Hunting for unicorns: Japan startups see hope on the horizon

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Hampered by cautious investors and a rigid corporate culture, Japan has produced just a handful of major startups. But there are signs that could be changing, industry insiders say.Despite being the world’s third-largest economy, Japan is far behind the United States and China when it comes to producing “unicorns” — new companies valued at more than $1 billion in private funding.There are nearly 500 unicorns worldwide, from Silicon Valley rental giant Airbnb Inc. to ByteDance, TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company.But only four of these firms are Japanese, according to the latest list compiled by U.S. analytics platform CB Insights.“Relative to its GDP, Japan should have at least 50 to 60 unicorns,” said Gen Isayama, head of World Innovation Lab, a California-based company that provides advice and capital to startups, with a focus on Japan.“In Japan, innovation efforts have always been led by big corporations,” he explained, with banks “more willing to loan money to these corporates rather than to invest in startup companies.”Japan’s venture-capital market, worth around $4 billion last year, is much smaller than the United States’ at $137 billion and China’s at $52 billion, according to several studies.But even Japan’s own SoftBank Group Corp., …

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