Perspectives from Around the World

Innovation and Entrepreneurship as Keys to Revival After 3/11

John V. ROOS
U.S. Ambassador to Japan

In the months since the historic disasters of March 2011 struck, the people of Japan have shown resilience and resolve as the country recovers. Inspired efforts from government at all levels, from non-government organizations, and from the private sector have made a real difference in the lives of those in the affected areas. We also now see the beginnings of economic rebirth, but there is much more work to do to promote the kind of renewal that will ensure a prosperous future for the Tohoku region and for Japan. As I have said many times, I am confident that Japan will emerge from the latest crisis stronger than before, and I believe one way to ensure that it does so will be to promote innovation and entrepreneurship, both in Tohoku and nationwide.

Even before the fateful day of March 11, Japan's economy was already experiencing a slow recovery. The disasters compounded existing difficulties and brought new challenges as well. Both before and after March 11, however, the core question at issue is the same, namely, how to ensure sustainable growth and inclusive prosperity. In the face of past difficulties, both Japan and the United States have revitalized their economies by encouraging the formation of new companies to bring technology to market, and some of them have gone on to become leaders of entirely new industrial sectors. In my own career, I have personally seen how entrepreneurial firms have tremendous capacity to generate employment and expand social capital.

Going forward, I believe such innovation through entrepreneurship holds a key to future growth and prosperity. As I have traveled around the country, many Japanese have asked me what Japan must do in order to give entrepreneurship a shot in the arm. There is no simple answer, but over the course of the past two decades many countries have found that a few basic principles have served as a useful guide. I wish to share a few of them here.

Celebrate Entrepreneurs

The first is to prize the efforts of those entrepreneurs who show the courage it takes to start a new company. Celebrating their successes is obviously important. It is also vital to celebrate their efforts even when they end in failure, because failure can be a learning experience and not simply the end. When leadership at the highest levels of society, business and government communicate that they value entrepreneurship, I believe people will listen and respond. Government, by boldly celebrating thriving entrepreneurial ventures, both domestically and internationally, would signal that Japan is both open for business and open to new businesses.

Reaching Out to Business

Government policies that depend for their success on what happens in the private sector also need to bring key players into the policy discussion. By definition, a thriving venture-friendly ecosystem must involve business, so business needs a significant role in the conversation from the start. This would mean reaching out to entrepreneurs. It also means including large firms because they are critically important to new firms as potential customers, investors, sources of talent, and future partners in business tie-ups. Another possibility is to make use of expert advice from within Japan and abroad alike, for example, on the issue of how to best spin new technology out of research laboratories and universities to create high-growth companies.

Aim Global

Government and business leaders alike would do well to strengthen their connections to global investors, customers, and partners. Linkages to global networks are critical to the success of new firms in the globalized economy of the 21st century. By using corporate governance structures that attract foreign investors and facilitate listing on foreign stock exchanges, new firms can access largely untapped reserves of talent and financing. Firms can also look to foreign and outside directors as a valuable asset and resource for understanding new markets.

In my decades of experience in Silicon Valley, I saw government and business work together to develop a policy framework that encourages innovation through entrepreneurship. I am confident that Japan's leaders will overcome current challenges and bring the country into an era of renewed prosperity. As we look ahead, I expect our two nations will chart the unknown waters of the new "Pacific Century" together.

December 2011

December 1, 2011

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