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This AGSM MBA Is Taking Australia’s Startup And Innovation Culture To Japan

Kaoru Nishinakagawa wants to develop new startup hubs across the JAPAC region

Mon Oct 3 2016

Kaoru Nishinakagawa specialized in innovation and entrepreneurship during an MBA at Sydney’s Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM). Now, she’s starting programs of her own.

Born out of UNSW Innovations - the wider university’s office for innovation - Innovation Dojo offers startup programs and connects budding entrepreneurs with high-profile mentors, investors, customers, and unique opportunities across the Japan and Asia-Pacific region (JAPAC).

Kaoru’s mission: to improve cross-cultural links, develop global talent, revitalize the Japanese economy and facilitate the development of startup communities in the JAPAC region.

It’s an ambitious project, but it’s already gaining ground. Innovation Dojo launches its inaugural startup program in December this year, and is looking to develop tailored programs – combining global business practices with lean startup methodology – to corporations across Japan.

Prior to her MBA, Kaoru spent a decade in sales, working for TV, multimedia and semiconductor firms in her native Japan before relocating to Australia. There, she joined Corbis – a leading licensing agency founded by Microsoft mogul Bill Gates – managing partners in Japan and Korea.

With an MBA at AGSM, she set out to solidify her business knowledge and play a role as a bridge between Australia and the rest of the JAPAC region. It’s worked. In June, she co-founded Innovation Dojo with Joshua Flannery, a fellow AGSM MBA grad and director of UNSW Innovation’s FounderLab, which makes AGSM students’ entrepreneurial dreams come true.

How did the idea to start Innovation Dojo come about?

Josh and I found a shared passion for improving the economic relationship between Japan and Australia, using innovation as a catalyst. I had always wanted to export “innovation culture” and successful methodologies from Australia to Japan, and Josh wanted to stimulate the startup scenes in both countries.

Since innovation is on the government agenda in both countries, we think our model is the best way to contribute and support existing initiatives.

What do you hope to achieve?

For the last 20 years, Japan has been struggling with its stagnant economy and trying to find a way to revive it. We believe that Japan still has the top class of technology and science in the world, and that should be shared globally.

We want to bring exceptional Japanese talent together with innovation-savvy Australians and achieve a breakthrough with our program. Already, we’ve received requests to develop a tailored innovation program for major corporations in Japan.

We’re excited to extend across various industries. And, once we establish our business in Japan, we would like to expand to adjacent markets in Korea, India, and Malaysia. 

How has AGSM supported you in your business venture?

UNSW Innovations has been very supportive during our foundation process, from hosting our launch night to company incorporation. It would have taken more time to progress our business without this support and I feel blessed, via being an AGSM alumnus, to be a part of UNSW’s startup community.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at AGSM?

Prior to my MBA, I really enjoyed being a facilitator of business between Japan, Korea and Australia. I wanted to stay in Australia to learn more about local business culture, to equip myself with improved business acumen and to build up my professional network.

AGSM was the obvious choice, based on its global ranking, reputation and small cohort structure. Plus, Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and AGSM is located just 20 minutes’ walk from Coogee, a Sydney suburb home to an amazing beach!

What should applicants think about when deciding to do an MBA?

Everyone has different career goals, hence different selection criteria for selecting business schools. If you’re aiming for the big consulting firms, then the top-ranking schools are your best choice.

If you’re trying to find something special to change your life, then you want a comprehensive MBA experience with clubs, activities, socials and an inspirational living environment.

Most importantly, stay open-minded. Your MBA experience will open up new chapters in the story of your career.