Session report: EMERGENCE #4-The present and future of Incubators and Accelerators supporting startups in the life science field.

With the support of LEO SCIENCE & TECH HUB, whose mission is “Connecting the dots. — Cutting-edge science and technology to make a better tomorrow for patients with skin diseases.” The 4th session of “Future of Japanese Life Science Ecosystem” was held on July 2, 2020, at Thursday Gathering (organized by Venture Café Tokyo).

On the day of the event, we invited guest speakers to talk under the theme of “Learn from incubator accelerators-points for business development-Life Science edition”, along with discussing the efforts and achievements of incubator accelerators in Japan. We also deepened our discussion while talking about future plans and topics.

◆EMERGENCE — About 「Creating the future of Japanese Life Science Ecosystem」

Science is the foundation of social development. Although Japan has a high level of basic research ability in the world, we do not have a complete system to carry out research in a sustainable manner and implement the results to society. For example, we lack ideal career paths for researchers and methodologies for industrializing university-originated innovation.

Utilization of science is essential for Japanese society, which faces the major challenge of the declining birthrate and aging population earlier than any other country in the world. Moreover, the fusion of digital technology and the healthcare industry is a great opportunity, and there are high expectations for Japan around the world.

Therefore, at EMERGENCE, we aim to create a movement and community that will lead the future of Japan’s life sciences by regularly calling key innovators of life sciences and deepening discussions with each other.

The Present and future of Japan’s Incubators and Accelerators

<Role of incubator/accelerator>

Cycle “innovation ecosystem” for life science development. Among them, incubators and accelerators help to raise entrepreneurs until they break the eggshell and become independent.

To make the Japanese ecosystem a presence in the world, the people who play the “fostering” role have to become “Key Persons”, and the question is if them, from all different positions that make up the ecosystem, will be matched or create a place and community for better interaction and collaboration. These “Key Persons” include management personnel who want to commercialize the technology of academia; VCs who can invest in the deep tech field; large companies who want to collaborate with early startups; local governments who are expected to be activated by industry-academia collaboration. Through accumulating and connecting organizations, the possibilities for great innovation will greatly expand.

In this session, with the mission of connecting these human resources and companies to foster a community, three people from three incubators/accelerators based in central Tokyo and Shonan will be present and share their thoughts on the current topics.

<Current incubator/accelerator>

Currently, incubators such as Shonan Health Innovation Park (Shonan iPark) and CIC, as well as government and venture capitals, are all working as incubator accelerators through various activities to promote the growth of startups.

There are various examples of drug discovery commercializing support and medical venture development programs sponsored by Tokyo government officials and operated by Beyond Next Ventures, such as “Blockbuster TOKYO”. The program is provided to support aspects that need to be considered for technology commercialization, such as business plan creation and patent strategy.

The program also begins to provide places and opportunities for collaboration. At the Shonan Eye Park, which opened in 2018, about 100 companies and groups gathered in this facility. Collaboration is actively created not only by startups but also by large companies, suppliers, investors, patent offices, etc. which gather in the same place.

Incubators and accelerators that support the fields of drug discovery, biotechnology, and healthcare include two distinctive features. First, they support the networking and collaboration of major pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers from the beginning of the business, keeping in mind the license-out destination. Second, they value the networking with overseas players. The reason is that overseas players are important as candidates for the aforementioned out-licensing destination. More importantly, foreign investment is important for the growth of startups. Innovation community CIC, which was founded in Massachusetts , USA, and is now active all over the world, is going to establish a new site in Tokyo this year. In terms of strengthening international connectivity, it has become more accessible for the community of life science startups.

<The future of incubators & accelerators>

This session also aimed to point out the lack of the Japanese community in supporting the future growth of startups. First, few mentors can assist the growth of startups. Since the number of business persons who have been active in startups is still limited in Japan, it is necessary to devise ways such as welcoming people with experience in overseas startups as mentors. Besides, there are many promising researchers at the university, but as mentioned above, research expenses, research facilities, and opportunities for commercialization are lacking. In addition to funding promising research, we are seeking to create an environment where researchers can easily interact with investment companies and accelerators. Furthermore, we expect that the collaboration between large companies and startups will become more active. Since events, where startups concentrate, are increasing, large companies will be more likely to participate in such events. Thus, both parties will build closer relationships in the community and develop more collaboration opportunities which we expect.

