Introduction to Companies in Osaka
IE JAPAN LTD.
Interviews with foreign investors in Osaka 2016.03.28
QPlease tell us about your company, IE Japan.
IE Japan is a wholly owned group company of Intelligent Energy (IE), which is based in the UK. IE develops fuel cells via its environment and energy portfolio. The company deploys various functions in the United States, India, Japan, Singapore, and so on. The main roles of the Japanese subsidiary are to develop new business and build up the customer base.
QPlease tell us about yourself.
I was an office worker at a trading company for 20 years, mainly handling trading operation and exporting cables.
I became familiar with the business area involved in distributed power generation and new energy through my work with electric power companies. Fuel cells and distributed power generation can be considered some forms of new energy. I handled various jobs related to batteries and power control involved in photovoltaic and wind power generation. My involvement with IE dates back to those days.
When I left my previous company, my desire was to expand on the work I used to handle with IE. So, we started working together a little bit. That was in 2010, six years ago.
My experience has proven useful on many occasions. I think the areas I play a role in are areas where companies coming to Japan have difficulty taking care of things themselves, such as working in this environmental energy field, advancing projects, and bridging the gap between the Japanese approaches to taxes and law and the approaches of other places like the UK or Europe.
My background with these types of assignments helped me fit into the company right away. I initially thought of working for just one or two years, but our cooperation has lasted much longer.
QWhy did your company choose to base in Osaka?
After analyzing the pros and cons of basing us in the Greater Tokyo (Kanto region), part of my personal challenge was demonstrating the role a provincial area can play against the overconcentration of everything in Tokyo by working with new forms of energy, the environmental shift, and distributed power supply. I also consider Osaka one such provincial area and we need to challenge ourselves to develop our business being in the periphery.
Honestly, I am rooting for Osaka as the representative of our Kansai region to win against Tokyo as the center.
Also, compared to over 20 years ago, when I started my career, we have much better communication and transportation - PCs, telephones, trains, and airplanes. Having our base in Osaka does not particularly ruin our corporate image if we effectively use these new tools. We can visit our clients in the Kanto region if we really need to. It actually develops our mindset and reminds us to manage our time properly to make sure we can make it back from such a business trip.
It would be only an excuse to say working in a provincial area is inconvenient when we can go any part of Japan in a day. Taking the opposite view, large companies and their workers would probably feel secure when their companies and bosses are based in Tokyo.
After working for some time, we began to think of what we wanted to do beside work in order to strike a better work-life balance and to improve the environments of not only our work, but also our daily lives. Tokyo offers all the attractive entertainment that money can buy, but not much in the way of the beauty of the countryside. There is not much financial advantage to living in the city. Frankly, I wouldn't want to live in Tokyo when I consider how I'd like to use my time and how I would use my private time there to refresh myself to get energy for work. I believe the provincial areas attract people by instilling a desire to live there.
QHow do you evaluate O-BIC and other administrative supports for launching a business?
We were eager to seek any available support from JETRO, Osaka City and Osaka Prefecture, and other administrative agencies. We gained support in finding the right business location, legal affairs, tax services, and other non-financial support and advice. They introduced us to a good judicial scrivener and a tax accountant, which were necessary for incorporation procedures. We also received subsidies from O-BIC.
Another advantage of setting up a company in a provincial area is that we can count on help from administrative officers as long as we maintain contact with them.
Administrative and private assistance cultivate the mindset that we are creating something together. Such a sense of teamwork is something we don't get too often with any entities offering similar support in Tokyo. This makes a huge difference.
QAre there any unique services or support that you think only Osaka can offer?
Since the period when we were setting up our company, we have been working with the same firm that handles our accounting today. This firm caters to venture companies, but because international tax service was beyond their expertise, we could not properly make tax payments after our incorporation. For this reason, we also asked Deloitte Tohmatsu for their service.
However, their scale is basically the opposite of our company. Normally, Deloitte Tohmatsu wouldn't deal with a (small) company like us.
Now we work both with our accounting firm as a long-standing partner and Deloitte Tohmatsu.
Given that Deloitte Tohmatsu always works with major companies in Japan and abroad, it seems like they actually enjoy the unusual teamwork with us. In fact, recently, I have been encouraging OBIC, JETRO, and other companies and institutions seeking to attract foreign investment to come up with assistance and frameworks that can bring together a team of companies like us. This is a viable business model, isn't it? Such support would be quite difficult to get in Tokyo. I believe they helped us because we are in Osaka.
QHow would you evaluate your business operation since the incorporation?
Long story short, our business in Japan is going well. Our operation has grown bigger and deeper than we expected. And we see more opportunities in new areas. So it has been worthwhile working in Japan. In the meantime, our venture company has not brought huge profit for our group because we are still in the limited scale of the market for environmental business. This remains our challenge.
QPlease tell us your business outlook.
We plan to mount IE's fuel cells on a scooter made by Suzuki to be introduced to public roads in 2017 in order to release the scooter on public roads, and we are now approaching local companies and organizations for cooperation. As much as possible, we plan to bring our scooter to a country or a region that actively encourages the application of hydrogen energy and promotes the development of hydrogen infrastructure for fuel cells. Examples are Japan, UK, Europe, and California in the US.
I believe motorcycles can play more distinct roles than four-wheel vehicles. Some administrative agencies and organizations do take an interest in their uniqueness. We would like to bet on them and try running our scooters for several years.
QDo you have any message to foreign companies that are considering setting up their operations in Osaka?
Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Nagoya are all relatively decent cities, though Osaka offers satisfactory level of convenience. The less densely populated Greater Osaka probably offers a more well-balanced residential and living environment than Greater Tokyo.
Rather, I would encourage foreign companies to proactively make specific requests to administrative workers.
Foreign companies can yield a good outcome if they consider themselves a driving force of development for Osaka in such a manner.
Osaka is a well-balanced and convenient enough location and is definitely worth trying.
|IE JAPAN LTD.|
|Home Base||Loughborough, UK|
|Parent Company||Intelligent Energy Limited|
|Business||Market Development in Japan and the Rest of Asia by the Intelligent Energy Group, which is Developing Fuel Cell Systems|