Beyond Bootstrapping! – Recap

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Funding pathways for tech and regional revitalization 

It’s pretty common to have a ideas you think would make a great business. But without a business education or successful entrepreneur in the family, you’re often left without a next step. November’s monthly FEW meeting brought in two incredible CEOs to discuss options for the hardest step in starting a business or project: financing.

Many women entrepreneurs choose to “bootstrap”—in other words, they choose to fund their dream without the external support of an investor or loan. But there are options beyond bootstrapping for entrepreneurs in Japan.

From Physics to Ad Fraud: Satoko Ohtsuki

pider AF, made by Spider Labs, Ltd. is the market leader in Japanese ad fraud tech market. The educational background of its CEO? Atomic physics, of course.

After budget cuts halted Ohtsuki’s research, she was at a loss. An acquaintance finally inspired them forward by scolding them for complaining about the cuts. “You shouldn’t be complaining so much,” the acquaintance reportedly said. “You’ve never even generated a single yen worth of profit!” So Ohtsuki and her colleagues decided they would. The first 6 years, they launched many services and failed repeatedly. They felt like zombies. “We didn’t know whether we were still alive or not, but we still had passion,” Ohtsuki said.

In 2017, they finally launched an ad fraud detection tool under the company name Spider Labs. Spider Labs went on to raise a ¥65 million seed round, ¥320 million Series A, and ¥550 million Series B. They now have offices in Tokyo and Lisbon, and employ nearly 50 people. Their product, Spider AF, is a market leader in the Japanese ad tech market.

Bringing Business Back Home: Violet Pacileo

Sometimes, caring for your community IS your business. Revitalization of local communities has become hugely relevant in the era of remote work. Employees now have the chance to reconsider where they live without significantly impacting their employment. Violet Pacileo is one such employee.

A seasoned finance professional with over 15 years working in Tokyo, London, and LA for Japanese and international investment banks and asset managers, she relocated to the countryside in Kochi in Aug 2020 to promote economic development in the region. Because of her background in finance and institutional investing strategies, she was keenly aware of the existing opportunities around rural revitalization. Her understanding of the funding “game” allowed her to successfully apply for and receive a METI revitalization subsidy for her company VP Advisors K.K. They are building a riverside CrossFit retreat in the town, which is due to open in Spring 2022

Which Funding Method is Right for You?

Funding Methods for Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses

Government Subsidies are a great place to start. To pivot from a hedge fund consulting firm to a fitness camp company, Violet applied for the quarterly METI Revitalization Grant. To qualify for the subsidy, your company must be at least 3 years old. Your company’s revenue must have decreased for 3 months due to COVID (months need not be consecutive), you must jointly create a business plan with METI-approved entity (such a bank or chamber of commerce), and must work on the project together with that entity. Finally, your average annual 5 year economic value added, both in general and per employee, must be greater than 3.0 percent.

That said, if you don’t meet the qualifications for the METI subsidy, there are numerous other subsidies for small- to mid-sized companies at Mirasapo Plus.

Bank loans and other forms of debt financing are usually what people think of when In Japan, you’ll probably have more luck talking to regional banks. They are usually more willing to take risks. Large “mega” banks really only lend to low- or no-risk enterprises.

Angel investors are rarer. Meeting one often requires personal introduction from an entrepreneur they may have already funded.

And of course, it’s often recommended that you start by asking family and friends for funding or loans. While this is often the easiest choice if your family has the resources, Pacileo warns there are risks to this, such as the potential of ruining close relationships should something go wrong with your business.

Businesses Looking to Grow or IPO

If your business concept is small but mighty, you be growing at faster rate. While the options listed above are still open to you, they aren’t often able to fuel that rate of growth. In that case, you can begin to look into equity financing.

Venture capital funds invest in startups with significant growth potential. “Essentially, finding a VC is the same thing as sales,” said Ohtsuki. “How are you going to find your customers? You have to call around. Same when looking for a VC. If you start saying, I’m looking for an investor, people will slowly start introducing you to this VC or that VC.

She a couple tips for people looking to pitch to VCs: First, in your pitch deck, focus on numbers. The people you’re pitching to are finance oriented, so cater to that. Second, if you’re pitching to a Japanese VC, don’t include an international plan. Most are skeptical of Japanese companies’ ability to succeed in the international market.

Your other options are hedge funds, which invest in private and publicly listed companies, and private equity funds, which invest in privately listed companies.

While these firms provide more than ample financial support, Pacileo encourages caution. “If you have a startup and you give out too much equity, you won’t have a say in where your company is going to go. It’s really important not to [let that happen.]” Ohtsuki and Pacileo agree that when getting funding from hedge funds, venture capital firms, or private equity firms, it’s important to make sure they agree with your vision. 

If you’re still not sure what funding method is right for you, take a look at this funding guide. It can help you narrow down your options.

Non-Financing Resources

If you’re not ready to face the world of business financing alone, you’re not the only one! Thankfully, Ohtsuki, Pacileo, and FEW members offered up a host of incredible resources.

If you’re in Shibuya, Shibuya Startup Support welcomes entrepreneurs in all walks of life, advertising itself as a “concierge who helps you establish and grow your business in Shibuya.” In broader Tokyo, the Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center (TOSBEC) will not only help connect you with lenders and financiers, but can also help you become accustomed to daily life in Japan. It has a wealth of resources in both English and Japanese—just drop by.

Outside of Tokyo, Startup Lady Japan is another great resource connecting and educating womxn on the ABCs of entrepreneurship. With a slew of online events, there are numerous opportunities to participate!

In Japan’s Northeast corner, foreign business entrepreneurs are supported by Ignite Sendai, which can provide mentorship from the very beginning of the process—they can even advise you on how to get your business visa!

Kobe Startup Hub is another great resource that helps English speaking nationals anywhere in Japan.

For a resource a little closer to home, FEW Program Director Tracey Northcott recommends talking to the local city hall or ward office, especially if you speak Japanese and especially if you’re interested in revitalization. You can also join a local chamber of commerce—it’s only about ¥10,000 yen a year—and have them do some of the financing legwork for you.

It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage, was also recommended by a FEW member.

Many Thanks to Our Guests!

Wherever you are in your career journey, whether chipping away at a passion project or fully committed to the entrepreneurial path, this event was a fantastic, resource-packed financing overview. We thank both our guests for inspiring our members, and welcome them back any time!

This event recap was written by Laura Abbott. Learn more about her content strategy services at