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The 23rd annual Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC) was won by the five-strong Team Kokorozashi, which loosely means “aspirations.” Nevertheless, all 65 people who took part in this year’s contest emerged with new understanding of and skills for the world of international business.

The awards ceremony was held at Tokyo American Club on July 7, with 13 teams from widely differing backgrounds vying for top honors.

Started in 1993 by the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan and supported by 18 foreign chambers of commerce, JMEC is a training program in which participants attend a series of lectures and then work in teams to draw up a business plan for a real product or service in the Japanese marketplace.

“Team members have given up a lot over the past five months, including a social life, family, friends, and sleep,” said Tom Whitson, JMEC chairman and a former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ). “But I would hope that all of them would say that JMEC 23 has been a valuable learning experience, and that the camaraderie they have developed has made it worth all the effort and sacrifice.”

The business plans put forward by the 13 teams were judged by a panel of three experienced businesspeople: Deborah Hayden, regional director for Edelman Japan; Georg Looer, president and representative director of NRW Japan KK; and Rike Wootten, president of KK Gotairiku Partners.

Wootten said that judging the entries had, again, been a difficult task. The top three business plans scored within 2.5 percentage points of each other.

The announcements began with three special recognition awards. Team Fox won the Best Presentation Award, Team Foo! earned the Out-of-the-Box Thinking/Lightbulb prize, and the Lucky Sevens received the award for Kanto-Sho Fighting Spirit.

Moving on to the main awards: third place went to Team Saber, made up of Murod Ismailov, Haruka Iwata, Luiz Fernando Olimpio, Keiko Ono, and Ryota Sawada for a project plan for the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Japan (SCCJ). Mentored by Patrick Laudon, executive coach for LifeCrack LLC, and with Miriam Embury, board advisor and consultant for Miriam Mulcahy Consulting, serving as their consultant, the team each won a stylish Tausche bag and tickets to an ACCJ “nomu-nication” event.

Second place went to Team Spectacular—Saya Matsumoto, Masanori Nishijima, Matthew Passmore, and Yoko Sato—for a market entry plan for Dublin, Ireland-based DOCOsoft, an innovative developer of claims management, document management, and workflow software solutions. Ernie Olsen, managing partner for OCC KK, acted as the team consultant and Verna Holder, an actuary and independent consultant, served as the participants’ mentor. The team each won a Hewlett Packard EliteBook Folio G1 business laptop.

First place went to Masato Fukuda, Leonard Le, Eisuke Shiga, Rieko Whitfield, and Mai Yamamura of Team Kokorozashi for a potential new personalized nutrition project for Royal DSM, a global science-based company active in health, nutrition, and materials, headquartered in the Netherlands. The team was mentored by Yvonne Gerritsen, an independent professional consultant, while Jussi Salmela, an independent healthcare professional, acted as consultant.

Members of the first- and second-place teams received one-year ACCJ memberships, and vouchers for ACCJ events went to the first- and third-place finishers.

Speaking to The Journal after accepting the award, Whitfield, a visual communications specialist for the ACCJ, said she has always had plenty of ideas that could help a business, “but I always lacked the skills to put those concepts into practice. I have already taken a lot from the whole program.”

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Julian Ryall is Japan correspondent for The Daily Telegraph