His road to entrepreneurship started with a grades scare – Cong Thanh Nguyen reveals how he built an AI startup in Japan

February 10th, 2023

Cong Thanh Nguyen stands with his team in front of their offices

Math was Cong Thanh Nguyen’s favorite subject as a child, but it wasn’t until high school that he’d touch a computer. Now he leads the software development company HACHIX in Nagoya, Japan. There, a small but skilled team of software engineers develop AI tools for image recognition in the manufacturing setting, web systems, and automated guided vehicles.

It was a string of coincidences, or may be fate, that led Cong Thanh to start his business in Aichi, a prefecture in Central Japan. Cong Thanh grew up in Vietnam. His first impression of Japan was of the high-quality Japanese products he used daily. While a serious child, his tendency to focus in almost got him held back a year when he got caught up in video games. With a little support from his parents, he safely graduated high school, where he set his sight on Japan.  At university and then at the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, Osaka University, Cong Thanh translated his childhood passion for math into programming.

For most, Japan is synonymous with Tokyo, but after experiencing its stressful commute, Cong Thanh chose the manufacturing center of Japan – Aichi Prefecture – instead. Joining Brother, an international printer manufacturer, he wrote the code that controls the parts within scanners and printers. With 6 years at Brother under his belt, he decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship – but where? Ultimately, it was his wife’s love for living in Japan that convinced Cong Thanh to build a business in in Japan, not Vietnam. In 2017, HACHIX was born in Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture from Cong Thanh and co-founder Trung Quang Pham. Cong Thanh’s first child was born later that year.


Nagoya is more than just a nice place to live. It is the largest city in Aichi Prefecture, which itself is a hub of industry as the home of Toyota, Subaru, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and more. Still, it’s rare for a nascent startup to win business from these behemoths. Instead, HACHIX found their niche digitalizing tasks for small and medium-sized manufacturing outfits. They design and create systems that can automatically adjust the temperature of a workplace, create production plans, and detect defective products. Their solutions free up precious staff time to focus on more complicated work at companies that are understaffed. 

The City of Nagoya encourages people from around the world to launch their businesses here. Founders have access to advisors, incubator programs, coworking spaces, and even financial support. HACHIX takes advantage of these benefits, locating its office in the Nagoya Life Science Incubator building, which offers reasonable lease terms and advice of a resident advisor. 

Local support also includes a six-month training program teaching the basics of business, advice on business plans from experienced advisors, and regular events to connect with other international students and founders in the area. It’s not just that: placing headquarters in Nagoya helps distinguish from the slew of competitors in Tokyo, and also means it can benefit from a cost of living much lower than Japan’s biggest city.

NALIC Nagoya Life science Incubator, where HACHIX’s offices are located

Following on the national government’s launch of the so-called “startup visa” in 2020, local and regional governments all around Japan have bolstered support for university students and others who want to work at or found startups in Japan. With his strong connection to the study-abroad community, Cong Thanh caught on early and has been proactively hiring foreign talent. 15 of his 17 employees are non-Japanese, but many of them have been trained at one of the technical schools concentrated in the area, including Nagoya University and Nagoya Institute of Technology. Most recently, HACHIX welcomed a student intern studying at a Nagoya university from Côte d’Ivoire to help develop image recognition software.

Cong Thanh sits with a student intern working on improving image recognition as featured on the program Sekai ha Ima JETRO Global Eye

Now HACHIX is an international company. Despite the pandemic, Cong Thanh established the second branch of HACHIX in Vietnam in August 2021 as a base to expand into Southeast Asia. Though Cong Thanh has seen half of his founder cohorts close their businesses since launching the company, he knows that with skill and patience, he can keep HACHIX up and running. 

 “Management is like studying. You’re never done learning,” Cong Thanh says. “I think people should think for themselves and avoid depending on one company for their livelihood. You should identify the skillset you will need and work towards that. Sure, you could go to business school and get an MBA, but if you’re going there to study business, you might as well start up your own company. It’s cheaper, faster, and will give you valuable experience.”

He encourages more people to join him in Nagoya – especially young people who dream of creating or growing global businesses. “The traditional industry is full of older people so there is a lot of opportunity for young people to make a difference here in Central Japan.”

With HACHIX on a stable path, Cong Thanh hopes to take the time to plot out his vision for the company over the next 5 to 10 years. That is, making HACHIX a place where he, his customers and his team members can create exciting new solutions together.

