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Universities Move to Boost Venture Efforts

July 8, 1997

Venture-business classes are open to those already in the work force as well. (Photo: Waseda University)

Japanese universities are increasing their efforts toward the nurturing and support of venture businesses. National, public, and private schools throughout the country are offering classes on how to start up a business as well as practical courses taught by experienced businesspeople. Some of the programs even supply capital to venture businesses or to their students who aspire to start up a firm.

Teaching the Venture ABCs
The classes on starting up businesses are among the most popular courses offered at the universities. Many of them are taught at the graduate level, but they also offer undergraduates and even the general public a chance to prepare for their own start-ups by learning the practical know-how and management theory needed to do so. A good number of the courses are not aimed only at economics and management students, but are intended to teach the basics of business to science majors as well.

Kyushu University, for example, held its first venture business seminar for undergraduate and graduate science and engineering students from November through December last year. Its instruction on management and the industrial society was kept at an introductory level, but the seminar was so popular it drew complaints from the students who could not attend due to their other experiments or required classes. In response to this, the university intends to offer the seminar in two intensive lecture series this year: once in July and again in October.

This spring, the economics department at Tohoku University, located in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, began offering a graduate-level applied economics course on venture-business policy. A joint effort between the government and private sector to breed new venture businesses has been underway in the Tohoku region for the last two years. The university aims to contribute to this drive by systematically examining and evaluating a range of business-boosting policies in the new course.

Schools are expanding this academic field in a variety of ways. Kobe University is offering an undergraduate course in "new industrialism," where local business founders and managers lecture on their own experience. The Tama Institute of Management and Information Sciences has launched a course in venture business management, for both graduate and undergraduate students as well as members of the general public, that covers the basics of the subject from a practical as well as a theoretical standpoint. Those already in the working world can also attend Waseda University's "entrepreneurship course," consisting of three classes, offered exclusively to non-students, focusing on the basics of starting up a business, management and organization, and crisis avoidance.

Putting Money Where Their Mouths Are
In response to the unfolding era of global competition and structural reforms, these universities are looking to produce more independent businesspeople through these courses. The schools are also aiming to shift their educational emphasis to more practical learning. This changing consciousness in the world of education is also being spurred by the industrial sector's mounting insistence that educational reforms are needed to boost the numbers of people with original ideas willing to take on the challenge of starting a new business.

Some schools are going so far as to provide investment funds jointly with venture-capital firms. Hokkaido University, the first institution to do so, established its "Hokudai Ambitious Fund" in January of this year; with help from a number of venture-capital and securities firms, this fund has already invested around 500 million yen (4.3 million dollars at 115 yen to the dollar). The investment targets new and established venture firms started and managed by university researchers and students as well as alumni. In the Hokkaido set-up, the university identifies operations with a chance at doing well as businesses and the venture-capital firms evaluate their feasibility before deciding whether to invest.

The University of Tsukuba and the Tama Institute are also planning investment funds aimed at nurturing venture businesses. The Tama plan will involve seeking outside the school for business ideas; the school will then act as a go-between to funnel investment to the start-ups. Trading firms and other private companies involved with the program will support the new operations after the school selects the most promising ideas and helps draw up business outlines for the investment recipients.

This new form of investment benefits both venture-capital firms and other businesses seeking new ideas and universities looking to boost potentially profitable research. Successful venture-firm investment should lead to the continued teaming up of academia and industry.

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