Features

 

Students Creating Businesses Using Regional Resources -- Potential of the New Program at Chuo University Based on Industry-Academic-Government Cooperation

2019.10.29


Michio Yunoki
Specially appointed associate professor at Chuo University, CEO of Little Japan Inc., board chairman of NPO Social Artist Village, former official at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Area of Specialization: Human geography

In April 2019, the Social Entrepreneurship Program (SEP), a new program that aims to create new businesses using regional resources that students commit to for a two-year period, was established.

As a business owner, I myself am currently going through the daily difficulties of running a business. I was drawn to this program and decided to accept the offer of taking charge of it because students have more than just a chance to experience running a business—it is designed in an unprecedented way that allows students to learn the practical aspects of creating businesses.

In this article, I would like to talk about what I find especially appealing about this program, as well as its potential.

1. Summary of the Program

Students participating in this program will spend two years engaged in creating businesses using regional resources.

The regions mentioned here refer to the three villages that have entered into a cooperative agreement with Chuo University (Hinohara, Tokyo; Kosuge, Yamanashi Prefecture; Tabayama, Yamanashi Prefecture). The maximum participants for each village is 30 students per seminar, totaling 90 students for the three villages.

2. Two-Year Commitment of Students and the Selection Process

The first important feature of this program is that students must take the same seminar for a two-year period.

In a normal single-semester or several-month program, after the assignments involving planning and the creation of trial products are complete, there would be no time left over. However, with a two-year program, students can take the initiative to conduct the following:
1. Specify which resources to use and which problems to solve
2. Propose solutions
3. Implement solutions
4. Make continual improvements by implementing a PDCA cycle
5. Construct a sustainable business structure

In addition, the participating students are selected from those who are the most motivated, with a maximum of 30 participants per seminar.

3. Support from Chuo University

The second key feature is the strong support from Chuo University. Funds are needed for students to develop new products and services. Not only does the university provide travel expenses to go to the villages, but they also offer financial support for the development of trial products.

Of course, such support is not given unconditionally, and the students must conduct some fundraising on their own, but doing so requires massive amounts of effort and time. Receiving support from the university in the initial stages is extremely helpful.
The university also provides support in PR efforts to spread the extraordinary work of the students, which is very helpful for students in spreading the word about their new products and services.

4. Support by Chuo University and the Three Villages

When creating a business using regional resources, cooperation from local people in the villages is vital.

However, this kind of relationship-building takes a very long time. It can take the entire span of a student's enrollment at the university.

In line with this, as the third key feature of this program, we have placed village staff members who are permanently stationed at each village. This system offers students access to regional resources and opportunities to interact with local residents, with the village staff acting as intermediaries.
In order to establish communication with the village staff and village locals, visiting the village is very important, but due to the distance, it is difficult to make frequent visits.

To address this problem, we've set up a video conferencing system that connects the three villages and Chuo University, enabling students to move forward with the program while being able to communicate at any time with the village staff and other village locals participating in the program.

5. Corporate Cooperation

When conducting the actual planning of products and services, partnerships with companies are necessary.

In this regard, this program invites companies to participate by giving expert lectures and providing their feedback on students’ proposals. This gives students valuable opportunity to come in contact with companies.

With certain projects, there are already product development efforts underway in cooperation with companies.

Moving forward, we hope to establish many points of contact with companies and invite them to participate in the program, with the aim of receiving expert advice while in turn providing those companies with opportunities to experience creating new businesses in those villages. This is how we aim to move forward with product and service development, as well as the creation of new businesses.

6. A Place of Learning Established Through Industry-Academic-Government Cooperation, and Returning Value to the Villages

In this program, the university (academic) partners with the three villages (government) and companies (industry), and the students take on the challenge of creating new businesses using regional resources.

Students go through a selection process and are required to commit to the program for the 2-year period, but in turn, they get the opportunity to participate in a practical approach to learning.

The villages do not just get a temporary influx of students engaging in short-term projects, but also relationships with the students over a two-year period, in addition to the possibility of the emergence of new businesses. I believe this project can return value to the villages for providing us with an opportunity for learning.

Furthermore, the participating companies benefit from the opportunity to engage in business creation in the villages, which provides them with value. The participation of these companies leads to greater results than if only the students participate.
Michio Yunoki
Specially appointed associate professor at Chuo University, CEO of Little Japan Inc., board chairman of NPO Social Artist Village, former official at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Area of Specialization: Human geography

He holds several positions, including representative director of Little Japan Inc., board chairman of the NPO Social Artist Village, specially appointed associate professor of Chuo University, and co-representative of Localist Tokyo.
After graduating from Kyoto University, he joined the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. He launched Social Artist Village in 2012, an NPO that uses vacant houses to create collaborative spaces and communities. He founded Little Japan Inc. in 2017, with the mission of creating businesses using regional resources. Little Japan uses vacant houses as share houses, cafe/bars, guesthouses, and shops carrying various brands, and operates a service called “Hostel Life” that offers hostel passes that let customers stay at hostels all over Japan starting at 15,000 yen per month.
He took his current post as a specially appointed associate professor at Chuo University in April 2019 upon learning about the new program for creating businesses using regional resources through cooperation between students and villages. He is currently in charge of this program.