Interviewee profile

Cong Thanh Nguyen

President and CEO, HACHIX(hachi-ex)


Cong Thanh first came to Japan in 2003 as a study abroad student in university. After completing graduate school in Central Japan, he entered the software development team of Brother Industries (Nagoya, Japan) in 2011. After almost 6 years there, he launched his own company HACHIX with co-founders and now develops AI tools for image recognition in the manufacturing setting, web systems, and automated guided vehicles.

To me, Nagoya City is

A melting pot of many different types of people

Personal motto

“Practice makes perfect” ( 継続は力なり )

“It’s your life, so make it worth it” One ex-banker’s words are spurring the next cohort of startup founders at Nagoya University

February 10th, 2023

Idea Stoa: Nagoya University Co-Creation Studio

Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that startup acceleration is no longer a private affair. Universities worldwide have been investing time and money in attracting and creating startups and the Central Japan region is no exception. While Tokyo University is well known outside of Japan, Nagoya University has been attracting attention with its aggressive startup support.

“Our ultimate KPI is how many unicorns we can support, but in the immediate future, we are focusing on widening our net of support to positively impact as many Toukai area university students and those in the Tongali community as possible,” Yukiko Konishi, Vice Director, Startup Promotion Office, Nagoya University explains. “We also get good feedback from those in the national government who’ve supported our programs with funding – they gave us a top rating of “S”.”

Yukiko Konishi, Vice Director, Startup Promotion Office, Nagoya University

And how. Since the start of a cross-regional effort called Tokai Network for Global Leading Innovation Platform (Tongali) in 2015, Nagoya University has shepherded many students to successfully launching companies. One prominent alumnus is Ken Matsushita, the CEO of Optimind, which raised roughly 1-billion-yen in Series-A funding from Toyota and others in 2019 and featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.

Recent startup success builds upon the university’s rich history of technical prowess.

“Nagoya University is a national university founded 150 years ago and is home to 6 Nobel Laureates” explains Yukiko. Nagoya’s Laureates contributed discoveries to the fields of chemistry and physics, including the industry-redefining invention of the blue LED.

Located in Aichi Prefecture, a manufacturing hub for the automobile industry and others, Nagoya University has historically been the training ground for many of the technical and other talent that drives local companies such as Toyota, Brother, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. But in the past few years, it has focused more and more on startup support.

Yukiko stands with colleagues in front of the National Innovation Complex, a research facility that houses private industry, academic researchers, and administrative agencies, at Nagoya University

In the university’s Startup Promotion Office, launched in June 2021, a 10-person staff helps students and professors make their dreams and ideas into reality. Yukiko brings a mix of knowledge and personal experience to her role as Vice Director – she knows a thing or two about pursuing your dreams. After 15 years at what was then Japan’s biggest bank, during which time she also supported her husband through the launch of his own business, Yukiko decided it was time for a change for herself. Taking her two daughters with her, she left the bank to study management in the U.S. and returned to Japan to earn a PhD in the same field.

“I believe in paying it forward,” says Yukiko. Her post-bank career speaks to that – since late 2014, she’s taught and supported students at multiple Japanese universities. But she found the opportunity of a lifetime at Nagoya University driving their startup program in 2019, then helping the launch of the Startup Promotion Office in June 2021. 

Since its creation, Nagoya University played a central role in Tongali, a regional startup support network made up of several universities around the Central Japan area. The network supports student and faculty startups, including those launched by international students, via mentoring, coworking spaces, funding, and entrepreneurship training.

Entrepreneurs and students show off their awards at the end of the 2021 Tongali Business Plan Contest, held at the Nagoya Noh Theater

Professors and students belonging to Nagoya University can leverage the research they’ve done at the university in ventures, apply for financial aid to advance the research and even receive a few months of intensive management training. “We think of the university as a greenhouse that helps founders until they’re ready to go out into the real world,” she explains.

Nagoya City and Aichi Prefecture are natural places for that. “The environment here welcomes challengers. It’s okay to fail – we have a safety net here so that experience can be leveraged into success,” she explains.

Founders in a Global Startup City such as Nagoya can rely on the national government for financial support in the first 5 years of launching their business. These Cities also offer a wide range of opportunities to pitch business concepts and gain the attention of potential funders and the media.

A Nagoya transplant herself, Yukiko says she finds it to be just the right amount of city. “There’s almost none of the stress of commute you’d find in bigger cities. Rent is cheap and, for those with children, the level of education is high.” Yukiko sometimes reflects on her experience supporting her husband in starting his business.

