1. What is the I2 Startup Accelerator Program and how is it different from other accelerator programs?
The I2 Startup Accelerator Program is Okinawa’s first global startup accelerator program. Startups from around the world move to Okinawa for 9-12 months, and leverage the educational resources, network, personalized coaching, and state-of-the-art research facilities and equipment at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST). This unique, university in-residency program gives science-based startups the time and specialized resources needed to move their technology from lab to market.
2. Who is eligible for the program?
Entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world with innovative technologies ranging in Technology Readiness Levels between 3-6 (refer to definition below).
All technology fields will be considered. We are particularly interested in ideas that serve society and sustain the planet, including energy, health and longevity, mobility, water, agriculture, shelter, and materials. Because of the nature of the program, we do not fund projects requiring pharmaceutical/drug clinical trials (although some pre-clinical studies may be eligible) or companies selling third party products.
Technology Readiness Levels
- TRL 0:
- Idea. Unproven concept, no testing has been performed.
- TRL 1:
- Basic research. Principles postulated and observed but no experimental proof available.
- TRL 2:
- Technology formulation. Concept and application have been formulated.
- TRL 3:
- Applied research. First laboratory tests completed; proof of concept.
- TRL 4:
- Small scale prototype built in a laboratory environment (“ugly” prototype).
- TRL 5:
- Large scale prototype tested in intended environment.
- TRL 6:
- Prototype system tested in intended environment close to expected performance.
- TRL 7:
- Demonstration system operating in operational environment at pre-commercial scale.
- TRL 8:
- First of a kind commercial system. Manufacturing issues solved.
- TRL 9:
- Full commercial application, technology available for consumers.
Reference: European Commission
3. How much funding can we receive?
Selected projects are awarded 3 ~ 15 million JPY of non-dilutive funding, depending on the project plan. The average amount is ~10 million JPY. For the program applications, we ask applicants to prepare budget within 10 million JPY, and examine the justification of budget requests to determine amount of funding for each selected project.
4. How much equity do you take?
We do not take equity in exchange for participation in this program. Our goal is to support early-stage, pre-commercial technologies that can make a significant impact in Okinawa, Japan, and the world. We also aim to foster an entrepreneurial community around OIST where startup companies can interact with and benefit from industry and the academic research community in Okinawa.
5. Are there specific rules on the use of funds?
Use of funds are subject to rules and regulations of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology and its sponsors. In general, funds can be used for:
- Personnel (salary, housing, social insurance, etc.)
- Lab and office supplies
- Contract research
6. What resources does this program provide other than funding?
In addition to funding, we provide personalized coaching to each selected team, in partnership with technical experts, government stakeholders, and industry mentors. Acceptance into the program also includes:
- Lab and office space
- Access to state-of-the-art shared research facilities and equipment at OIST
- Introductions to business network of industry experts and investors
- Professional services related to intellectual property and corporate set-up
- Administrative support services
7. Is there predetermined period of time for this program?
The program’s in-residency period typically coincides with the OIST fiscal year: April 1-March 31
8. What is the application process and schedule?
We select one cohort of 2-4 teams per year. The application process and schedule:
- FALL (Sep-Dec): open call for applications
- WINTER (Jan-Mar): review, interviews, and selection
- SPRING (Apr-Jun): program start
9. How can I apply?
10. What if I have team members?
We accept team applications and believe that you are more likely to succeed with a team of at least 2 members. Funding for the entire team must be managed within the budget allocated.
11. What do you look for in a successful team?
First and foremost, we look for passion and commitment of the team members. The entrepreneurial journey is inspiring and impactful but can be fraught with challenges and obstacles. We want to know that you are passionate about your technology through the good and bad times. We will also assess the following criteria:
- Fit to OIST environment and resources: knowledge of OIST and Okinawa and understanding of how your technology can be advanced by being here
- Technical merit: deep knowledge of your technology and industry demand
- Market potential: understanding of the value proposition, market size, and competitive landscape for your technology in the marketplace
- Commercialization feasibility within the program duration: how the technology can be commercialized within the 9-12 month duration of the program
- Potential for societal impact on Okinawa, Japan, and the world: whether your technology can make a long-term, positive impact on people and the planet, meets a clear demand in Okinawa/Japan/World, solves a “hair-on-fire” problem in the market, etc.
12. What does “passion and commitment” mean?
You believe wholeheartedly in your product/service. You are dedicated to establishing a startup company to deliver your product/service to the world. And to achieve those goals, you are willing to relocate to Okinawa, join OIST for the duration of the 9-12 month program, and participate in educational/training programs and events in person.
13. What if we only have an idea, but no technical expertise/skills?
We expect you to have the necessary expertise and technical skills within the team to commercialize your product/service. There is no expectation that other researchers at OIST will be available to collaborate on or provide technical support to your project. We also discourage applications where the majority of the project plan is outsourced.
14. Do I need to have a prototype before I apply?
We expect that proof-of-concept has been established for the technology, (e.g., you can show data that it works as intended in a lab environment). We discourage proposals on technologies that are only at the idea stage, where feasibility studies have not been conducted.
15. We already have a startup company. Can we still apply to the program?
Yes. If your goal is to start a new company or relocate your company to Okinawa, you can still apply to our program.
16. We have already raised funding. Can we still apply to your program?
Yes, you can still apply to our program which will afford you additional financial, physical, and educational support from OIST.
17. Can we participate without relocating to Okinawa?
No. Our program is designed to encourage entrepreneurs to work with us in person. In addition, a major benefit of the program is access to state-of-the-art research facilities and equipment at OIST. We believe this an important component in launching successful science and technology startups from this program.
18. How does the process work for relocating to Okinawa and onboarding at OIST?
OIST provides support to help selected teams relocate to Okinawa, including relocation travel to Okinawa, looking for housing, setting up bank accounts, and orientation to life at OIST and in Okinawa.
19. What kinds of facilities and equipment at OIST will be available for our project?
OIST has common research equipment/facilities available to support a range of research activities, including imaging, DNA analysis, nanofabrication, mechanical engineering, and others.
20. Will you sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement?
No, we do not sign NDAs, but there is the informal commitment to maintain confidentially on our application form.
21. After the program, are we required to start a company in Okinawa?
While we cannot require you to start a company in Okinawa after completion of the program, we hope that you will find the environment around OIST to be conducive to helping your company get to the next stage. If you decide to start your company in Japan, we will help you through the incorporation and business registration process.
22. Do I need to be a Japanese citizen or have a work visa before participating in the program?
No. If you are selected to participate in the program and need a work visa to relocate to Japan, OIST will apply to sponsor your work visa for the program duration. Also, OIST will support your business manager visa acquisition, which will be required after the program duration. However, if you do not meet the qualifications for a work visa, you will not be able to participate in the program.