Always seen as Japan’s backwater, Tokushima is not where you would expect to see the opening of a special new school for tech-savvy young entrepreneurs. Located on the southern island of Shikoku, the sleepy, rural region doesn’t have a reputation for being a thriving place. But the area, which has been suffering from both an ageing and shrinking population for decades, will soon welcome a bunch of vibrant, young new residents.
In April next year a school of tech entrepreneurship – the first of its kind in Japan – will open in the Tokushima town of Kamiyama. The students, aged from 15 to 20, will be taught engineering, programming and designing, as well as business skills such as marketing. They will also learn how to pitch their business plans to investors in order to raise money. The man behind it is Chikahiro Terada, the boss of Tokyo-based start-up Sansan, which specialises in the digitalisation of business cards. These still play a huge role in Japan’s corporate world.
To build the school Mr Terada has secured 2bn yen ($15m; £12m) in donations via a government system called furusato nozei or “hometown tax”. Under this scheme, mid to high-earning big city dwellers can donate money to a rural region of their choosing in return for a reduction in their income and residency taxes. More than 30 companies are also now financial supporters of the forthcoming school. These are mostly Japanese but there are also some international ones, such as accountancy giant Deloitte.
Traditionally, young people in Japan choose to join a big established firm as a safe career path. But Mr Terada says many are now far more entrepreneurial, and his plans have seen some big interest from prospective students, with more than 200 applications from all over Japan for the first 40 slots. The school is also committed to a 50:50 ratio of girls and boys, a step in the right direction in a country where men still dominate the start-up scene and the wider workforce. It comes as Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund will start investing in the country’s best new start-ups.