“When my husband came to me at 36 years old and said he wanted to quit his job to start his own company, I encouraged him, telling him ‘You only live once, so make it worth it.’ We took on the risk as a team despite having two children to support. Now he’s successful and well-known in his field,” says Yukiko. Surely, her philosophy of supporting risk takers, not to mention taking risks for her own career rewards, made her the perfect person to bring Nagoya University to the next level of startup acceleration.

“Personally, I think our university is different from any in Japan. Ours is open to the outside world. Students from other universities participating in the Tongali project can feel at ease here, as if it were their home campus. That’s exactly what we envisioned. We hope to build big things together.”

Interviewee profile

Yukiko Konishi

Vice Director, Startup Promotion Office, Nagoya University


Raised in Osaka, Japan, Yukiko always dreamed of joining a big company and devoting herself to her career. Rather than a 2-year college, which was standard for women at the time, she went to a 4-year university, graduating with a bachelor’s in economics from Osaka University. She then joined Japan’s largest bank at the time, now Mizuho Bank. After working almost 16 years there while raising two daughters, Yukiko earned a master’s degree at Waseda University, during which time she studied in the U.S. twice before joining the academic field, teaching at universities in and outside of Japan. She joined Nagoya University in 2019.

To me, Nagoya City is

a place to challenge yourself and pursue your dreams

Personal motto

Pay it forward

Racing royalty Keiko Ihara creates a micromobility solution for the people because, “you only live once”

February 10th, 2023

Future, Inc. founder Keiko Ihara (in red) and CMO Tomoko Sakata (in pink) show off electric trikes designed to improve micromobility, at a promotional event in Ena City, Gifu Prefecture

You might imagine that most in Japan live in dense urban cores – walking from their homes to the supermarket, taking a train to anywhere a little far away. While that might be true in Japan’s major cities, it’s often not so in regional urban centers. In places like Shizuoka City and Kasugai City in Central Japan, it’s not uncommon for people to rely on buses, taxis and bicycles to reach even the closest supermarket or convenience store. But the pandemic drew attention to the risks of public transportation, where social distance is hard to achieve.

That’s where race-queen-turned-champion and car lover Keiko Ihara stepped in. In Kasugai City, she saw that local businesses were suffering as people followed Stay Home orders. They had to make a choice between getting on crowded public transport to visit their usual spots or staying at home and staying safe. After stepping back from her career in racing, contributing to causes like women in motorsports along the way, she was ready for her next challenge. COVID-19 made the social need for safe and flexible transportation even more obvious.

Competing in her first international race in 1999 and first ever global endurance race in 2012, over the years, Keiko has contributed to global racing teams’ results the world over. She realized she needed to focus on the opposite of racing: optimizing safe travel at shorter distances – in other words, micromobility.

Keiko’s experience contributing to the design and development of automobiles for global manufacturers also gave her a sense of what the task involved. She put her team together from her automobile industry network and they developed a lightweight electric-powered trike in rapid time.

The Gogo! electric trike was inspired by lightweight and efficient forms of the past.

The first trike developed was named Gogo! S, and featured two wheels in the front and one in the rear with a well-hidden battery placed to maximize stability. Travelling up to 50km on one charge, one could easily get a day’s errands done with just the trike. As you might imagine, the suspension isn’t just your run-of-the-mill variety – the multi-link suspension is currently patent pending. The trike also contributes to reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional scooters. In fact, its battery only costs about 10 yen to fill up – just one-tenth the cost to run a scooter the same distance.

In June 2021, the trike ventured into society for the first time, when a hub was created in Kasugai City. A partnership with NTT Docomo allowed Future to leverage NTT’s sharing platform device, which includes an electronic lock and Wi-Fi to connect to the cloud system managing the shared resource. Future now offers 5 types of electric trike and one fat-tired electric bicycle designed for sports and regular use.

The trikes have already been tested widely across Japan. Projects in Tokyo and Kasugai City, Aichi Prefecture offer the trikes to residents and visitors along with the accompanying app. Without leaving the app, riders can track their trip on the trike, check out tourist information, and plan the next place to go. For Kasugai City, Future took the app one step further, adding functions that assist food delivery drivers, make reservations at stores and restaurants, and offer coupons and local information. Future calls this the “servitization of shared mobility.”

The trikes have even gone as far as Okinawa, where users can hop on after just scanning their credit card and driver’s license in-app to zip to beautiful beaches and lovely cafes.

