The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

On June 7 at the Tokyo American Club, months of rigorous preparation officially came to a close for participants in the 22nd annual Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC).

JMEC, which is backed by corporate sponsors and 18 foreign chambers of commerce—including the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ)—provides support and incentive for aspiring business innovators to produce real-life business plans for companies in or entering the Japanese market. This year’s competition saw 58 participants across 12 teams plan and present their ideas to JMEC judges Rike Wootten, Debbie Howard, and Georg Loeer.

Tensions were high as JMEC chair Tom Whitson announced the winners to a packed house. “How many of you have given up sleep?” Whitson quipped, referring to the grueling seven-month process, which includes lectures, mentoring, and five months spent preparing a business plan on topics typically not familiar to participants.

The Journal spoke to Cory McGowan and Satoshi Ohashi, members of “Team A,” which won first prize with a potential new venture project for Fusion Systems, as well as Whitson and program director Trond Varlid.

What was the greatest challenge?
McGowan: For me, it was being so close to the deadline and not feeling like we had something solid yet. It was just so down to the wire. But that’s when we came together as a team, and that’s when our mentor and consultant really were a huge help to us.

Describe your final presentation to the judges?
McGowan: The company name that we came up with had “agent” in it, so we played on that. We were kind of like spies or secret agents, so the presentation was based on us having a debriefing with the judges—top secret—about this plan. We had some fake videos related to the secret agent organization as well. It was really fun!

What are the benefits that come from JMEC?
Ohashi: Of course I learned a lot of business skills. And I learned English! Also, most importantly, it’s a good opportunity to meet members. We will meet each other in the future and maybe help each other.

Varlid: For the participants, I would particularly say it’s the hands-on experience they get from doing the program— which partly comes from the fact that all the lecturers are experienced business executives here in Tokyo—and from doing projects for real companies who submit business plan projects to JMEC.

Whitson: The chambers also get access for their smaller company members. They have access to project clients. For ¥1.2 million you can get a really good business plan.

Likewise, companies who maybe don’t have a well-developed training program for middle managers can send staff through the JMEC program. Hewlett Packard has been amazing. They have sent 40 or 50 people through our program at the middle-management level. And some of these guys are really up there now.

How do project clients benefit from JMEC?
Varlid: We actually have various types of clients, some are companies that are not [yet] in Japan, who are using JMEC teams to analyze and research the market. This year six of the projects are market entry. So, for those companies, it’s a great opportunity to get to know the market—what the challenges are and how they could potentially enter it.

Another group of clients are companies that are already in Japan. They usually use the program for new products or services, or to get new ideas for their existing business to grow further. For them, the out-of-the-box thinking that comes out of the JMEC program is a major attraction.

What is the big takeaway of JMEC 22?
Whitson: We had a good year, some really interesting projects. We had some really challenging projects, like regenerative biology. That team, which included a food and beverage person from a hospitality company, had to figure out what the heck “regenerative biology” is! They really expanded their consciousness, and that’s the beautiful thing about JMEC.

Thomas Beecher is a freelance writer from Australia currently living in Tokyo.
They really expanded their consciousness, and that’s the beautiful thing about JMEC.