NEDO Director General of Policy Planning and Coordination Department, METI

Innovation Strategy and NEDO
No. 2: Towards the Implementation of Innovation (1)

The 3rd "Innovation Japan"

This year Innovation Japan was held at Tokyo Forum from September 13th. As this was its third year, and with more and more participants each year, there were 366 universities and institutions and about 40,000 individual participants involved.

Professor Harayama has also noted in a DND site article that the Academia- Industry-Government Collaboration Promotion Council held in Kyoto earlier this year has both qualitatively and quantitatively changed. With Innovation Japan taking root, these changes indicate that academia-industry cooperation is becoming quite common in our country. As one involved in founding this project, and as one of the present organizers, I am overcome with deep emotions.

Guiding Towards an Exit

Innovation Japan originated one day three years ago when a professor came to visit me when I was Director of the University Cooperation Promotion Division of METI. It was Professor Katsumori Matsushima of the Tokyo University Graduate School of Engineering, who was the head of the Cabinet's "Move Japan" Project. Through this project Prof. Matsushima already had an insight into what was most lacking in Japan's academia-industry cooperation. The "Move Japan" Project, headed by Hiroshi Komiyama, now President of the University of Tokyo (then Dean of the Graduate School of Engineering), scrupulously showed that the seeds of innovation were germinating in universities. "Now that we know there are quite promising seeds germinating, the next issue is how to provide an exit for them" was Prof. Matsushima's line of thought when he came to consult me. His proposal was "Let's provide a large-scale 'matching event' for the university and industrial sectors."

The core events for academia-industry cooperation are the Academia- Industry-Government Collaboration Summit, which was masterminded by Finance Minister Koji Omi, and the Academia-Industry-Government Collaboration Promotion Council. These events were epoch-making from their inauguration, serving an important function of promoting academia-industry cooperation and having it widely recognized. They had the effect of altering the way of thinking of top officials in academia and industry, and were most effective in spreading the network of those responsible for academia-industry cooperation. On the other hand, they were not designed to convey the concrete results of university research for the startup of new enterprises. This is why Prof. Matsushima came up with the idea of a matching event for university on-site researchers and corporate entrepreneurs who usually have no connection with universities.

I remember the minute I heard what he had to say I had a hunch that "This was it!" There had been progress in laying out the foundation for an academia-industry system such as establishing the University Technology Licensing Office (TLO), the groundwork for the Japanese version of the Bayh-Dole Act, and the incorporation of national universities. However, I felt we were lacking one more stepping stone towards implementing innovation. Pretending I was as calm as could be, I may have muttered some bureaucratic wish-wash such as "For such an academia-industry cooperation-related event, I would have to consult with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), and there is also the council meeting at Kyoto…" But fortunately, when I consulted my MEXT counterpart, Mr. Tanaka, then Director of the Industry Cooperation Division (present Director of MEXT's Secretariat Policy Division), he readily agreed and also contacted the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) for me. Furthermore, I was able to obtain monetary support from Yuko Yasunaga, Director General of the Policy Planning and Coordination Department of NEDO (present Director of the Research and Development Division, METI.

Consultation with the present JST Director Takao Hosoe began as well. I consulted with Prof. Matsushima on how to carry out the plan and decided to create an organizing committee consisting of top academia and industry officials. We asked former Chairman Okuda of Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) and former President Yoshikawa of the Science Council of Japan to co-chair, and also invited Professor Kiyoshi Kurokawa and the presidents of both the Japan Association of National Universities and the Japan Association of Private Colleges and Universities as well as other eminent members of academia, industry and government to join the committee. Everyone we consulted and met understood and welcomed the idea. With the further addition of a regional cluster symposium and collaboration with Bio-Japan, the matching event managed to begin taking shape. Even now, I am more than grateful for the warm reception of the parties involved at that time.

