THE STRAITS TIMES-LE MONDE SMART CITIES SPECIAL - THE RISE OF SMART CITIES

Fukuoka 'ticks all the right boxes' for investors

Mr Steven Liew and his wife, Ms Devin Tan, launched their company Cosmic Cafe in Fukuoka in January, with the goal of helping other entrepreneurs turn their visions into successful companies.
Mr Steven Liew and his wife, Ms Devin Tan, launched their company Cosmic Cafe in Fukuoka in January, with the goal of helping other entrepreneurs turn their visions into successful companies.PHOTO: COURTESY OF STEVEN LIEW

TOKYO • Fukuoka, which in 2014 was designated as a national strategic zone for start-ups, has rolled out an ecosystem to help budding entrepreneurs - local and foreign - get their feet off the ground.

The support was what attracted Singaporean angel investors Steven Liew, 49, and Devin Tan, 48, to launch their company Cosmic Cafe in Fukuoka in January, with the goal of helping other entrepreneurs turn their visions into successful companies.

They do not speak Japanese, but Fukuoka, Mr Liew said, "ticked all the right boxes" when they decided to expand into north-east Asia for better exposure to more deals in the region.

"Fukuoka is an affordable city with a nice climate, good food, clean air, safe environment and proximity to the outdoors without having to fly," he said. "But what clinched the deal for us was really Fukuoka City Hall's very open attitude towards foreign entrepreneurs."

The husband-and-wife team was previously doing similar private investments and start-up advisory work in Singapore, and counted among its clients Expedia's vacation and short-term rental arm HomeAway, and ride-hailing service Grab.

Their role, Mr Liew said, is to "work with founders to develop their product, business plan, build the founding team, open doors for them, secure regulatory approvals, develop partners and even customers".

"We also work with founders to raise funds if they are in the market to raise money. In some cases, we will also invest a small amount of money in the start-ups to give them the leg-up they need."

When asked about Japan's purportedly latent entrepreneurial drive, Mr Liew said the duo have seen "extremes of the age spectrum" among budding entrepreneurs in their five months in Fukuoka so far - from undergraduates thinking of dropping out of school to retirees exploring a new venture after their corporate jobs.

He said: "Our hypothesis is that things are changing. Society has realised that it can't be resting on its laurels."

Walter Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2017, with the headline 'Fukuoka 'ticks all the right boxes' for investors'. Print Edition | Subscribe