Kobe University is committed to supporting university-launched startups that create new businesses based on research results. The university’s long-term “KU VISION 2030” includes consistent support from entrepreneurship education to fundraising. A range of projects are now underway in fields that are Kobe University strengths, such as biotech manufacturing.

In late February 2024, the Kobe Chamber of Commerce and Industry hosted an event in Kobe titled “Attractiveness and business opportunities of startups from Kobe University.” The event was well-attended by stakeholders from industry, government, and academia who listened attentively to the presentations given by five Kobe University startups.

Presentation of Kobe University startups (Chuo Ward, Kobe City)

The businesses of these companies are diverse, including the development of oral vaccines using bifidobacteria, a method for breast cancer detection through tears, and consulting services centered on wind condition surveys for wind power generation. A special lecture was also given by TSUMAMOTO Masato, CXO (chief transformation officer) of CellSource Co., Ltd., a Tokyo-based regenerative medicine-related business, which he established in 2015 after graduating from Kobe University’s Faculty of Developmental Sciences and working at Sumitomo Corporation.

Government policy is one of the reasons why university-launched startups are gaining attention: The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) decided on a 5-year plan for startup development in 2022, and has launched a variety of support measures. The number of university-launched ventures announced annually by the ministry reached a record high of 3,782 companies in the 2022 survey. Currently, around 60 ventures are related to Kobe University and this number has been increasing year by year.

In 2016, Kobe University established the Graduate School of Science, Technology and Innovation, a graduate school aimed at fostering scientific talent with an entrepreneurial mindset. In 2020, the university fully funded the establishment of Kobe University Innovation (KUI) to promote industry-academia collaboration and technology transfer. Furthermore, in 2023, Kobe University Capital (KUC), a subsidiary of KUI, established the “Kobe University Fund” with private capital, a first for a national university, which attracted attention from various sectors with a fund size of 2.2 billion yen as of the end of June that year.

Strengths in areas such as bio-manufacturing

The five research areas driving startups from Kobe University are bio- manufacturing, advanced membrane engineering, medical engineering, health and longevity, and social systems innovation. Founded in 2020, Bacchus Bio innovation (president: KONDO Akihiko, vice president of Kobe University) is working on the development of smart cells, which are cells genetically modified for mass production of substances, by merging digital and biotechnologies and collaborating with a variety of companies to implement bio-manufacturing in society.

Professor KAGEYAMA Hiroaki

Professor KAGEYAMA Hiroaki, who is in charge of the entrepreneurship course at the Graduate School of Science, Technology and Innovation (deputy director, Enterprise Partnerships Division), says of Kobe University’s startups: “They are characterized by their focus on fields such as natural science, medicine and life sciences. A major strength is the collaboration and interaction with the local community, facilitated by the concentration of research institutions and companies in the ‘Kobe Biomedical Innovation Cluster’ developed by Kobe City on Port Island.”

In fiscal 2024, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) selected 12 universities, including Kobe University, to participate in the “Program for forming Japan’s peak research universities.” Under this project, a maximum of 5.5 billion yen will be provided to each university over a five-year period. Kobe University has a plan to form a world-class center for co-creation research by combining outstanding basic research in bio-manufacturing with social implementation. The project expects to accelerate the creation of new startups and increasing local employment, with facility development steadily progressing on Port Island.

From fiscal 2020, in addition to operating the GAP Fund program, which offers financial support to fill the gap when commercializing research results and is financed by public funds of the Japan Science and Technology Agency, the university has also set up its own gap fund program which provides relatively small amounts of support from internal university funds. It aims to encourage young researchers and students to actively pursue business ventures. Moreover, talent development is not only fostered through classroom entrepreneurial education, but also significantly influenced by the student “Innovation Club” founded in 2022.

“Entrepreneurship tends to be focused solely on starting businesses, but broadly speaking, I believe it’s about having the ambition to change the world and making an impact on society through action. To this end, we would like to promote education and human resource development from a broad perspective,” Kageyama emphasizes.

Referring to Kobe University’s history of training talent in fields such as economics, business administration, and law, looking ahead to the future, he adds: “The support of human resources in the social sciences is essential for the creation and growth of startups. I believe that by strengthening ties with alums and companies that are active in society, we can contribute to the revitalization of Kobe as a whole.”

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