Signs of Quantitative and Qualitative Changes

During Innovation Japan, the center of attention is the booths of universities, university-based ventures and TLOs that cover the floor of the Tokyo Forum. As there were more exhibit applicants than could be accommodated by the available floor capacity this year, we had to reluctantly turn down a few institutes. (Next year we will do our best to accept as many applicants as we can by possibly using smaller booths.) With booth after booth of seeds quite attractive for corporations, collaborative research or business negotiations pop up here and there around the floor. The exhibits are stimulating for technological policy makers as well. (Executive officers of METI are also present to observe the various proceedings.) However, the main event is actually the "New Technology Presentations" held in an adjoining meeting room. Such presentations introduce the forefront of the fruit of university research to those who usually have little social contact with the business planning section of enterprises, thereby aiming to truly match the two. In the three days of this year's event, a total of 179 presentation sessions were given in such fields as nanotechnology, biotechnology, medicine and IT. An average of 30 people attended each session, amounting to 5,400 participants from academia and industry. Last year's matching resulted in 1,632 inquiries related to technological consulting, sample offers and collaborative research in 249 out of 350 themes, with 125 agreements signed for 69 themes. An increase in these numbers will indicate that academia-industry cooperation has taken definite shape.

I think it is safe to say that corporations have recently become quite aware of the "Open Innovation Era," and they have considerable realistic and practical interest in the research results of universities.

Issues to Address

Of course, providing opportunities for match ups does not immediately lead to innovation. There may be corporations that prefer collaborative research from scratch instead of converting research results into business. Even after technology licensing is concluded the path towards commercialization may be quite rocky. On the other hand, in many cases it may be more appropriate to start as ventures rather than going with large companies, in which case matching up with human resources and capital for marketing and management that can support the ventures would be more important.

At Innovation Japan there were many parallel events taking place. For example, NEDO presented notable research results of its national projects in a symposium. NEDO fellows, the target of academia-industry cooperation human resource development efforts, also sponsored a seminar. DND's Mr. Deguchi was one of the panelists participating in the seminar, and our reunion on that occasion happened to be the serendipitous start of my present DND series. In another symposium entitled "Development of Core Human Resource for Manufacturing," METI pursued an in-depth discussion on the role of universities in developing human resources that will take on future manufacturing industry. It is essential to discern imminent tasks by holding various events simultaneously. There are numerous problems at both the exits and entrances of innovation that need to be solved one by one.

The Yurakucho Declaration: the Direction for University-based Venture Support

At the 1st Innovation Japan in 2004, we held a "University-based Venture Support Forum" sponsored by the Japan Institute of Invention and Innovation. During the symposium, Professor Toshiya Watanabe of the University of Tokyo Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology and Tatsuaki Kitaji, Representative Member of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Japan, fully discussed how to support university-based ventures. The resulting conclusions were put together as a proposal named "The Yurakucho Declaration"*i). The declaration particularly emphasizes the importance of establishing a human network for venture support. Two years have passed since the announcement of the declaration, and the establishment of the support network we envisioned may now be just beginning. I look forward to the efforts of the various parties involved, including NEDO's.

NEDO will actively organize relevant events*ii) and offer NEDO-related information*iii) indicating the various tasks required to implement innovation to assist in the search for solutions. Needless to say, supporting technological development itself is important, but we believe it is the responsibility of the government, including NEDO, to tend the surroundings and prepare the environment as well. We are constantly reminded of this as well as what role the government should play by Professor Kiyoshi Kurokawa.
  Let's meet again next year in Yurakucho!


*i) http://www.meti.go.jp/policy/innovation_corp/whatsnew/daigakuhatubencha-yurakuchousenngen.pdf
*ii) NEDO event information: for details on other NEDO-related events, please visit NEDO's Website at
*iii) Leading Industry Exhibit MIE: NEDO's latest research results, such as on fuel cells and robots, will be presented. Please drop by if you are nearby. (Nov.10-11, '06; Yokkaichi Dome)