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Highly Innovative German-Japanese Start-ups

Economic cooperation and similarities between Japan and Germany opens up big opportunities for investors and start-ups

May 30th, 2016

Sophie Willborn, Younghi Han, Boris Friedrich Milkowski, Mike Lavigne and Jan Miczaika all have one thing in common: they are young innovative start-up pioneers settled in and operaing from their office headquarters in both Tokyo and Berlin. The guest panel, which was held yesterday during the 11th annual Asia Pacific Week in Berlin, reinforced the attractiveness of a start-up business, particularly to those operating within the Japanese-German market.

The seminar, moderated by Makoto Takeda on Tuesday 24th in the fairly small, but crowded auditorium in the European School of Management and Technology, presented five innovative and futuristic products developed by young Co-Founders and Managers.

Sophie Willborn, Co-Founder and CEO of Headwave gmbH operating in Berlin, introduced a new cable-free Bluetooth sound system, which can be attached to helmets, creating an extraordinary new acoustic adventure for cyclists. TĀG transmits audio waves through your helmet producing a different sound experience than conventional acoustics. This unique piece of equipment is priced at 299€ and ships worldwide as retailers are located in Germany, Japan and Norway.

Other companies that have found a similar gap in the market include Recruit and Berguide. Recruit was founded in Tokyo in 1960. With 32,000 employees and a far-fetched business portfolio it has evolved from a service to a user product. Quandoo Managing director Youngji Han is aiming at becoming the number one leading commerce platform in dining, one of the 10 services provided by Recruit. Also specialised in the usability of web design, Goodpatch has developed applications in e-commerce, the health sector and the banking sector. Versatility in creating future-oriented apps for health tracking including acoustic, visual and even blood tests, represents its primary asset.  Its slogan is, “... to touch people´s hearts by great design”, as Boris F. Mikowski, Head of the Berlin office stated during the interview. He recommends young web entrepreneurs to work with agencies and to cooperate with new founders.

Likewise, CPO Mike Lavigne developed with Clue a health-tracking app, which helps with predicting women´s menstruation cycles. “Due to the intimate characteristic of the product, design plays a major role in its usability”, he said. Lavigne maintains that the smaller market in Berlin and a higher employee hit-rate in Europe are advantageous for young start-ups to settle in Berlin. The US-market is more rigurous. Despite being American, his Danish and German co-founders and their cultures are reasons enough for him to establish the company in Kreuzberg. The location allowed Clue to hire 36 employees from 17 different nations. Most of them work in marketing, engineering or IT and are highly creative people.

Gender equality and a horizontal system of leadership are essential for start-ups. Milkowski emphasises philosophy: “…Sympathy and creativeness of each individual, regardless of its background. Individual fighters, whose main interest is to reach the top, are not desirable.”

Regardless of the fact that Japan and Germany have very different cultures, their working climates are very similar. They have similar perfectionist attitudes regarding individual performances. In both cultures, failing has a negative connotation, this is yet another uniting factor in their working relationship. Lavigne states that in the U.S, business culture operates in a different manner. Before investing in their business, investors concentrate primarily on previous let-downs of young entrepreneurs. They share the opinion that having mistrials and failing in any investment allows one to be more acceptive and prone to take risks leading to an innovative breakthrough on the global market. This approach refutes from the Japanese-German risk-averse investment stand-point and reinforces the attractiveness of start-ups operating in both countries due to their similar business culture.


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News from Berlin
Vanja Lukenic, Berlin Global