“Solving social problems is the most important mission for any startup. If you’ve found your problem, you should challenge yourself to solve it,” said Go Fukino during a business trip to San Francisco, where he was learning how to market his growing startup LINKWIZ during JETRO’s Startup City Acceleration Program.
LINKWIZ specializes in applying 3D point cloud technology – essentially software based on 3D coordinate data – to the manufacturing process. The technology is traditionally used in product development but recently, it’s been applied also to self-driving cars, which use an array of sensors to “see,” and to geometrical measurement for precision manufacturing.
LINKWIZ’s unique software does the latter – in other words, it makes it possible for manufacturing equipment to “see” what it is working on, adjust to each unique piece, and recognize how different it is from a reference object. LINKWIZ wants to enable manufacturing equipment to self-adjust via machine learning so human workers can be freed up from having to make fine tweaks to the equipment during the manufacturing process.
You might think Go got his start in San Francisco, a hub of innovation targeting social problems, but LINKWIZ’s journey actually started in March 2015 in Hamamatsu City. Located in Central Japan in Shizuoka Prefecture, it is a city of almost 800,000. Growing up in this “City of Manufacturing,” Go was impressed by its importance to the Japanese and global economies, brokered through a roster of famous manufacturers including Suzuki, Yamaha, and Kawai. He also saw how the city struggled with dropping population in a very labor-intensive industry.
The city offers unparalleled access to these major manufacturers and their factory floors. This is key to Go as his company works hand-in-hand with manufacturers to design custom solutions. He says that being a member of the community and being available makes it easier to form collaborative, trusting relationships with clients as they both work towards enabling a less-labor intensive but still high-quality manufacturing process.
Located about an hour from Tokyo to the east and Osaka to the west, Hamamatsu is a quiet but powerful part of Japan’s economy. Surfing beaches are just 10 minutes by car from the city center, and LINKWIZ employees fish for red snapper, sardines and mackerel in the same waters. It doesn’t hurt that rent is much cheaper than Tokyo, either.
In July 2020, the city was designated along with Aichi and Nagoya city as a Global Startup City representing Central Japan under the national startup acceleration program, Startup City Project Japan. Hamamatsu’s mayor Yasutomo Suzuki personally supports the Hamamatsu startup community of some 40 to 50 companies by promoting programs and financial support, particularly for wellness, next-gen transportation, energy, agriculture, and robotics industries.
Go has been involved deeply with the startup community on multiple levels since launching LINKWIZ in 2015, by sharing information via seminars with fellow founders, and more. He says, due to the nature of the region, startup founders tend to be engineers and non-engineer talent is highly valued.
The startup community in Hamamatsu is growing with companies like Go’s: they have a global vision and are accelerating expansion plans as the restrictions of the pandemic wane. Go wants to encourage future entrepreneurs to consider Japan as a base for their business. “If you have an idea that you think it could benefit society, you should do it,” he says. “I think Japan has a relatively low risk of failure. People in Hamamatsu especially like to support those who are taking on a challenge. And society in general has started to value challengers.”
Go has always loved the challenge of building new things. In high school in Hamamatsu, while he didn’t love following the rules, he did love leading the preparation for school festivals and his fellow students as student council president. Inspired by study-abroad students in his high school, Go decided to attend college in Canada where he could learn from a diverse group of people. He’s never forgotten his experience– in fact it hardened his resolve to make a difference in the world. “I want people to know that there are many opportunities for people in the Central Japan startup community – it could be discovering a social problem and making your own company, or it could be joining an existing startup. There’s no need for young people to automatically choose large companies out of school,” he explained.
“Solving social problems is the most important mission for any startup,” emphasizes Go. “LINKWIZ’s mission is to strengthen and modernize the manufacturing industry, starting with Japan and working outward.”
Seven years after the launch of LINKWIZ, Go has become a leader who can show others the ropes in the startup community. “Moving forward, I plan to grow my company by adding more non-Japanese talent as we work to expand our business abroad. I also want to support newer founders as they take on challenges.” With support from the national and local government and founder cohorts, failure doesn’t seem as much of a risk.