◆ Speakers and their affiliations

Dr. Mayu Morishima

Beyond Next Ventures

Beyond Next Ventures operates a 20 billion yen fund to invest in startups in the healthcare field. Also, to foster an innovation ecosystem, the venture founded a shared wet lab: “Beyond BioLAB TOKYO” in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. The initiatives of her venture capital are to support startup management personnel, and to manage accelerator programs such as “Blockbuster TOKYO”.

Dr. Yuri Ogiso

Shonan iPark

Shonan iPark is a science park operated on the site of Takeda Pharmaceutical Company’s regional branch laboratory. To make Shonan a hotspot in the world’s startup ecosystem ranking, the science park has attracted many companies and organizations such as major drug companies and suppliers, as well as drug discovery and bio-based ventures. Matching events are often held to build a network among residents and to create collaboration.

Dr. Masaru Nagura

CIC Japan

He operates the innovation community: CIC Tokyo, which is scheduled to open in Tokyo Toranomon in the fall of 2020. CIC Tokyo aims to support a wide range of startups and entrepreneurs by creating a community as a “base for entrepreneurs who fix the world through innovation” rather than just a rental office. CIC is expanding around the world, mainly in the United States, and CIC Tokyo will be one of the largest urban centers in Japan with an area of ​​6,000 square meters. Venture Café Tokyo is its sister organization.

Dr.Taruho Kuroda (Moderator)

LEO Science & Tech Hub

After 10 years of life science research in academia from 2004 (including 7 years at Harvard Medical School), he moved to a global pharmaceutical company in 2014 to drive open innovation in drug discovery. He moved to his current position in 2019 to establish a function which creates innovative solutions for dermatological diseases in Japan.

◆Details of initiatives for each Incubator and Accelerator

<Beyond Next Ventures>

Dr. Morishima:

Four core businesses are provided by us: incubation investment mainly in the healthcare field, equipment/infrastructure support such as the provision of a shared wet lab, commercialization and growth support by operating an acceleration program, and management human resource support by providing an innovation leaders program. Among them, today I will introduce two approaches. First, the shared wet lab “Beyond BioLAB TOKYO” is a facility on the first basement floor of the Nihonbashi Life Science Building, renovated from the cafeteria of the former Astellas headquarters. There are a lab and office space where P1 and P2 level experiments can be performed. Theme study sessions and events held there, which welcomed people other than the residents, were also very successful. Many early startups are moving in, and they are accelerating innovation by sharing equipment, exchanging opinions, and utilizing each other’s human networks.

Next, “Blockbuster TOKYO” is an accelerator program for drug discovery and medicine, sponsored by the Tokyo city government and operated by our company in cooperation with operating companies and VCs. We will receive advice from overseas mentors, focusing on fundings from overseas VCs, joint research with overseas to complete the goal of licensing out, and train appeals in English. Besides, we support the selected 20 teams by brushing up Research & Development projects and commercialization plans based on feedback, cost support, and human resource matching.

<Shonan iPark>

Dr. Ogiso: The mission of the Shonan iPark is to build a world-wide open life science ecosystem by focusing on four points: acceleration, incubation, development, and collaboration. Since Shonan iPark is a corporate-initiated science park established by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., many assume that it was established for Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. to find business partners, yet the purpose is to initiate innovation through collaboration among all residents.

In addition to startups, about 100 companies and organizations such as large companies, suppliers, investors, and patent firms have accumulated as tenants or members, forming a community of over 2000 people. In addition to Leader’s Club for management-class networking, we hold several events to encourage interaction. In addition, there are also many events held by residents such as science café, which is held by voluntary researchers. In total, even in this era of with Corona, there are three to four events a week online. In the past year, there have been 143 collaborations, 10 times more collaborative than last year. We plan to release the iPark Virtual Partnering system this autumn, which will enable us to contact and schedule companies on the system.

One characteristic of the Shonan iPark is the accumulation of relatively bigger size venture companies and large companies. Examples of large companies are Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation, Lion Corporation, and Asuka Pharmaceutical. Companies that are participating as members rather than as tenants include Daiichi Sankyo, Astellas, and Pfizer.


