Business Advice From People Living Here

Back to Contents of Issue: August 2000

by Michael Thuresson

WANTED: ENTREPRENEURIAL BUSINESSPEOPLE based in Japan to help Western companies enter or reposition themselves in the Japanese market.

The Japan Market Entry Competition (, a nonprofit international training organization in Tokyo, acts as a discriminating cupid for the business romance between East and West. Since 1993, JMEC has matched 62 client companies with 318 English-speaking, Japan-based individuals in an annual contest aiming to develop Japan-focused business plans while sharpening participants' analytical skills. The organization is sponsored by eight, predominantly Western, chambers of commerce and enjoys support from the European Union.

Utilizing their Japanese communication skills, education (11 of 35 participants in '99 had MBAs), and proximity to untapped reserves of market information, the teams immerse themselves in projects with a fervor unrivaled by any B-school case study.

While the formulation of an Internet business plan is often speculative, JMEC projects are grounded in the kind of sound market analysis that would make any Kellogg grad proud. Business-modeling terms such as hurdle rate and cash flow, which are virtually lost in the glamorous world of dot-coms, but essential to practical forecasting, are fixtures of projects.

"The program's quality is a result of participant commitment, careful matching of team members and project assignments, and having a mentor and professional consultant assigned to each team to give guidance," says Ikuko Collins, JMEC's program coordinator.

To JMEC client companies, the Japanese marketplace is often a mystery. The proven ability of the teams to adapt Western business ideas to Japan's reality, within the format of a professional business plan, is an important feature of the competition. "Because of their understanding of the culture here, the teams offer clients a very fresh and innovative perspective," says Collins. This year's JMEC winner is no exception.

The winning team's mission was to consult the Invest in Sweden Agency (ISA) on the promotion of Sweden's senior-citizen healthcare services in Japan.

"They were confident in the superiority of their image and offerings, and that their plan would be recognized in Japan," says Timm Tuttle of the project team. "We took the approach of not assuming any of that was true."

The team produced, through exhaustive research that included a snazzy online survey, data that confirmed Sweden's outstanding image among Japanese in this healthcare sector. However, the team threw a giant curveball at the ISA when it based its proposal on the concept of not just providing services, but actually building senior care centers in Japan.

Goran Edman of the ISA was surprised by the results, but impressed with the team's work. "They built up their case through a professional fact-finding job. The Internet survey was particularly exciting because it reached the Japanese public in a way not done before," he says.

How valuable were the results? Presently the ISA, with the help of the project team, is selling the new concept to Swedish government officials.

Throw in the fact that project fees are very reasonable and JMEC's value becomes easily evident.

Says Edman: "It's like getting a Rolls Royce for the price of a Suzuki."

Note: The function "email this page" is currently not supported for this page.