Japan’s top economic minister visits Berkeley Haas to spur innovation, collaboration

Photo of three people on a stage. The man in the center is speaking.
Minister Nishimura Yasutoshi (center) speaks with Acting Dean Jennifer Chatman (right).

Nishimura Yasutoshi, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) visited UC Berkeley and the Haas School of Business this week to spread the message that Japan is making significant investments to transform its economy through entrepreneurship and innovation.

While Japan may be best known for its big companies like Toyota and Sony, “They began as startups first of all,” said Minister Nishimura, speaking through an interpreter in a conversation with Haas Acting Dean Jennifer Chatman. “Entrepreneurship is really in the DNA of the Japanese people.” 

Invited to campus by the Clausen Center for International Business and Policy as part of events surrounding the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in San Francisco, Minister Nishimura’s visit also expanded the collaboration between UC-Berkeley and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). During the event, Caroline Winnett, Executive Director of the Berkeley SkyDeck accelerator, signed a memorandum of understanding with JETRO to further advance entrepreneurship, innovation, and scholarship.  

Minister Nishimura also toured SkyDeck, which to date has hosted about 60 Japanese startups through its JETRO partnership. 

In addition to the SkyDeck collaboration commemorated at Minister Nishimura’s talk, Berkeley Haas has a long tradition of partnering with Japanese companies and universities to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. In the past year, the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program has worked with Tohoku University to train top startups from the Sendai region in Lean Launch methodology. Haas has also hosted leading Japanese companies at the Berkeley Innovation Forum to explore building their innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems.

To achieve its goal of a tenfold increase in the number of startups over the next five years, the Japanese government plans to send 1,000 entrepreneurs to the Bay Area over a five year span, and to invest in university partnerships, noted Haas Continuing Lecturer Jon Metzler, who helped organize the METI visit to Haas.

“The government of Japan is taking a number of measures to stimulate entrepreneurship, increase new venture formation, and nurture entrepreneurs with a more global mindset—including sending promising entrepreneurs to acceleration programs like Berkeley SkyDeck,” Metzler said.

‘Unicorns and decacorns’

METI Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura spoke to the Berkeley community on Japan’s innovation goals.

After an introduction by Associate Professor Matilde Bombardini of the Clausen Center, Minister Nishimura delivered prepared remarks and sat for Q&A with Acting Dean Chatman. He said everyone who has visited Japan in the past few years is surprised by how much it has changed. 

“In terms of macroeconomy, over the past 30 years because of deflation, it has been a challenging time for Japan. But now we are in an era when big changes are about to take place,” Nishimura said. Within the population of about 125 million, many entrepreneurs have been content to find success within the country. But Nishimura is encouraging young entrepreneurs to think big and “go global.”

“We are looking toward the emergence of many unicorns and decacorns,” he said. 

Nishimura also talked about plans to build a next-generation semiconductor fabrication facility in Hokkaido, which will adopt a 2 nm fabrication processa major technological leap compared to current fabs in Japan.

In addition to the Haas’ Clausen Center for International Business and Policy, the event was hosted in partnership with the Berkeley APEC Study Center, the Institute for East Asian Studies, the Center for Japanese Studies, and Berkeley SkyDeck, with support from the Haas Asia Business Club. The Japan Society of Northern California also helped promote the event. 

Left to right: Chris Bush, executive director of the Institute for Business Innovation; Berkeley Haas Lecturer Jon Metzler; METI Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura; Acting Dean Jenny Chatman; and UC Berkeley Executive Education CEO Mike Rielly.