Dr. Nagura: CIC (Cambridge Innovation Center) was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is where MIT and Harvard University are headquartered, and also a large-scale urban center innovation center that operates in 9 cities around the world. CIC Tokyo, the first site of CIC in Asia, will contribute to the globalization of Japan and Tokyo as an ecosystem with the purpose of “base for entrepreneurs to fix the world through innovation”. While based in Asia, CIC Tokyo also wants to collaborate with startups that aim to expand into the Asian market from the world.

Target companies are not limited to the life science field but gather all players to create cross-industry collaboration and bring innovation. Our facility was designed by architect Tetsuo Kobori. It is a design that incorporates harmony and cooperation, contributes to ease of work and collaboration, and creates a chance for unexpected encounters. Coworking space is a huge space with 100 seats and 160 private rooms. There are 200 to 300 venture companies that can move in, and we have received many feedback, as well as inquiries. We would also like investors, large corporations, and government officials to join us.

Leveraging Our Strengths to Make the Metropolitan Area a Big Ecosystem

<What success stories have you seen at the incubation facilities you operate?>

Dr. Ogiso: At Shonan iPark, the participation of large companies is increasing along with startups. And about 140 collaborations have been created internally. Moreover, collaboration is occurring not only between venture companies and major companies but also between major companies.

Dr. Morishima: Since it is a small facility located in the city center, the shared wet lab “Beyond BioLAB TOKYO” has a lot of early startups. The moving-in startups are collaborating fairly closely with each other on their mutual knowledge, their networks, and the utilization of equipment. The value that such a community brings to startups is enormous, and we would like to continue strengthening the management of the community.

Dr. Nagura: We are planning to open in the fall of 2020, and we are preparing various programs. There are also several international projects. At present, Tokyo has won the spotlight from overseas, so everyone’s participation is indispensable for attracting attention from the world to the Tokyo ecosystem.

<Combining the characteristics of the three parties to make the metropolitan area into a large ecosystem>

Dr. Morishima: Beyond is a small facility in the center of the city, so we cannot do animal experiments. We think that Shonan iPark has a wonderful environment, including the accessibility to do animal experiments, which supports startups to make good use of the necessary facilities in each phase.

Dr. Ogiso: iPark has advantages when it comes to strengthening collaboration between startups of bigger size and large companies. On the other hand, investment companies and corporate ventures tend to gather in central Tokyo, and Shonan is a little far away. However, with the perspective of “Greater Tokyo”, I want to liven up the ecosystem from Shonan.

Dr. Nagura: CIC does not have a lab, so if you need a lab, we would like you to set up a lab in Beyond BioLAB TOKYO or iPark, but on the other hand, I think we are strong at creating cross-industry collaborations, communications with investors, and contacts with foreign countries. Also, if you have your head office in other than Tokyo, you can use CIC Tokyo’s office to acquire various networks in Tokyo. If we three parties with different strengths work together, we can boost the ecosystem as a whole.

<Future Challenges>

Dr. Morishima: Management talents, mentors, and funding are always key challenges. Both Japanese entrepreneurs and academia are excellent, but there is a lack of mentors who can guide them well in terms of matching. I want to strengthen the mentor groups in Japan. Also, few VCs are investing in the deep technology field, so I would like to collaborate with investors in the Internet field and overseas VCs.

Dr. Ogiso: At the iPark, collaboration with investment companies and early startups is a challenge. Therefore, we are planning a program to support university researchers and early entrepreneurs. A major pharmaceutical company will sponsor and provide funding, and the iPark will provide the location.

Dr. Nagura: I hope that the CIC community will get a little more attention from large companies. We would like them not only to collect information about startups but also to actively cooperate with us.

◆Looking back at the event

The incubator/accelerator that is an essential part of the startup ecosystem. This session was an online, but the participants actively asked questions, making it an enthusiastic event. Listening to the speakers, it was clear that they respected each other’s efforts and were very collaborative to revitalize the Japanese ecosystem. I am looking forward to the future when the distinctive activities of each of them will be further refined and their collaboration will be born.

On October 1st, we will have another EMERGENCE session and the topic is “Innovation in Dermatology “. We will deepen the dialogue inviting aspiring innovators in this field. If you are interested, please join us!


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