Leadership sets the remit for the executives to accomplish or excel. But it is rarely just one leader that needs to emerge for great things to happen.
In university venturing, the trinity is often a combination of government officials, academic administration and business support and in Japan the signs are promising that all three are coming together to support the latest signs of vigour in an economy moribund since the early 1990s. (I’ll be visiting Tokyo again for an event at Hitotsubashi University and another at NTT Docomo on November 20 and 21 and will know more then and also keen to meet up with people during this visit.)
The past month has seen a number of venture funds created to back and help commercialise Japanese university-originated innovation, which comes a year after the US-Japan Innovation and Entrepreneurship Council, an organization sponsored by the two countries’ governments, said in a report that university and research institutes as well as corporations were primary sources of innovation and called for funding mechanisms at Japanese research universities to be set up to bridge the gap between research and commercial application.
Kyoto University has set up its second venture fund to be invested in firms loosely tied to the university across Asia. The $60m fund follows a $45m fund set up in 2007, which currently has 18 companies in its portfolio. One of which, price comparison site Aucfan, held an IPO earlier in the year.
The Kyoto University Venture Fund (KUVF) will be managed by venture firm Miyako Capital, and will support both start-ups and spin-outs tied to the university through faculty, students, or alumni/ae. It will also be available to any firm wishing to work closely with the institution.
Separately, Japan-based pharmaceutical company Daiichi Sankyo and Japan corporate investment unit Mitsubishi UFJ Capital have launched an open innovation business through the Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation (OiDE Fund Investment Limited Partnership). The fund will be operated by Mitsubishi UFJ Capital with combined commitments of Y750m ($7.5m) to seek out promising research results at Japanese universities that could potentially result in platform healthcare technologies.
However, while leadership is vital to set the right agenda and metrics for what constitutes success, achieving the right results often requires pragmatism to accept what works rather than what people might have predicted to do so. Other countries beyond Japan, Finland, China and the US are still searching for the mix of leadership and pragmatism to kick-start their own innovation ecosystems but after 20 years of testing and increasing attention, there are promising signs in other locations, such as Germany and the UK.
But with the promising signs in a wide group of nations, so the metrics of success will naturally increase – the goal is, after all, slightly relative given governments and universities want to attract the best and brightest to work in high-paying, value-added jobs. The pressure on the trinity, therefore, remains intense.