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Each year, participants in the Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC) put hundreds of hours into crafting their business plans, vying for the coveted top spot in the “mini MBA program” that has propelled many aspiring and existing leaders, and entrepreneurs to business success. On June 6, at a gala event at Tokyo American Club, the winners of the 24th annual competition were announced.

Supported by 18 foreign chambers of commerce in Japan, JMEC was started by the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan in 1993. This year, 61 participants from around the world attended a series of lectures and then prepared business plans to help products and services enter the Japanese market.

The presentations were evaluated by a panel of three judges: Deborah Hayden, regional director at Edelman Japan; Georg Loeer, president and representative director at NRW Japan KK; and Rike Wootten, president of KK Gotairiku Partners. Wootten said that he was impressed by the broad range of ideas and how the teams had mastered their subject matter. “This year, the plans were quite diverse, and the team members working on the plans often had no idea about the industry they needed to become experts in. When we read the final plans and saw the presentations, we were amazed at how well they did.” He added that the top three teams were separated by just 6 percent.

First prize went to Team 5, comprising Matthew Kish, Vazquez Lazaro, Midori Sato, Yutaro Nishibori, and Fong Nei Chan. The team’s mentor was Fabrizio Mura, deputy general manager for the EU–Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation, while Brian Burns of cloud infrastructure company HashiCorp served as consultant. The team presented a business plan for Cortus, a French semiconductor company. Each member won a ticket to Europe on Finnair, as well as a one-year membership of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) and vouchers for ACCJ events.

Team 2 took second prize for their market entry plan on be­half of CGI KK, a Japan-based company that supports quality management systems for clinical laboratories. Team members Wei Li, King Chan, Yoshiko Oda, Minako Okumura, and Kumi Matsunobu were mentored by Terry White, country manager for Kyäni Japan, while Ernie Olsen, managing partner for OCC K.K. was the consultant. The team won Hewlett-Packard EliteBook Folio G1 business laptops and one-year memberships of the ACCJ.

A presentation for DSM Japan Engineering Plastics KK netted third prize for Team 13, and was notable for two reasons: they were the smallest team with only three members—Bastian Lidzba, Nagisa Nakamura, and Kaoru Kubota—and one of their members had to miss her team’s presentation because she was giving birth. Their mentor was Mitsuhiro Honda, formerly of Hewlett-Packard Japan, Ltd., and actuary and independent consultant Verna Holder was the team’s consultant. Each member took home Bree satchels and tickets to one of the ACCJ’s “nomu-nication” events.

Speaking to The ACCJ Journal after winning first prize, Kish, who is currently an English teacher, said: “For me, JMEC was a great way to benchmark my business skills against other people who are working at really good companies in Tokyo and to see how I compare and fit in. It was a great learning experience.”

Alec Jordan is a staff writer at Custom Media for The ACCJ Journal.