Startup Visa: Past, Present, and Future (Interview with Somee)

Startup Visa: Past, Present, and Future (Interview with Somee)

It has been almost two years since the startup visa program in Shibuya City began, and so far Shibuya Startup Support has issued startup visas to 24 entrepreneurs from abroad.

We interviewed Somee Kang, our startup visa coordinator of the Startup Welcome Service for a review of the year 2022 and their plans for 2023. The Startup Welcome Service provides a one-stop service for global startups, led by Shibuya City, and supports the necessary administrative procedures for establishing a corporation and starting a business, as well as the acceptance of application documents.

Startup Visa: Past, Present, and Future (Interview with Somee)
Somee Kang, startup visa coordinator at Shibuya City’s Startup Welcome Service (Photo: Shibuya City)

What was the year 2022 like for the visa team?

In March 2022, the border control measures that had been in place for over two years were eased, allowing new startup visa holders who had been unable to come to Japan until then to enter the country. Startup Welcome Service has focused on improving the environment for newcomers to Japan so that they can receive comprehensive support, from relocation to establishment of a company. We are now able to provide consultation on living arrangements, housing arrangements, support for opening a bank account, introductions to professional firms, and various other issues through the Startup Welcome Service. We would like to thank our partners for their understanding of our program and their positive response to our efforts to create a startup-friendly environment.

Did you see any trends in startup visas in Shibuya in 2022?

Between April and December 2022, we received over 300 new inquiries regarding startup visas. The industry that we most frequently consulted is in the field of information and communication. Since the startup visa is only for founders, we feel that in the case of the information and telecommunications sector, the most frequent consultants are those who have worked in the engineering field.

40% of our startups visa holders are already in Japan with a student visa, work visa, or other visa status, and are considering a career path as an entrepreneur. The remaining 60% are those who wish to obtain a new visa from abroad. In this case, there are two types of cases: those who have already established a startup business aborad and are using the startup visa system to expand into Japan, and those who are creating a startup business as a solo entrepreneur with a Japanese corporation as its headquarters.

Of the 24 applicants who have obtained a startup visa, 7 have switched their status of residence within Japan while the rest are new arrivals from overseas. In terms of field, one company is in Environment/Energy and the others are in Healthcare and Information/Communications.

What kind of global startups and founders would you like to see apply in 2023?

The Startup Visa Program is designed to encourage people who have the ambition to start and grow a business to come to Japan. It is also hoped that innovative startups from abroad will come to Shibuya, further energizing the startup environment here.

In this sense, we would like to invite people from abroad who have innovative technologies and ideas, as well as the tenacity to give shape to these concepts, to apply for the program. Growing a business in Japan requires understanding of Japan’s unique business practices and the patience to build trust with Japanese partners. There may be many aspects that are complicated or obscure for people from overseas — such as the complexity of documents and administrative procedures — but it is my team’s role to support entrepreneurs who have come to Japan. We work hard to make the ins and outs of doing business in a new culture as smooth and stress-free as possible!

During the application process we begin by discussing the business plan that you have prepared with our consultants. While it depends on the industry and the nature of your business, we discuss whether your product is clearly differentiated and if you offer an innovative solution to the current market. A financial plan based on a business plan is also important. This step is first and foremost when we consider your application, so we recommend that you focus most of your efforts on the business plan before applying.

Startup Visa: Past, Present, and Future (Interview with Somee)
Ms. Kang introduces Shibuya Welcome Service at a side event of Latitude59 in Estonia (Photo: Shibuya City)

Please give a message to foreign startups and entrepreneurs who are considering entering the Japanese market.

It’s an exciting time to be a startup founder in Japan. On January 8 the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced it will invest 2.5 billion yen in a project to develop a large-scale startup support base. The startup environment in Tokyo is expected to grow rapidly. 

Shibuya City’s Startup Welcome Service focuses on the globalization of the startup ecosystem so that foreign entrepreneurs, who often face significant barriers due to language and other reasons, can engage in entrepreneurial activities in the same way as their Japanese counterparts. In terms of generous support, Shibuya City has become a pioneer in Japan. For those who are considering applying for a startup visa, please feel free to contact the Startup Welcome Service for a free consultation.