Japan's top business lobby aims to create boom in "unicorn" firms

© Kyodo News

Japan's largest business lobby has crafted an ambitious proposal to increase the number of so-called "unicorn companies," or unlisted startups valued at more than $1 billion, 10-fold over five years as it tries to spur innovation and in turn the country's slow-growing economy.

The Japan Business Federation, also known as Keidanren, aims to increase the number of such firms from about 10 to around 100 while at the same time seeking to expand the number of start-ups by a factor of 10 to about 100,000.

Speaking at a recent press conference, Tomoko Namba, the business lobby's vice chair and founder of online service provider DeNA Co., underscored the importance of fostering start-ups in stimulating the economy.

"The setting of a five-year goal reflects our determination," she said.

The proposal is trying to address the long-time dominance in Japan of large, slow-moving corporations that prospered during a period of high economic growth decades ago. It is hoped the shift will cause companies that promote digital innovation and entrepreneurship to prosper.

Japan hopes to foster innovative companies like U.S. tech giants Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc., the latter now called Meta Platforms Inc., which grew from startups to companies that drive the U.S. economy.

Among a small number of unicorn companies in Japan are artificial intelligence start-up Preferred Networks Inc. and news app developer SmartNews Inc.

To help achieve the ambitious goal, the business lobby proposes making the growth of such firms one of the country's top priorities and launching a government agency that specializes in supporting start-ups.

It also emphasizes the importance of building an ecosystem in which companies have access to sufficient funding and human resources both at home and abroad.

"We don't have time to pause and think anymore," the business lobby said in a report. "Unless we do not execute every single measure in the proposal at one stroke, we may not get another chance to catch up."