The Next Generation of Entrepreneurs: Slush Asia (Part 2)
Finnish entrepreneur Antti Sonninen, former Japan Office Representative of Rovio Entertainment – home to the big hit “Angry Birds”, established what has become the largest English Start Up Event in Japan Slush Asia with the help of several companies and volunteers. Through this event he aspires to create a new community for young Entrepreneurs. Using Slush Asia as a platform, he hopes to communicate to students that “Entrepreneuring = Cool” and hopes to encourage people to step up to new challenges. We sat down with him to talk about how he came to start Slush Asia and his ideas for the future.
You believe that encouraging the growth of young entrepreneurs is very important.
Antti Sonninen (a.k.a Antti): The main goal for Japanese students is to join a major company after graduation, but I hope that choosing to become an entrepreneur becomes more common as a career option. In many cases, even those students who want to become entrepreneurs, tend to abandon this idea when encouraged by their families to join an established company first. On average, the age at which people begin entrepreneurial work is higher in Japan compared to other countries, as there is an image that “entrepreneurial work is something only experienced people do”. In my experience, entrepreneur work is something you can do at any age. The problem is that the merits of becoming an entrepreneur at a younger age are not being properly communicated. As people move up in their careers and start families, the flexibility to – for example; move countries to pursue entrepreneur work, becomes increasingly limited. On top of that, it is much easier for young people to recover if they don’t succeed in their first endeavor. When I look at entrepreneurial events in Japan, the problem I see is that although exciting panel discussions and lectures take place, there isn’t a platform that can act as a catalyst for inspired students. Students need to believe that they can pursue entrepreneur work with or without the guidance of experienced entrepreneurs.
What do you think will inspire Japanese society to produce more Start Ups?
Antti: I believe 2 things are necessary. The first is to increase the number of young people who want to become entrepreneurs. The belief that even if entrepreneurs fail the experience can be beneficial for future careers and that diversity is strength, has to permeate society. While taking gap years is becoming more frequent, there is still a negative image associated with graduating late due to a study abroad or entrepreneurship. In reality, students who have more experiences in fact excel more in the work place.
The second important thing is to lessen the amount of people who tell entrepreneurs to stop. Parents and partners are often the culprits of stopping loved ones from pursing entrepreneur work out of worry for them, therefore in order to prevent this, parents and partners need to be exposed to more role models who have experienced success from walking a path different from others.
Taizo echoes this idea by opposing the trend that “you must train for 3 years after entering a company” and argues instead that “do what you want to do right now”. I hope that by absorbing the messages from successful entrepreneurs and from those who can greatly impact society, that anyone who is on the fence about becoming an entrepreneur will take a courageous step towards their dreams.
What do you think is necessary in order to increase the amount of successful foreign entrepreneurs in Japan?
Antti:I believe the most important thing is to make Japan an attractive place for international entrepreneurs with outstanding talents, and make them believe that they can experience success. One of the reasons Silicon Valley is regarded as the mecca for entrepreneurs is because the top level engineers and entrepreneurs of the world are all there. In order to attract talented people who want to compete on a global scale to Japan, firstly the notion that “in order to entrepreneur in Japan, Japanese is necessary” must be changed. It is said that there are 15 hundred million people in the world who can speak conversational level English. Therefore, if entrepreneurs believe that they can succeed in Japan with English, then this eliminates the problem of language. It is important to ease the process of getting a Visa as well. But, more than anything, it is important to appeal to the world that Japan is a place full of unique business opportunities. If a community of national and international entrepreneurs can grow, that in itself will foster unique business opportunities and attract talented people as well.
It is important to attract talented people abroad to Japan. Antti, can you tell us a bit about your ideas for the future?
Antti: Having completed Slush Asia in Tokyo for the second time, I believe that the infrastructure necessary to create and attract a community of foreign entrepreneurs is almost here. By having students as the core of the operations team, I am hoping that Slush Asia will become a symbol for the “Next Generation of Entrepreneurs”. By solidifying this foundation, I am hoping to create a community of entrepreneurs capable of changing the world.