Kyoto Startup Digest 2018 – Makers Boot CampKyoto Startup Digest 2018 – Makers Boot Camp
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.
VC and Service Provider Supporting the Startup Ecosystem on a Global Scale
Establishing a hardware startup is costly and filled with intricate challenges that other types of startups often don’t face. To help startups overcome these challenges, Makers Boot Camp (MBC) was founded by three members deeply involved in the startup community: Kenshin Fujiwara, now CEO of the AI startup Hacarus, Masatoshi Takeda, also the CEO of crossEffect Inc., and Makino Narimasa, the fiery and passionate CEO. MBC is a service provider and venture capital firm that offers venture funding, consulting services, and connection to high-quality manufacturing in Japan.
One of biggest barriers for hardware startups is overcoming the difficult step of design for manufacturing. Unlike software and web service startups, hardware startups can’t simply “mass manufacture” their prototype. Creating one functional prototype and thousands of products to be sold requires very different tools, skills, and support. Makers Bootcamp helps startups go from prototyping to manufacturing by connecting them to experienced Japanese partners and introducing the concept of Monozukuri, which literally translates to “making things.”
Japanese manufacturing is known for its reliability in quality. In Kyoto, manufacturing of electronic devices has been developed over many generations, making it a great location to start hardware production, especially for IoT products.
MBC has high prospects of Kyoto becoming a capital for Monozukuri manufacturing. It wants to help startups progress from small lot to full production by making meaningful connections with high-quality Japanese manufacturers while supporting the manufacturing development. MBC is also actively involved in the community, building and managing the Kyoto Makers Garage and hosting the “Monozukuri Hub Meetups,” a regular gathering of startups, students, and supporters to engage, promote, and stir up discussion on all topics hardware.
To be eligible for MBC’s services, startups must be working with hardware, be in the early stages with a working prototype, and have not had their IPO. In 2017, MBC launched its first Japanese fund exclusively for prototyping and at times, it will cover the main costs of small lot manufacturing. The amounts for funding are usually in the 90k to 900k USD range and startups can seek further funding through MBC’s partners. For 2018, Makers Boot Camp is focusing their funding in Japan, Canada, and the United States with future plans to extend their services to other regions. Carrying strong ambitions to promote the development of the maker’s movement already existing in Kyoto, Makers Boot Camp is helping the community become more connected and complete.
We sat down with Sabrina Sasaki, head of marketing and sales at MBC, who provided insight on what it means to be a hub for global startups and a hardware startup service provider in Kyoto.
What does Makers Boot Camp do for startups seeking support?
Sabrina: We invest and consult IoT startups so they can engage in the highest quality manufacturing in Japan. We manage their prototyping & manufacturing process, and for our portfolio startups, we also cover some of the main costs for small lot prototyping in Japan.
Why does MBC center its services around hardware startups?
Sabrina: Many entrepreneurs reach out to us because they face challenges when it comes to professional prototyping & manufacturing options. Compared to SaaS startups, hardware startups face a longer curve of learning and need extra investment rounds, as there are costs and work related to creating a physical product. The range of choices hardware startups must deal with can be quite overwhelming even for an experienced engineer, so getting support from experts can help them focus on their customers, letting a trustable partner like us handle manufacturing suppliers and guiding startups all the the way from Business Plan to Retail.
Makers Boot Camp is a globally minded startup support company. Does it help to integrate startups into the ecosystem here?
Sabrina: One of our main roles is being a reference as an ecosystem builder & connector. We organize frequent workshops like product design workshops and bring international guests to share a more diverse perspective to our Monozukuri Hub Meetup series. [More information can be found here]
Have you seen a relative success rate from those who have sought help from the Makers Boot Camp?
Sabrina: No doubt. Some of the startups we’ve supported are already reaching their next steps, like Atmoph, Bonbouton, and Smartshopping, who came to talk to us a long time ago, either with an idea or simple prototype, and have already managed to pivot their business models a couple of times and sometimes even start mass manufacturing.
How does MBC work to create a relationship with startups that ensures success?
Sabrina: We must have a clear goal that startups benefit from our work so that our core value will make a difference for entrepreneurs we support. This can be measured in many ways, and one of the key factors for us is how satisfied startups are once working with us.
Is there a big demand/market for your services in the Kyoto area at this time?
Sabrina: Local demand is still small compared to the potential of students, at 10% of the population, and professionals. The majority of entrepreneurs, before deciding to start their own business have saved a lot of money and have worked for large corporations. There are not many angel investors, mentors, and accelerators in our community, and there’s a lack of practical skills to start a business. Yet there’s great will from local stakeholders to help Kyoto become a manufacturing hub for startups, but we still must overcome the basic steps from concept to minimum prototyping. The demand is growing but slowly.
Where do you see the industry/market going in the next 5 years?
Sabrina: We’re going to see a lot of real innovations, as the newest wave of hardware startups include AI, deep learning and new kinds of technologies. In Japan especially, these technologies can help tackle real urgent problems like aging and depopulation in many areas out of Tokyo or Osaka.
Do you have any advice for startups and entrepreneurs before they venture into the Kyoto area?
Sabrina: Get involved with local players, find ecosystem builders who can introduce you to Japanese stakeholders. It sounds simple but Kyoto can be a challenging place to start a network without locals.
Check out Makers Boot Camp here