Recognizing that many of the difficulties of starting and growing a new business are compounded when the founder or founders are not citizens, the City of Fukuoka, as a Strategic Special Zone, worked with the Japanese national government to develop a Startup Visa.
This startup visa is, in essence, a short-term version of Japan's Business Manager Visa.
After approval, foreign entrepreneurs are granted six-months to develop their business and fulfill the prerequisites to receive a long-term Business Manager visa: having 5 million yen ($45,240) in capital, opening a physical business office, hiring two or more permanent employees, etc.
To ensure that Startup Visa recipients remain on track, city officials hold three review sessions during the six-month period. One of these sessions is required to be held at the entrepreneur’s place of business or residence. During each review session, the city may request documents (bank account records, lease for office or co-working space, employment contracts, etc.) If the city determines that progress is not satisfactory, it can revoke the Startup Visa
The Fukuoka Regional Immigration Bureau.
Foreigners who found a business in the Fukuoka zone are eligible.
To apply, foreign entrepreneurs enter the country on a short-term visitor’s visa and make their way to the city’s ‘Startup Café’. There, with support from staff, they prepare and submit a New Business Implementation Plan (“NBIP”) to the city government. The city reviews the plan using two main criteria:
- Business viability, and
- The ability of the founder(s) to meet the Business Manager visa requirements within six months.
If the city approves, the application is submitted to the Immigration Bureau, which evaluates the candidate(s) based on the city’s confirmation.
Through the Startup Café, the city continues to provide individualized support to help foreign entrepreneurs with meeting the requirements.
Reaction to the Startup Visa has been largely positive. For foreign entrepreneurs, the visa makes it possible for them to relocate to Fukuoka with time to go the pre-work of registering their company, opening a corporate bank account, leasing office or co-working space. The support elements linked to the visa, provided through the city's Startup Café, are highly valuable for those who do not know the language.
Nonetheless, the visa could go further in reducing barriers for foreign entrepreneurs. Many suggest that six months is not enough to meet the conditions required to receive a standard Business Manager visa. With the checks and controls already in place, another six months is likely to increase the number of business successes.
Secondly, the visa does not address a critical element of business success: highly-skilled talent. Only founders are eligible to receive the visa, not their foreign-based staff. This is important to address, foreign entrepreneurs say, because the bureaucracy involved with hiring from abroad is time consuming and the talent pool in Fukuoka is limited.
Mayor Soichiro Takashima.
Foreign entrepreneurs who have utilized the Startup Visa to started a business in Fukuoka include: Tom Brooke, the British founder of Qurate, a tech startup that offers an end-to-end marketing platform for social content; Mark Gaensicke, the German founder of Renzo, which develops applications, its main product, called Japanese, is a study app; and brothers Juan G. and A. J. Cruz-Ayoroa from Puerto Rico who founded ComQuest Ventures, a drone design business.