Future’s trikes have trekked all over Japan

Like many other mobility-focused startups, Future got its start in Central Japan, home to automobile industry hub Nagoya Prefecture and manufacturing hub Mie Prefecture. Keiko spent time as a child and, later, as a racer in Aichi Prefecture. Future’s development lab is located just a 6-minute car ride from world-famous Suzuka Circuit, where Keiko burned rubber on her way to stardom.

“To me, Aichi Prefecture is the center of Japan,” Keiko explained in a video interview from her home in Kasugai City. Behind her, a multitude of trophies sparkled around her head, as if reconfirming her status as royalty in racing.

While it might seem that success came to her easily, that’s not the case. After Keiko decided that fateful day to try racing herself, she also was convinced that Japan, even with its rich racing history, was not the place to establish herself due to the boy’s club atmosphere in the industry. So Keiko left Japan to train in Europe, then competing in races all around the world.

“I am a challenger,” Keiko explains. Like many successful entrepreneurs, she is goal oriented and works tirelessly for success. But building a company doesn’t come without setbacks. For her, endurance racing isn’t far off from entrepreneurship. “Sometimes, when you’re not in good shape, you just need to eat and sleep it off. Then you get back on the track. Act like an athlete.” Keiko explains. “That, and you need a good support team.”

Inside Future’s assembly plant in Nagoya where electric trikes wait to be deployed across Japan

Central Japan is Future’s support team, of sorts. Future located its assembly plant in Nagoya City, a major city in Central Japan. “It’s got a great supply chain because manufacturing is the lifeblood of industry here,” Keiko explains. There is also a steady supply of talent with automobile-related experience, who she can bring on flexibly to help with increased demand. But the region does need a new type of talent, she says. “We need those who can create and maintain digital communication tools. These are the heart of digital mobility.”

What does Keiko Ihara, who raced in countries around the world, think about where to start a business in Japan? “You can launch your business anywhere. And actually, I’ve never thought of Tokyo as being more advantageous than here,” Keiko says. “It’s more important to find something you like and pursue that. After all, how will you endure the ups and downs of entrepreneurship if you don’t like what you do?”

Interviewee profile

Keiko Ihara

Founder and CEO, Future, Inc.


Keiko grew up in Aichi Prefecture, home to the giants of the automobile industry. After seeing racing up close as a race queen, she decided to become a racer herself. Moving abroad to study, she embarked on a nearly 20-year career in racing, winning multiple races around the world, including her history-making round win at the Asian Le Mans Series in 2014. With her career as a racer coming to a close, Keiko contributes to Nissan Motor Corporation as an independent outside director contributing to improvement in governance. The pandemic inspired her to found Future in October 2020, where she is currently expanding its business and areas of service across Japan.

To me, Nagoya City and Aichi Prefecture are

“The center of Japan.”

Personal motto

“You only live once”

Meet the ex-student council president future-proofing Central Japan’s manufacturing industry with 3D point cloud technology

February 10th, 2023

Go Fukino works at the LINKWIZ office in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

“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.

LINKWIZ’s L-QUALIFY system pictured here can automate various inspection processes.

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.

LINKWIZ’s custom-built office has ample space for testing and development on the first floor, with an office space and eating space on the second so employees are never far from the shopfloor.

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 stands next to the mayor of Hamamatsu City, Yasutomo Suzuki (seated), and Minister for Digital Transformation, Takuya Hirai (also seated; left to right), at the Hirai Pitch contest held in the LINKWIZ offices

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.”

Entrepreneurs gather at an event in Central Japan

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.

Interviewee profile

Go Fukino

Founder and CEO, LINKWIZ


Born in Chiba Prefecture, then raised in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture. After graduating from university in Canada and working in the USA, Go returned to Hamamatsu, Shizuoka to live near his family, launching LINKWIZ in the same year his daughter was born, 2015.

To me, Hamamatsu City is

An incubator of global business

Personal motto

In the future, I want to make a standard solution for global issues. That means Japanese manufacturing is back.

Bringing the farm inside: how one transplant is breathing life into the walls of Hamamatsu City and beyond

February 10th, 2023

Deshang Wu appears on local television in front of a vertical planter he designed and produced

Deshang Wu grew up in a village in Shandong Province, China where his parents ran a farm for the first half of his childhood, and then, a plastic pellet factory. At the time, Deshang wanted to be a politician, and with his outgoing and warm personality and dedication to hard work, he could have been one. But he realized early that politics wasn’t for him, instead applying his skills to a side job of selling various goods in a stall on nights and weekends during university.

So how did Deshang find himself bringing green to the walls of a small city in Central Japan?

