Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Questioning + Action = Impact
Two years after founding Impact HUB Tokyo, co-founders Shino and Shingo painted the phrase ‘Questioning + Action = Impact’ on the external white wall of our facility. This equation stands for "questioning" the status quo and taking ‘action’, a step founders find inescapable because they cannot stay quiet and do nothing. That action generates an activity or business that has an ‘impact’ on society. This equation embodies the shared attitude of the people who have gathered at Impact HUB Tokyo.
Impact HUB Tokyo has grown into a community of 800+ entrepreneurs. When you hear the word "entrepreneur," you may think of founders or CEOs who have launched their companies. However, in our sense, an entrepreneur is simply someone who questions the status quo and takes action, and Impact HUB Tokyo is home to a community of such Impact MAKERs.
Impact MAKERs do not need to come from any particular industry or profession. You can be a founder, a freelancer, an artist, a businessperson in a big company, or a government official. Anyone can be an Impact MAKER. What they all have in common is a willingness to question the status quo and take action for a better future.
The impact that changes the "flow of the river"
Why this emphasis on impact? Before working to build Impact HUB Tokyo, co-founder Shino Tsuchiya had worked for international NGOs and think-tanks and built an expertise in socially responsible investing, international public-private partnerships and R&D projects in developing countries and Europe. She discovered the Impact HUB network, with its origins in Islington, north London. At that time, the network was beginning to spread around the world, attracting entrepreneurs eager to make an impact on local communities.
Each of the Impact Hubs that Shino visited was unique. Islington’s was the birthplace of many social entrepreneurs and environmental activists. San Francisco’s, having received operational support from venture capitalists, had developed a vibrant investor community. She was particularly interested in Westminster’s Impact HUB, in central London, which hosted not only entrepreneurs and activists, but also hackers, engineers and designers, and where new collaborations seemed to be born every day.
Impact HUB Tokyo's idea of ‘impact’ is not something that a single “hero” can create. To use a natural analogy, impact creation is a process akin to a particle of water trying to affect the flow of the river that surrounds it. In the same way that various natural phenomena are intricately intertwined to create the flow of a river, the structure of society is also the result of the accumulation of vast amounts of individual actions. The only thing that individuals within this society can do is to question the ‘big flow’ and decide to not let themselves be pulled by it, to deviate from it ever so slightly. But this little act of rebellion cannot, of course, modify how the river as a whole flows; getting to a point of meaningful impact will require time, persistence, and collaboration. This was the type of place Shino wanted to create with Impact HUB Tokyo.
Entrepreneurship that is uniquely Japanese and globally competent
Co-founder Shingo Potier comes from a rather different background. He began his career at a financial institution in London, where he worked to support local startups. Wanting to continue this work in Japan, he moved to Tokyo but was soon confronted with the fragility of the local startup ecosystem. The entrepreneurs he met were enthusiastic, but there were very few game changers who aspired to overhaul the rules of society with their visions. Japanese entrepreneurs, who seek safe harmony with their surroundings rather than potentially disruptive innovation, were, in his eyes, a bit ‘too well-behaved’.
‘This is not just a question of entrepreneurial abilities’, says Shingo. Time and time again, he has seen the vision and enthusiasm of entrepreneurs being twisted by risk-averse middlemen in pursuit of short-term profits. Venture capitalists and financial institutions, which were supposed to enrich the entrepreneurial ecosystem, had created an environment where entrepreneurs’ dynamism was smothered. Unlike the UK, which is actively engaged in entrepreneurial education, the Japanese government and administration had little understanding of what it takes to support entrepreneurs, and no training was provided to prepare people for doing business on a global scale.
By all accounts, the environment for entrepreneurs in Japan was not as favorable as it was in the UK. This realization had Shingo feel hopeless at the time, but he eventually resolved to ‘focus on what we have, not what we don't have’. There had to be a way that is uniquely Japanese and globally applicable. With this new frame of mind, he envisioned that a new ecosystem was needed to support entrepreneurs who would organically mend the existing system.
That's when he fortuitously came across Impact HUB Tokyo. He joined the company as a financial specialist with a mandate to stabilize its operations and then launched a new entrepreneurship program called ‘Team 360’ and a pitch event called ‘Spark Plug’, furthering his goal to support startups.
Be the Change
The two founders say, ‘As Impact MAKERs, our member entrepreneurs do not “follow change” in the way you’d follow a trend. And it's not even about changing others’. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world’ --the only thing we might possibly achieve is changing ourselves, which is the only thing we can strive for while aiming at transforming into an exemplar of the world we wish to see.
As Impact MAKERS evolve daily, Impact HUB Tokyo is constantly changing as well. The activities, communications, and even the layout of the space are constantly adapting to new circumstances. The only constant at the Impact HUB Tokyo community is that the community keeps changing.
*As of March 2020.
(Interview and composition: Ishikawa Toshiaki)