Alumnus creates Tokyo start-up

Elaine Lac
Writer

Hiro Maeda ’09 majored in computer science and economics and has since started Open Network Lab, a Tokyo-based incubator. The company provides advice, funding and office space to small start-up companies. The large technology companies like Panasonic are failing, and Maeda’s fresh and innovative management techniques are just what Tokyo needs. The Bucknellian sat down to ask him a few questions about his career path.

What drove your interest in start-up Internet companies at the University?

“During my freshman year at Bucknell, a lot of interesting and successful internet platforms emerged. Facebook was getting started and was exclusive to college students at that time. The product was evolving every day and the growth was insane. YouTube became really huge and was acquired by Google. Digg and Reddit were both growing fast and were competing to become the “frontpage of the Internet.” I felt that this is another huge opportunity so I decided to switch my major from electrical engineering to computer science.”

How did the idea of Open Network Lab come to be?

“Before starting Open Network Lab, I have started a company and invested in a few companies as well. I became addicted to innovation and entrepreneurship. But both my entrepreneurial and investment activities were in the U.S.A. I wanted to do something in Japan (since that’s where I’m from). At that time, (2008-2009) there was barely any activity in Japan.

I was fortunate enough to meet the CEO of Netprice.com, Teruhide Sato, who shared my vision of creating an ecosystem and a community of entrepreneurs in Japan. After meeting him, I decided to join him at Netprice.com and moved to Tokyo.

After doing some research, I found out that that there are two very successful incubators called TechStars and Y Combinator, which did a new-style of investing. They invested in companies synchronously and focused on building a network so that entrepreneurs and mentors can help each other. I thought that was a brilliant idea. I proposed my idea to Teruhide. He then introduced me to co-founders of Digital Garage, Joi Ito and Kaoru Hayashi. We had a discussion going and together we decided to become partners to start Open Network Lab.”

What makes the company effective?

“It’s the support of successful entrepreneurs and investors such as Teruhide Sato, Joi Ito and Kaoru Hayashi. They have brought in a global network of mentors and supporters who are helping us build successful companies.”

Do you have any advice for current University students about their future careers?

“Be adaptive and responsive to change. Take action to whatever you think is right and put your whole heart into it.”

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