Japan’s entrepreneurial spirit

The Japanese are not known for their entrepreneurialism.  Indeed, the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), one of Europe’s leading business schools, recently ranked Japan last in the category of Entrepreneurship out of 59 countries surveyed.  In a culture where the saying goes, “the nail that stands up, gets hammered down”, I spoke to one entrepreneur that just won’t stand down.

Jeffrey Char is the entrepreneurial President of J-Seed Ventures, a company set up in 2000 with the money he made from three previous ventures.  Jeff’s business is the business of starting new businesses.  But J-seed is not an ordinary seed capital venture company.  Rather than riding on the coattails of others as does the typical ‘business angel’, J-Seed incubates its own ideas.  Only after it has vetted an idea does J-seed seek partners to carry forward the business, post start-up, through what it hopes will be rapid growth.

Playing to his strengths and passion, 60% – 70% of Jeff’s time is spent dreaming up and vetting business ideas before they ever see the light of day.   The remainder of his time is spent driving a narrowed selection of businesses forward as Managing Director during the launch phase, often working with one or more co-founder(s).  For those businesses that make it to the second year, Jeff typically takes a back seat position as an outside Director.   After that Jeff resigns his Directorship role, leaving him more time to focus on his passion for developing new ideas.

“Most ideas won’t see the light of day”, says Jeff Char.  At the very least, the product or service must be innovative and the business scalable.   Jeff may be intensively working on 4 or 5 pre-start up ideas at any one point in time.

J-Seed does not have a ‘fund under management’ nor does it invest other people’s money. The company is entirely financed by Jeffrey Char and his partner Carl Kay.  Once any one venture gains traction, J-Seed will turn to the Venture Capital market for later stage growth financing.   An example: The firm raised about $ 12 Million for Piku, a competitor to Groupon.

The firm’s track record includes five Exits, including Solis, a Japan domain registration company; Sozon, a SEO software and consulting provider; Seer Insight Security, a security maintenance systems provider; Mobikyo, a media content and market intelligence business; and Maneo, a social lending venture.

Next on the agenda, J-Seed is scheduled to launch the Venture Generation incubation center in March 2012.   Targeting early-stage Japanese ventures and foreign companies entering the Japanese market, the Venture Generation incubation center intends to provide a platform from which entrepreneurs can achieve their business ascent faster and smarter. In short, it is a business center giving entrepreneurs access to the J-Seed network of contacts, experience, and know-how.

While Japan’s culture of caution may be entrenched, there is no sign that Jeffrey will give pause.   His advice to those thinking of starting an entrepreneurial venture is, “Just do it”.  Too often people get trapped into ‘paralysis through analysis’.   Its all about execution, says Jeff Char.

C. Jeffrey Char, President. Daniel J. Smith, Venture Partner.  J-Seed Ventures, Inc.  SC Building Akasaka 5F, 5-4-17 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0052  www.J-Seed.com

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