I spent an enlightening week in Tokyo earlier this month participating in the Kauffman Fellows Japan Summit. This summit was the brainchild of three visionary Kauffman Fellows who are on a mission to instill entrepreneurship into the Japanese culture. During the three days we heard about the current (dismal) status of venture capital and entrepreneurial success in Japan—especially in the life sciences—in contrast to the unbelievable track record of Japanese engineering and precision manufacturing, as well as the country’s output of patents, which rivals that of the U.S.
Walking around Tokyo and interacting with the many smart minds at the summit, I had to scratch my head—at first blush, the ingredients of great entrepreneurship in life sciences are there. But why is there no soup? One of the most staggering statistics presented at the meeting was that just $200M was invested in local life science companies in 2008, with one pharma spin-out venture taking half the total!
And then it started to sink in how privileged we are in the Boston area, where the next successful or aspiring entrepreneur, scientist, engineer, venture capitalist, IP or venture lawyer, skilled technician, teaching hospital, pharmaceutical company, or device company is just a door away. We are steeped in this culture of entrepreneurship and have been so for many years now. This Boston life science ecotope is as unique as Silicon Valley is for the techies, and it behooves us to make sure we take full advantage of this incredible competitive edge.
People outside of our unique Boston ecotope understand how powerful our “soup” is—Japanese investors searching for attractive opportunities in private equity and venture capital are looking first to the U.S., then checking out Europe and China, only to search their own home market last. How discouraging that must be for the few life sciences pioneers in Japan! I will make it a habit now to remind folks in our industry, as well as local government officials, that we should cherish what we have and work hard to keep things intact and healthy.