- Japan's Unreported New Strength: Entrepreneurialship in the Younger Generation
As a CEO of a Venture Capital firm gives me opportunities to meet foreign investors when they come to Japan. Whenever I meet these investors, I find myself defending Japan. The reason is that the foreign news media seems to have led foreign investors to believe that Japan is suffering from the bad debts, ongoing deflation, and stagnant economic growth. They view Japan as an economy with distressed assets with little economic vitality and, therefore, there is little opportunity for venture capital investment. In other words, they think that Japan is "dead". Whenever I hear these comments, I always offer the following counter-arguments:
Almost all of our investee companies which target on high tech and IT services segments are doing well, with earnings far from lackluster. Furthermore, there were more than 5000 enrollments of Japanese business persons in 2002, up 30% from 2001, in Globis Management School. They are the future Japanese business leaders and are eager to create their own new career. We see more and more talented young entrepreneurs leaving big corporations and starting up their own ventures. There have been more companies went public in the past two years in Japan than in the US. The total number of IPOs on Japanese securities markets for emerging companies was 100 last year which is larger than U.K.'s 60. In the case of U.S., there were only 35 IPOs on Nasdaq from January 2002 to September 2002. I personally do not see any signs of doomy situation. Why is there a gap between viewpoints of mine and others?
Japan's current poor economic vitality is said to be caused by the following three problems; 1) Stagnant economic growth, 2)Bad debts, and 3)Deflation. But a completely different picture emerges when you look at these so called problems from the standpoint of those on the ground investing in Japan.
First, zero economic growth doesn't mean that all markets are stagnating.True, Japan's overall GDP has been stagnant for more than ten years, but when you look at each economic sector individually, you'll see that some have been growing and others shrinking. The total sum of this positive and negative growth is zero. As a result, there are companies in growing fields that are growing fast. On the other hand, there are some old companies who are losing ground.
There are many promising growth markets in the areas whereJapan does best ―
areas such as mobile components, optical fiber, digital animation/contents, next-generation optical disks, embedded software, optical communication technology, nano technology, robotics, fuel cell and etc. Companies that specifically target such growth markets with the technology advanced in the world should continue to grow in the years ahead. Further, if you look at Toyota, Honda, and Canon, they are making record profits in this environment. Therefore, zero growth rate of Japanese economy does not mean that all of Japan is bad.
Second, the effect of Japan's bad debt problem. The problem affects companies in the financial sector, and affects the government (taxpayers), and borrowers. However, companies with no outstanding loans are unaffected. Most entrepreneurial companies have no outstanding loans. Their growth capital generally comes from equity, and they have almost no transactions with banks. They are therefore unaffected by Japan's bad debt problem. For the people like us who always deal with young entrepreneurial people, the problems of bad debts are something that is happening far away.
It affects old Japan but not new Japan.
Third, deflation. Deflation may be a problem that affects companies whose products have no competitive market edge. Again, it has a negligible effect on companies that deal in high value-added services, high-tech technologies. For these companies, the deflation is good simply because they can source their material cheaper, rents more affordable, and wages lower that used to be.
So where does that leave us? Japan's zero economic growth, bad debts, and deflation don't affect all companies and individuals. There is a thriving side to Japan's economy, new Japan, which exists side by side with the recessionary side, old Japan. New Japan is very dynamic, and contain many companies worthy of investment. Coming into daily contact with these companies gives me the opportunity to meet people excited about meeting new challenges, pursuing their dreams and working full-throttle to develop new technologies. They are an energetic group of people. On the other hand overseas press seems to only discuss the stagnating old side of Japan's economy. They are giving both foreign and Japanese readers the impression that Japan's overall economy is lackluster.
I would like to discuss what I see is happening in the new generation of apanese at the speech.