Women entrepreneurs in Japan face unique challenges in creating companies that can thrive in a competitive market.

As part of its 2019 Tokyo Women in Business Summit in February, the American Chamber of Commerce Japan brought together four women who have succeeded in launching their own businesses to share their keys to success and offer advice for others.

Their companies ranged from high-end travel services to artificial intelligence software, but all agreed that confidence and persistence are key components for success.

Panel member Fujiyo Ishiguro, President and CEO, Netyear Group Corp., a digital marketing firm, said that women need to be more confident, not just in creating a new company, but in expanding it into a major player. She pointed to data showing that while 10% of all companies in Japan have women CEOs, just 1% for publicly traded companies.

“Women are not always confident to scale up. They can have a limited mindset, not to go beyond their perceived limit.” She said. “We have to change this attitude, you can be confident, you can start an oil company, you can start a big corporation, she said.

For Naomi Mano, President and Representative Director, Luxurique Inc., a consultancy firm providing tailored travel experiences, a key factor is to have understanding from both professional and personal partners about the various demands placed on women in Japan.

“A lot of women entrepreneurs have not been able to take their companies as far as they wanted because they were unfortunately limited by their family obligations. I think that’s one of the obstacles that we find very near to us aside from just the pure difficulties of founding a company,” Mano said

Another important element is where to find the support that any entrepreneur needs. Panelist Moeko Suzuki found this a key issue after her first start-up failed.

“It was a nightmare for me to do the first company. People didn’t take me seriously. Finding the right information the right connections,” she said.

This prompted her to form a partnership with a friend to create Start Up Lady, itself a firm to help women seeking to start businesses in Japan.

Another key is to look for areas where you can stand out. Miku Hirano, CEO of AI group Cinnamon, being one of the few women creating programming in AI is actually an advantage. “There are not many women in the tech industry, so to be a woman and to start a company, you will actually have a big advantage,” she said.

What about the risks of going out on your own? All four said firmly that they believe that being an entrepreneur is more secure than a corporate job in today’s work place.

“If you are in a big corporation, what are fighting with? Office politics and other things that are irrational. If you start a company, everything you deal with is rational,” said Ishiguro.

Key imperatives for start-ups were outlined by event moderator Annie Chang, herself a 30-year entrepreneur who heads the placement firm AC Global Solutions.

“You can define your passion but the passion doesn’t make the business successful. You need to find a niche, something the market needs. Be persistent and never give up. It’s not difficult to start a business, it’s how do you grow it and make it sustainable for the long term,” she said.

The Summit, the latest event taking place in ACCJ member cities over the past five years, was held under the slogan of “our job is not done,” It said that while a strong Japanese economy has created an opportunity for women to progress more quickly, “many companies still struggle with the implementation of these objectives.” Aside from the issues facing women in Japan, the Summit also examined broader workplace issues affecting both women and men, including flexible workstyles, increased participation of older workers, increased use of foreign workers, and training.

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