Kyoto Startup Digest 2018 – Kyoto Startup Summer SchoolKyoto Startup Digest 2018 – Kyoto Startup Summer School
Kyoto Startup Digest 2018 is documenting the Kyoto startup scene through a series of articles and videos by the following members of the KYOTO Design Lab and interns from the University of Texas.
Two-Week Modular Program Bringing Entrepreneurial Aspirations to Life
The Kyoto Startup Summer School (KS3) is a two-week intensive program for aspiring entrepreneurs want to learn about creating a successful startup. KS3’s mission is to educate and excite students about startups, providing the skills and motivating them to take their first steps in creating their own. The program is hosted by the KYOTO Design Lab at the Kyoto Institute of Technology, and it is conducted entirely in English. The more than dozen lecturers and facilitators are globally active and established members of the startup community with many coming from abroad. No level of experience is required and the program is open to university students and recent graduates as well as freelancers and those working in startups.
KS3 launched in the summer of 2016 as a two-day program with only 12 participants. As a result of a what was a successful beta test, the summer school scaled up to 28 participants the following year. In 2018, the program is expected to expand to around 40 participants. Since it inception, KS3 has had applicants from over 50 countries and has hosted people from 26 countries, making it the most international program of its kind in Japan.
The intense two-week curriculum is composed of different modules of varying lengths. The first week consists of two workshop modules: design thinking and lean startup. The focus of the design thinking module focuses on the ‘how to come up with ideas’ part of starting a business. This may seem like an overtly simple task but there is a process to coming up with ideas that is actually meaningful and valuable. The second module is lean startup, the methodology developed recently in Silicon Valley, that involves taking an idea and turning it into a successful business. These two methodologies teach students the mental processes, skills, and strategies to be successful in the world of entrepreneurship.
The second week consists of smaller workshops and lecture modules. Some topics KS3 has covered and will be covering this year include: creating great pitches, marketing for startups, startup culture, venture financing, working with investors, and more. Through practical hands-on workshops, students are introduced to creative tools such as Arduino and 3D CAD. The goal isn’t to create instant experts but to introduce the students to the various tools available in the world. Panel discussions, mixers, and company visits are also part of the program, immersing students in the community while setting the entrepreneurial mindsets.
Kyoto is also an ideal location for such a program in Japan. Being Japan’s top tourist destination, there is much for students to enjoy during their time off. Kyoto is also home to centuries of craftsmanship and tradition that lead to the city being a hub for electronics manufacturing, IoT, information technology. With a 10% student population and numerous world class universities, the City is becoming an important hub for startups as well.
KS3 aims to be an experience that is not about molding professionals, but about striking confidence and curiosity in the students so that they can actively learn on their own and jumpstart their entrepreneurial journey. Standing as a truly international program, the program connects students, entrepreneurs, educators and the next generation of innovators in the hot summer heat of Kyoto.
We spoke with Sushi Suzuki, chief organizer of KS3 and associate professor at the Kyoto Institute of Technology, who gave us more insight on the program.
What does KS3 offer to those who join?
Sushi: A lot of diverse topics related to startups. I was looking at these short workshops for entrepreneurs and most of it is based around forming a team then spending two weeks developing your idea further and at the end you have a startup idea and a pitch. The focus is on taking the idea to something more concrete and ultimately, presenting at the end. I actually want to take a different route with more content than these programs have to offer. We’re trying to strike a balance between the hands on activity and the content that people learn. Most of the people coming to teach are people who have experience in industry, have started successful companies, and are actually doing it; they’re not academics or theoreticians, unlike me.
Is there any level of experience participants need to have?
Sushi: No, and this was purposely done so as well. We tried to create a program where people with no experience can join. I think ultimately our target settled down to students who are interested but haven’t started yet or want to learn more before doing so.
What exactly makes this program so unique?
Sushi: Within the context of Japan, it’s probably the only thing that is in English. There are also not too many programs like this that I’ve identified within Japan. If they do exist, they’re either only for students in one university, and more often than not it’s a course. Also, the notion of studying over the summer is very foreign in Japan which is why I think the summer school concept is distinctive. I think the kind of applicants we get reflect the countries where these programs don’t exist yet, in particular, Southeast Asia. My gut feeling tells me that there are a lot of countries where the startup wave hasn’t hit yet, where the students are curious but can’t satisfy their curiosity inside their country, and they come to Japan for it.
Are there any plans to expand the program in the future?
Sushi: I want to make it stable, last year (2017) there was lots of excitement but financially, it was a nightmare. This year, hopefully, we’re going to be closer to a break even point. We have more experience on how to recruit students and a better network of people to come teach. For the near future, I want to keep the summer school in this format and try to offer other kinds of programs for students interested in entrepreneurship, and that would probably end up becoming more focused on Japanese students who are here for a longer duration of time.
Do you have any advice for future applicants?
Sushi: There were about 130 applicants of which we accepted around 40. That’s about a 30% acceptance rate. If you’re really interested in joining and are going to apply, definitely take time with the application. We have seen some lazy applications which we clearly knock out. Show us that you’re passionate about startups.
What do you want participants to take away from the program?
Sushi: First and foremost is obvious, knowledge and skill; it’s a school. Second is community. A lot of students come from areas in the world where startups are not really popular and if they’re interested, there are not too many people around them who are as well. Students get to meet like minded people with similar interests here. Updates through Facebook has been interesting as students in the program are visiting each other after the program was over. That kind of community is something really cool to see because that is going to stay with them for the next 15, 20 years. The third thing is definitely confidence. It’s not like two weeks makes you into an amazing entrepreneur but I’m hoping KS3 would get them to a good starting point. They may not have learned it all, but they know what the different cards in play are, so they can learn more about each topic as they go forth on their entrepreneurial journey. Knowing what you don’t know can make you very confident.
Check out Kyoto Startup Summer School here