tech sector is going from strength to strength, growing 2.6 times faster than the wider economy. The U.K. is the fifth largest economy in the world, with 65 million domestic consumers, a deep tech ecosystem, an extraordinary talent base and a supportive business environment.

Big multinationals understand the need to innovate and restructure their businesses to adapt to market disruptions and capitalize on the opportunities the big global challenges create. However, their scale sometimes makes it harder to adapt rapidly, and some of the most dynamic innovation in technology is driven by smaller companies. In the U.K. we see many established companies working with exciting startups.

The strength of our world-class universities is an important factor. Oxbotica, spun out from Oxford university, has grown into a leading autonomous driving software company, working in partnership with global companies. Yasa Motors, also a spin out from Oxford University, has a unique technology for lightweight and powerful electric motors. Their technology responds to the stricter emissions targets being set globally. In 2019 Yasa's electric motor was selected by Ferrari for the company's first hybrid supercar.

Darktrace is a cyber and AI unicorn founded by Cambridge university mathematicians and government intelligence experts which uses machine learning so organizations can defend their systems against sophisticated cyber threats. It is now working with Japanese blue-chip businesses.

We have also worked with Global Brain, a venture capital company based in Tokyo that has set up in London with an ambitious goal of investing £35 million over five years into deeptech startups -- which intend to make substantial scientific advances -- in Britain.

Japan has a wealth of entrepreneurial talent, with great companies in areas like blockchain, med-tech and clean energy. We believe that a presence in the U.K. can help some of these exciting Japanese startups to scale-up their operations. Venture capital is more readily available in Britain, thanks to the strengths of the City of London. And the links between business and universities tend to be stronger than in Japan.

Our Tech Rocketship Awards competition is looking for startups that deliver innovative, technology-led solutions across a wide spectrum of industries. The four competition categories have been designed with some of the biggest shared global challenges in mind: the future of mobility; creative tech; healthy aging; and cleantech.

Winners will have been trading in Japan for at least two years. They will be ambitious, globally scalable businesses, which can demonstrate their fit with the U.K. and European market and their readiness for international expansion.

The chosen startups will win a trip to the U.K. in June 2020 where they will have a program of meetings with advisers, potential investors and leading players in the broader tech ecosystem, to expedite them setting up in the U.K. They will also have the opportunity to attend London Tech Week.

The Tech Rocketship Awards offer the perfect opportunity for Japanese startups. You can use the U.K.'s world-leading research and development ecosystem to turbocharge your innovation and expand your business into new markets. We look forward to hearing from you.

Copy this address to find the Tech Rocketship Awards page (in Japanese only): https://www.events.great.gov.uk/ehome/ukinjapan/tech-rocketship-awards-2019-20/

Paul Madden is British Ambassador to Japan.

 

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