Brian Lim on Accelerator Success Markers, What’s Ahead for Osaka’s Startup Ecosystem, and More
“For us, success looks like a PoC which was successfully completed between the startup and our corporate partner.”
Japan’s startup ecosystem is increasingly garnering international attention as an attractive option for entrepreneurs and startups—due in part to success-generating accelerator programs like Startupbootcamp Scale Osaka.
To take a closer look at this aspect of Japan’s startup scene, we interviewed Brian Lim, who generously shared insights on the challenges founders face as they deal with “accelerator fatigue,” how he approaches success metrics while running Scale Osaka’s accelerator program, and much more.
Hello, Brian! So glad you’re here with us today. Can you tell us a little about yourself, your personal background, and your career?
BRIAN LIM: I am Brian, originally from Malaysia, and I am now leading our Rainmaking team in Japan. Throughout my career, I have always worked in tech, albeit in various capacities and roles. I started my career with Intel in Malaysia where I learned about the intricacies of the tiny chips that power our smartphones and laptops, before helping to lead various project teams at Rainmaking in Malaysia and Singapore where I worked with large corporations and mature startups. I then left to join a startup—FastJobs—which is a non-executive recruitment platform as their Head of Growth & Operations, before deciding to return to Rainmaking to lead the team in Japan earlier this year.
Currently, you’re Japan Country Manager for Rainmaking, Startupbootcamp’s parent company. We’d love to hear about Rainmaking and the program(s) currently in session/about to launch at Startupbootcamp Osaka.
LIM: At Rainmaking, we believe in co-creating tangible business results through innovation. We mainly do this in a few formats:
—Through Startupbootcamp Scale Osaka, we help large corporations to partner with mature startups to run Proof-of-Concepts (PoCs) which are focused on achieving commercial outcomes. We have just completed Selection Days for the Startupbootcamp Scale Osaka program this year, and we will be announcing the Top 10 shortly. Stay tuned for this announcement!
—We also help government entities such as JETRO and the Ministry of SMEs & Startups in South Korea to help startups expand to new markets through mentorship and creation of business development opportunities. These market expansion programs often leverage the global Rainmaking network to secure expert meetings and sales conversations which would give a head start to startups before they expand to new markets.
—We operate Rainmaking Venture Studios in Singapore, London, Copenhagen, and the Middle East where we help corporations create new ventures which could generate new revenue streams in the future.
What’s a day-in-the-life like for you in your role as Country Manager? What do you find most challenging about your job + what do you love most about your job?
LIM: As you can imagine, being a Country Manager requires me to wear multiple hats during a day, with the main goal of maximising the performance of all our members in the Rainmaking Japan team and ensuring all our stakeholders, such as corporate partners and startups are well taken care of. Activities could range from participating in partner meetings to meeting prospective partners, leading internal team meetings to ensure project delivery is on track and interviewing / hiring future team members.
I find time management and prioritisation as some of the most challenging aspects of the role as there is always more to do, but I love that I am able to create impact with the corporate partners and the startups that I work with. If we are successful, it often means that a startup has successfully entered the Japanese market with our help or that we have created some tangible business outcomes for our corporate partners which may not have happened without our involvement.
Let’s do some myth-busting! What are some common misconceptions that entrepreneurs have about accelerator programs in general, and also specifically regarding your accelerator program?
LIM: In general, I think there is a bit of 'accelerator fatigue' among founders and entrepreneurs. There are plenty of accelerator programs out there, and sometimes it is quite hard for entrepreneurs to differentiate between one program and another. Most founders would also have 'battle scars' from having joined other accelerator programs which may have overpromised and underdelivered in the past. Accelerator programs are also often perceived as being only for early-stage startups.
For the Startupbootcamp Scale Osaka program, we differentiate ourselves in a few ways - namely that we are a fee-free and equity-free program which means that we do not take any fees nor equity from the startups that participate in our program. This frees us from potential conflicts of interest and allows us to select only the best startups which fit into our program themes.
Besides that, we are a PoC-centric program, which means that for us, success looks like a PoC which was successfully completed between the startup and our corporate partner. This allows us to drive commercial outcomes together, and ease the Japan market entry process for the startups which have joined our program.
I have personally jumped on quite a few calls with founders this year who initially thought we were just another accelerator program, and then changed their minds and applied for the program after understanding the structure of our program and how we measure success.
Anything new on the horizon that you’re excited about—either in regards to Osaka Startupbootcamp or about the startup industry in Japan or specifically in Osaka?
LIM: For our Startupbootcamp Scale Osaka program, interestingly we have noticed a trend where we have seen a steady increase in applications from more mature, well-funded startups. It proves that startups from around the world are excited to be a part of the growth story for Japan, with > 1000 applications received over the past 3 years for our Startupbootcamp program. We believe that these startups have identified the need to expand internationally and diversify revenue streams, and Japan remains a really attractive market for them.
In Osaka, there are a few exciting developments which are in the pipeline, such as the completion of the Umekita area by 2024 and the World EXPO happening in 2025. We also expect to see an increased focus by government agencies and companies to promote innovation activities and stimulate more business growth in Osaka. We firmly believe that startups, technology and business model innovation will underpin these developments, and we are excited to continue working with partners such as Hankyu Hanshin and Mitsubishi Electric to accelerate the growth of the innovation ecosystem in Osaka and Japan.
What questions have we not asked you that we should have?
LIM: One question that I would have loved to see—because I am always curious about what content others are consuming would be, “What 2-3 books / articles / podcasts would you recommend?”
Some of these below would be my recommendations.
The Knowledge Project—Fantastic for understanding mental models from experts in their respective fields.
The Athletic Football Tactics Podcast—I am football-mad, so it's always interesting to hear what other experts are thinking about in the beautiful game.
Becoming by Michelle Obama—Her journey as an individual and the immense role she played in her family and in Barack Obama’s presidency is really inspiring.
The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin—One of the best sci-fi books I have read, hands down.
To close, where can people connect with you? Where would you like to be found?
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