His journey to Hamatsu City started off with learning mechanical engineering at a university in Fukui Prefecture, which led him to join the automobile manufacturer Suzuki, headquartered in Hamamatsu City. There, he got a crash course in manufacturing 101: jigs, materials, molds, CAD, and prototypes.

Maranatha staff install a vertical planter in an office

Deshang discovered his mission to “Bring people to life with greenery” during the pandemic. Even in a place like Hamamatsu City that is surrounded by nature, Deshang noticed people were stressed due to stay-at home policies. He had also heard that local strawberry farmers, who relied on revenue from self-pick businesses, were hurting because customers were avoiding greenhouses. With everyone cooped up inside and farmers losing income, Deshang decided to bring the outdoors in.

Hamamatsu City is an oasis for those with vision and dedication to hard work, and Deshang had both. 

In September 2020, Deshang left Suzuki and started his own business. Applying his knowledge of agriculture, manufacturing and plastics, Deshang worked with local farmers to create prototypes and select plants. Then, he worked with his family to connect to manufacturers in China.

After trial and error, Deshang’s first product was a mobile three-dimensional cultivation planter system that made it possible to grow strawberries and other produce in a wide variety of places, situations and shapes.

At Maranatha, each product is custom-designed and produced for the customer’s needs

Not many startups achieve success with their first product, but Deshang found ample support in Hamamatsu.  His first prototype was selected for demo in a park managed by the city office. Deshang didn’t think he’d be able to secure business so quickly from government because of how young his business was, and well, frankly because he wasn’t a local. But none of that mattered – they judged his application by the quality of his proposal.

Deshang meets with Mayor Yasutomo Suzuki of Hamamatsu City

In February 2021, Deshang tried his luck at getting a meeting with the mayor of Hamamatsu City, who is well-known by residents for his passion for supporting local entrepreneurs. The mayor agreed, and, to Deshang’s surprise, he even took off his mask to taste test one of the hydroponic strawberries right in the meeting room. “Delicious,” the mayor said, with a smile.

Now, Deshang’s business is growing with local support from the start-up community in Hamamatsu, which was recently recognized by the national government as an important hub for innovation in Central Japan. With the support of JETRO, a Japanese trade and investment organization, he’s turning his eyes abroad to Singapore and the Middle East, where space and resource limitations make maintaining outdoor greenspace a challenge.

But his base is still solidly in Hamamatsu City. Deshang says that sometimes he forgets he’s not from there. “I’ll walk into a cafe and see a non-Japanese and think ‘Oh, they’re not from here,’ but I’ve forgotten – neither am I!” Hamamatsu is home to people from more than 90 different countries and areas, so it’s not surprising.

Deshang participated in Hamamatsu Startup Weekend sharing his business ideas

“Everyone is welcome in Hamamatsu. People who are open-minded, people who want to do something different, people who may be a little strange. I also want those who live in big cities to try living here. Come and visit like you’re visiting your childhood home,” Deshang says. 

Deshang welcomes current founders and future founders. “If you’re thinking about starting your own business, take the plunge. You might succeed or, realistically, you might even fail. But it’s important to challenge yourself and do what you enjoy,” he says. “I focus on creating happy, relaxed environments, and that applies to my company as well. We don’t work until 10pm every day.” When he’s not working on his start up, Deshang loves to roast coffee and serve it at local events – just another way to spread happiness.

In the future, Deshang plans by sharing business ideas and trends between Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and China to develop even more products that bring happiness to the world. From his first product inspired by Central Japan strawberries to connecting the region, Deshang is focused on running the virtuous cycle in ever wider arcs.

Interviewee profile

Deshang Wu

CEO, Maranatha


After coming to Japan from China for university, Deshang Wu joined the automaker Suzuki as a new graduate and worked on designing jigs for manufacturing. In fall 2020, Deshang struck out on his own to set up his own company, Maranatha, which promises to “bring people to life with greenery.”

To me, Hamamatsu City is

“やらまいか” (yaramaika) Yaramaika means “why don’t we?” in the local Shizuoka dialect. It reflects the region’s culture of taking on new endeavors and trying new things, even if challenging.

Personal motto

Actions speak louder than words.

From personal passion to revolutionizing amateur sports: how one windsurfer found his problem-solution fit in the “metropolis of wind and water”

February 10th, 2023

Hiroyuki Doi windsurfs off the coast of Japan

Those of us who have played amateur sports know what a struggle it is to improve our performance. Take soccer. During play, a coach might glance at a given player only once every few minutes. So most athletes have to rely on limited material – partial and generalized advice and a vague sense – when considering what to work on. It’s even worse for those training uncoached. 

