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Meet Japan’s 15-year-old entrepreneurs

  • January 6, 2016
  • , Asahi
  • Trending@Japan

Steve Jobs was 21 when he founded Apple, Bill Gates 19 when he launched Microsoft, and Mark Zuckerberg 19 when he founded Facebook. Sure they were young, but now there’s an even younger generation of entrepreneurs shaking up the business world in Japan. NHK reported (11/26) on some of the latest digital-native entrepreneurs in Japan to start their businesses at the age of 15.

Atsushi Muto, a 15-year-old YouTuber, recently founded Creative Fantasy Productions, Inc. – a company that produces music videos for amateur high school bands and releases them via YouTube. “I think the idea of high school students going out into the world is great,” says Muto. “There’s a lot I can do to support them.” A music studio manager working with Muto says: “I couldn’t believe he was a ninth grader…. I have high expectations for his business. Today you don’t have to debut with a record label. If your song becomes popular on YouTube, the record label will approach you.” The Internet was already ubiquitous when Muto was born, and he played with computers and other digital devices like toys. He was 10 when he first uploaded a video on YouTube. Even though he’s only 15, he has more than 5 years of experience in video production and didn’t think twice about establishing his own company.

Rika Shiiki, 16, founded AMF (Appreciation, Modesty, and Full-power) when she was 15. Her company provides marketing services targeting female high school students who love kawaii (cute) products. She has also been delivering speeches and appearing on TV as a “female high school student entrepreneur.”

Yoichiro Mikami founded GNEX Ltd. in 2013, also at the age of 15. The company provides a crowdfunding service for students, connecting companies targeting teenagers with students who are in need of money to launch their projects or events.

According to NHK, Japanese companies are beginning to pay close attention to ideas generated by teenagers. Fujitsu Design Ltd., a company that designs Fujitsu cell phones, participated in hosting a business competition to come up with ideas for new smartphones in November 2015. A number of secondary school students from across Japan participated in the event. They generated many innovative ideas, such as a smartphone that can easily change shape. A manager at Fujitsu Design says: “We adults tend to apply the brakes on ideas. Ideas without brakes are refreshing.”

Changes are occurring not only in the business world but also in the education community. About 20 students from Seiko Gakuin, a leading private secondary school in Kanagawa, participated in the cell phone business competition. The school has also launched a short-term study-abroad program in which selected students visit Silicon Valley to learn about state-of-the-art technology.  An assistant principal of the school says: “Although daily studies are very important, it is also important to learn what’s happening around the world. Classes are important, but an increasing number of students want to pursue more outside studies.”

You may be wondering why so many young entrepreneurs in Japan start their businesses at the age of 15. In Japan you need to have an official seal to register a company, and most local municipalities do not issue official seals to people under 15.  But NHK said the under-15 set is also actively generating bright new ideas for businesses.

According to Yomiuri (6/29), programming has become one of the most popular extracurricular classes for primary school children. Based on a survey of about 620 mothers with small children across Japan conducted in August 2014, programming ranked 7th among the after-school activities mothers want their children to participate in when they are in the upper grades of elementary school. It was the first time for programming to be ranked among the top 10 activities in the survey. The daily wrote that many children develop an interest in programming when they see games and videos on their parents’ smartphones, and many parents are hoping their children will become the next Steve Jobs.

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