Washington D.C. Round Table: Silicon Valley

June 08, 2016 at 6pm - 9pm

What makes Silicon Valley special, and why is it important to Japan? That was the question USJC Board Member James Higa addressed on June 8 during a discussion with members, corporate partners and supporters in Washington, DC. Touching upon his long career in technology, he spoke about the entrepreneurial and innovative culture in the region, and explained the objectives of the new Silicon Valley Japan Platform.

Mr. Higa (head of the table) explaining his professional journey

Mr. Higa grew up in Indiana and Okinawa, and worked in Apple for many decades. He helped negotiate the revolutionary music and phone agreements with record labels and telecommunication companies when Apple was launching iTunes and iPhones. Today, he is part of the philanthropic and venture capital community, and advises startups and rapidly growing technology companies. (Click here for his full bio.)

Among the many factors that make Silicon Valley special is how innovation takes place in leaps and bounds. Startups cannot simply make incremental improvements to what is already out there, because they will be "wiped out" once a true disruption occurs. Silicon Valley companies also know "when to ship"--i.e. the timing to begin selling a product that might not be perfect yet.

These insights that are characteristic of Silicon Valley actually came from Japan. Mr. Higa said that he admired the legacies of Matsushita (Panasonic), Morita (Sony) and Honda, who "built global brands from post-war rubble." These were the entrepreneurs he looked up to during his career. The Silicon Valley Japan Platform (SVJP), which is an initiative between USJC and the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation​, strives to find the next generation of leaders in Japanese companies and connect them to Silicon Valley. With an extensive network of executives and visionaries, "USJC and SVJP give you access to the top tier of Silicon Valley, helping companies become integrated into the Silicon Valley ecosystem," he said. He advised Japanese companies to send young global talent to work there, so that they can truly learn and build local networks.

Mr. Higa answers questions from the audience

SVJP also spreads the "western pioneer spirit" of Silicon Valley, which allows for failure and motivates people to try again "further West." This is in contrast to the current culture in Japan, where failure is difficult to recover from. "We try to expand the horizon for Japanese companies, showing them that they can challenge themselves again," Mr. Higa said. SVJP also aspires to help Japanese small and medium enterprises (SMEs) become global, with the conviction that this will ultimately be the engine to revitalize Japan's economy.

SVJP's activities, as well as ways to strengthen ties between Silicon Valley and Japan, will be featured in the upcoming USJC Annual Conference in Silicon Valley.

Will you come?