Windsurfing, for example, is an individual sport where most amateur athletes practice uncoached even though a moment’s reaction can mean the difference between surging forward and plunging into the water. Windsurfers in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture rely on fellow windsurfers and gather around post-practice meals to hold lively video reviews. In 2002 Hiroyuki Doi, a software programmer, joined this community to blow off steam built up during the week. This choice would change the tack of his life.

Hiroyuki loved windsurfing. It lit up something inside him that his job just didn’t. Thinking “it’s now or never,” Hiroyuki took the plunge and quit his job to go to the world’s windsurfing paradise – Australia – for a year. It would be the perfect place to train for the amateur windsurfing championships. 

Once there he discovered that it wasn’t just the sport of windsurfing that lit him up, but the support of his community in Hamamatsu. So he moved back to Japan, this time more determined than ever to enjoy every day of the week, not just the weekend.

After brainstorming more than 100 seed ideas while he raised money, Hiroyuki found his answer: helping amateur athletes improve their performance by making video-based sports analysis available cheaply and with minimal technological investment. This wasn’t common for those outside the pro sports.

In 2011, Hiroyuki launched SPLYZA with two co-founders in the same Hamamatsu where he first fell in love with windsurfing. The company released its first product in 2014 and built on that experience to develop different apps at a rapid pace, resulting in a Microsoft Innovation Award in 2015 for the Clipstro app, which automatically creates strobe-motion video from regular smartphone video. Despite the slow start, the co-founders learned important lessons about the importance of gaining input and buy-in from their potential customers before launching a product.

SPLYZA’s technology identifies the movements of individual players on the field

But the big insight that really set off SPLYZA’s growth was that team sports videos should be viewable by the whole team. Coaches complained they didn’t have enough time to look at each athlete’s video, so taking advantage of the tablets and smartphones now penetrating local classrooms, in 2017 SPLYZA made it possible for the athletes to view themselves. By repeatedly readjusting problem-solution fit, SPLYZA was able to find a way into digitizing a highly human-dependent task.

SPLYZA now employs 46 people and its software has been used by over 700 teams and in 800 educational institutions, across over 30 types of sports. It maintains 6 apps on the App Store, including SPLYZA Motion, an app that uses AI to track a person’s motion without markers. It proactively hires from within and outside of Japan, having employed engineers from 9 different countries. With a capable team supporting him, Hiroyuki can now leave the programming to his technical team and focus on what he loves to do, lead.

Hiroyuki poses at SPLYZA’s office in Hamamatsu City

But it’s not just his team that’s contributed to SPLYZA’s success, says Hiroyuki. “I don’t think I could have done it without Hamamatsu City.” Located in Central Japan a couple of stops away from Tokyo to the East and Osaka to the West, Hamamatsu is not just a haven for windsurfers. It also is home to a large group of serious amateur youth soccer teams – the target user that gave SPLYZA velocity. 

SPLYZA benefitted from Hamamatsu’s low running costs during its long gestation period, though Hiroyuki admits his best advice is to launch your first product as soon as possible. When you can’t do that, you need to keep costs as low as possible until the business starts earning enough revenue, he explains. 

For example, rent for SPLYZA’s office costs about one-tenth of the price of a comparable property in Tokyo. Running costs are also a big concern for those starting a business while raising a family. In the early years especially, and even now, Hiroyuki said it helps to be based outside of Tokyo because it’s easier to stand out in the eyes of investors and the media.

As Hiroyuki looks to the future, he is committed to his original mission: do something that excites him every day of the week. While management isn’t easy, he acknowledges that without struggle there is no growth. Needless to say, it’s far more exciting than his first job out of college. At SPLYZA, he is committed to exciting his employees and his customers. Surely, a failproof strategy.

Interviewee profile

Copyright (c) TEDxHamamatsu. All rights reserved.

Hiroyuki Doi

Co-Founder and CEO, SPLYZA


Hiroyuki grew up in the Kanto region of Japan and, after graduating from Doshisha University, moved to Hamamatsu City for a software engineering job in the computer-aided testing field. At 30, he left his job to windsurf for a year in Australia where he was inspired to start up his own business. After ideating more than 100 seed ideas, he landed on what would be SPLYZA’s core competency and has worked to develop new products and grow the company since.

To me, Hamamatsu City is

A metropolis of wind and water

Personal motto

Do something you enjoy every day of the week