All Entrepreneurial Roads Lead to the “Outside Island”

You may only have one shot at innovation: How to apply learnings from both ends of the map


For centuries, Japan had been successful in thwarting invasions due to geographical isolation, among other factors. However, by the early 1600s, this very same isolation led to a stalemate in economic prosperity and technological advancement, as Japan struggled to adjust to the influx of merchants from Europe. In response, the government established a port city named Dejima in 1634, literally translated into English as ‘Exit Island’ or ‘Outside Island.’ This island allowed Japanese trade and interaction with the outside world, which ultimately led to fast-paced modernization.


This concept of looking outside of a country, or outside of an individual’s perspective, for new ideas and growth is at the core of entrepreneurship. What learnings could occur and what doors would open if one’s ideas are allowed the room, time, and space to grow?


The Sido Program, backed by World Innovation Lab and Japanese gubernatorial entities, bridges the gap between Japan and Silicon Valley. Sido provides access, training, and tools for innovation to entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs outside of the traditional, hierarchical corporate environment. The program offers a chance for entrepreneurs to experience Dejima, allowing them a fresh start, so that they may both learn–and unlearn–how to accomplish things in untraditional ways.


The goal of the Sido Program is to help the country’s greatest minds discover ways to innovate in Japan through the implementation of tech-based solutions. Sido removes the oceanic gap between Silicon Valley and Japan through a five-month domestic program capped off by a two-week trip to the home of entrepreneurship: Silicon Valley itself. Some of the unique offerings of the Sido program include improvisational exercises, design thinking sessions, targeted customer interviews, speeches and lectures from startup veterans, as well as practice pitching sessions to Silicon Valley investors.


Most importantly, the program is centered around this very concept of an overall change in mindset. 


Yuki Shimahara, the CEO of LPixel–a medical diagnostic company using AI that began at the University of Tokyo–participated in the program and visited Silicon Valley to learn more about global business perspectives. After graduating from Sido, he’s received over US$27 million in funding from the strategic investors to accelerate growth. 


Isolation only begets stagnation. However, when one opens up to interacting with forces outside of themselves, ideas and innovation become easily accessible, much like why Exit Island was established in Japan. Growth can only come from an effort to expand one’s understanding of the world, fostering new forms of creativity and solutions to complex problems. 


Look in the distance and the outside island, with her unique ideas, is within reach.


About the Author

Gen has extensive experience in venture capital, finance, and entrepreneurship. He founded World Innovation Lab (WiL) in 2013. Before WiL, he was partner at DCM Ventures, specializing in online media, mobile, and consumer services. Gen is a member of various Japanese government committees, including the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and Internal Affairs and Communications, to promote entrepreneurship nationwide.


Caption: Japanese entrepreneurs engaging in action, also known as Sido, in an exercise led by Aki Koto of WiL. The group learns through engagement during the multiple week Silicon Valley program.


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