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How to Hide a Unicorn? 🦄

Updated: Apr 18

In the land of the rising sun, where tradition meets innovation, Japan's startup scene often flies under the radar. Despite language, cultural barriers, and the misconception of a lack of unicorn startups, Japan's entrepreneurial landscape is bursting with potential, ready for exploration. This creates the perfect setting to unveil the phenomenon of "hidden unicorns" in Japan's startup world, where success stories frequently go unnoticed on the global stage.

What is a hidden unicorn? 🔎

Japan has birthed numerous successful startups surpassing the billion-dollar mark, yet missing out on the recognition and spotlight of being labeled as unicorns. These covert treasures strategically leverage Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) to secure substantial funding for expansion. This calculated strategy enables them to operate discreetly while propelling their growth trajectory earning them the name "hidden unicorns.”

hidden unicorns

Why Japan has Hidden Unicorns?

Japan's regulatory environment tends to be more favorable for startups seeking to go public. Compared to other countries, the regulatory requirements for listing on the stock exchange may be less stringent, streamlining the process and making it more appealing for startups.

Additionally, Japanese investors, including retail investors, demonstrate a strong appetite for investing in public companies, including startups. This robust demand for investment opportunities encourages startups to consider going public earlier in order to attract capital.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) historically adopts lenient listing standards, facilitating the process for companies to go public. As a result of these factors, startups in Japan are more inclined to pursue early public listings as a strategic decision. This can bring pressure from public market investors for founders to prioritize profitability over growth. However, this choice can also contribute to these companies operating discreetly and remaining relatively unknown within the startup ecosystem, contributing to their "hidden" status. That's how they hide unicorns.

Hidden vs Unicors

Hidden unicorn timeframe

Hidden Unicorns typically took around 6.8 years to go public since their initial funding. Following this, it took them approximately 1 year to reach a valuation of $1 billion. This total timeframe closely mirrors that of Series B financing rounds in the US and is consistent with the overall timeframe observed for global unicorns.

In this hidden realm, lies a goldmine of opportunities for startups to collaborate with Japanese companies, opening doors to innovative partnerships and undiscovered potential.

The startup ecosystem is experiencing rapid growth, driven by increased funding and expanding business opportunities. Government-related institutions, like JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization), are providing extensive support to startups, further bolstering this trend.

"JETRO, is a government-related organization that works to promote mutual trade and investment between Japan and the rest of the world. JETRO'S Business Development Team facilitates connections between Japanese and overseas companies, as well as providing business support services to companies expanding to Japan."

Miho Horigome

Business Development Representative

JETRO New York

We are partnering with Japan External Trade Organization hosting an J-Bridge Innovation Challenge on March 12-14th.

Ready to work with Japanese tech giants?

Check out J-Bridge Innovation Challenge information and industry requirements.


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