Got a business idea you want to bring to life? Well, starting a business in Fukuoka just got easier, thanks to the new foreigner-friendly Startup Visa. The visa gives entrepreneurs six months to simultaneously begin launching their business and to prepare an application for longer term resident status, such as a Business Manager visa. As one of the National Strategic Special Zone Initiatives, Fukuoka City has been chosen to implement this exciting new visa, giving budding entrepreneurs a great opportunity to kick-start a business.
Normally, entrepreneurs require Business Manager resident status to start and operate a business here; but the requirements for that status are demanding. Applicants must already have an office space, and either capital/investments exceeding ¥5,000,000 or at least two full-time staff who are either Japanese nationals, permanent residents, spouses or children of a permanent resident or foreign nationals with certain long-term visas.
With a Startup Visa, however, successful applicants receive Business Manager resident status for six months without having to fulfil the requirements listed above. To get the Startup Visa, entrepreneurs submit a New Business Implementation Plan (NBIP). That is reviewed by Fukuoka City Council and, if the plan is deemed viable, a Confirmation Letter of NBIP is issued. With that in hand, the applicants can formally apply for a Startup Visa.
Applications must be made in Japanese but in Fukuoka, help is at hand. Tenjin’s Startup Café supports foreign entrepreneurs with the various stages of building a business, and can be utilised by any entrepreneur to ensure the smooth-running of both their venture and their Startup Visa application.
When applications opened in early December 2015, Thomas Pouplin and Yasmine Djoudi, the partners behind Ikkai, an online platform which crowdsources everyday tasks to students, were the first to apply. On Jan. 15, they received their Confirmation Letters of NBIP.
In addition to the Startup Visa, another benefit of Fukuoka City’s National Strategic Special Zone Initiative is the plan to offer a national corporate tax break for startups. Eligible startups in National Strategic Special Zones will qualify for a 20% (approximate) tax benefit (details on the City’s website).
With such a wealth of resources available in such a vibrant city, this is all great news for any foreigner keen to start a business in Japan. As they make final preparations to launch their business, two such people, self-confessed Japanophiles Yasmine and Thomas, spoke to Fukuoka Now about being foreign entrepreneurs in Japan and their experience with the Startup Visa.
The pair were inspired to create the “task marketplace” Ikkai after observing the difficulty their friends had juggling their studies with a part-time job. Ikkai allows students to earn money whilst helping out in their community, giving as much or as little time as they can. The site is designed to appeal to everyone; students, or ‘Taskers’, can use Ikkai to find part-time work on an ad-hoc basis and ‘Task Requestors’, such as busy adults or elderly people, post tasks with which they would like assistance. From doing laundry to dog walking, collecting dry cleaning or moving house, “pretty much everything” goes. Students simply register on the site and then respond to the ads, offering their help in exchange for an agreed sum.
Yasmine and Thomas hope to create the biggest peer-to-peer platform in the City and the Startup Visa will be of great assistance, as it gives them six months to start their business in Japan. City Hall approached the couple about the project in September 2015, and its appeal was that it will allow them “time to focus” on their business and enable them to “keep working on the company without stressing about all the visa things.”
Although the Startup Visa can be seen as offering a fast-track into establishing a business in Japan, its biggest advantage is allowing entrepreneurs to take things more slowly. Securing the capital, investments and employees, as stipulated in the Business Manager resident status requirements, is “not something you can just do in five seconds.” Without pressure to meet these requirements straight away, Yasmine and Thomas have been able to think carefully about their company and ensure they employ the right people to help them drive it forward.
Aside from the perks of the Startup Visa, there are several reasons why it “made sense” to start a business in Fukuoka. Yasmine and Thomas were exchange students at Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka and love this “entrepreneurial city” which wants to “help foreigners.” They believe Fukuoka offers an unparalleled level of support which cannot be found elsewhere in Japan.
Fukuoka also boasts many universities and students are at the core of Ikkai; Fukuoka’s young population lends itself to the “sharing economy” of Ikkai, since it is a new concept in Japan. However, Yasmine and Thomas were not always convinced that Fukuoka was the ideal location for a Startup, and indeed they also considered Tokyo. In the end it was Tenjin’s Startup Café, which offers bilingual assistance with all aspects of creating a business, which “played a big part” in the pair’s decision.
The founders of Ikkai have successfully obtained Confirmations Letters of the NBIP, and once they have received their Startup Visas, they will then have six months to meet the requirements needed to apply for a Business Manager visa, or other applicable status of residence. Despite being the first to apply, it was a “pretty easy” process. The main difficulty was translation, as applications must be completed in Japanese. Their Japanese intern came to the rescue here! The application was also made easier by efficient communication with City Hall, who were prompt in replying to questions.
So would Ikkai recommend the Startup Visa? “Definitely.” Indeed they believe foreign entrepreneurs will come to Fukuoka to set up a business specifically because of this visa; it gives you time to “find money and start from scratch,” which is often a problem for would-be entrepreneurs, especially in Japan.
Ikkai expects to launch a full-featured site sometime in February. A beta version is now online for test marketing and pre-registration. It is a bilingual English-Japanese site and the pair stresses that the site is for foreigners and natives alike. For Ikkai and other would be Startups in Fukuoka, the advantages of this visa are clear, so as far as starting a business is concerned, why go anywhere else?
Text by Hannah Smith for Fukuoka Now
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn206, Feb. 2016)