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Tokyo XR Startups Producer Yasuchika Wakayama Describes How Japanese Officialdom Takes a Conservative Approach to Startups

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Tokyo XR Startups, an incubator based in Japan’s capital, plans to collaborate with Taiwanese companies and the Taiwanese government in augmented and virtual reality projects.

The incubator’s producer Yasuchika Wakayama spoke with Business Next during the XR Key Influencer Summer Summit, Taiwan’s first international conference on virtual reality and augmented reality, at the end of July. Taiwan’s National Development Council sponsored the conference.

Q: What is Tokyo XR Startups?

A: Tokyo XR Startups is an incubator focusing on early-stage investments for virtual reality and augmented reality startup companies [based in Japan.]

The company was founded in 2015 and is a subsidiary of our parent company gumi, a global mobile entertainment content publisher and developer. Tokyo XR Startups’ vision is to contribute to improving the competitiveness of entire Japanese industry through accelerating innovation of extended reality in Japan, including virtual reality and augmented reality.

Q: What are some of the programs that Tokyo XR Startups is involved in?

A: The Tokyo XR Startups Incubation Program is our flagship program. It’s an intensive six-month program, which will help Japan-based startups build up their prototypes of extended reality products or services within this period of time.

The young companies we select will be able to use our incubation center’s office space and benefit from our strong network of both Japanese and international mentors from the extended reality community.

Q: What are the latest trends in Japan?

A: Japan has been seeing growing popularity of virtual YouTubers since last November. It’s probably one of the latest big [trends.] Instead of having a human YouTuber, you have digital avatars, which look like anime characters. [There are videos of] many of the virtual YouTubers playing video games, singing and dancing.

One of the companies that we have invested is Active8. Active8 recently founded “upd8," a virtual YouTuber talent agency.

One of upd8’s major projects is Kizuna Ai, a virtual YouTuber, who looks like a Japanese teenage girl and has the biggest fan base of over 2 million followers.

What’s interesting is that many of Kizuna Ai’s followers and fans come from the U.S. In part, this is because there are a lot of Americans who like Japanese animation and video games.

For this year, Tokyo XR Startups has invested in three startup companies related to virtual YouTubers. We think this is a trend we can’t ignore.

Q: What’s your piece of advice for Taiwanese founders?

A: I think for Asian startup companies in general, my advice is to really focus on your unique and core strengths. And for startups hoping to expand globally, you need to learn who your international customers are and why would they want to buy your product. Also, I think it’d be a good idea if you can find good local partners to work with when entering into a new market.

My impression is the Taiwanese governments and South Korean governments seem to be very supportive in terms of growing a thriving startup ecosystem.

I think Japanese officials are still quite conservative. We have to spend a lot of time persuading and educating our Japanese government officials so that they can have a better understanding of why [cultivating] virtual reality startups in Japan is important.

The Japanese government tends to be slow to act. At the moment, growing the startup community in Japan is more from the private companies’ side. I’m glad to see Taiwan’s public sector is actively collaborating with Taiwanese companies in this space.

Q: Do you have plans to collaborate with Taiwanese companies?

A: Yes, we are in talks with Taiwan’s XR EXPRESS. I look forward to having more collaborative projects, seminar events, meet-ups and workshops in both Taiwan and Japan, possibly by the end of this year.