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U-FINO Supporting Innovation Through Public–Private Partnership

Theme : The Umekita Future Innovation Organization

U-FINO Supporting Innovation Through Public–Private Partnership

The Umekita Future Innovation Organization was established to promote innovation in Osaka and the Kansai region toward the creation of a rich life in the future through the integration of “greenery” and “innovation,” as demonstrated in Grand Green Osaka. To learn more, we have interviewed U-FINO members from each participating organization about their work for innovation through public and private cooperation.

From left: Mr. Ryo Ikeda, Economic Strategy Bureau, Osaka City; Mr. Yoshinori Yamashita, Kansai Economic Federation (Councilor, Industry Division); and Mr. Junichi Azuma, Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Manager, Life Science Group and Sport Industry Promotion Group, Industry Division)

In 2017, the Umekita 2nd Project Promotional Council to Create an Integrated Site of Greenery and Innovation was established, and was the predecessor to the current Umekita Future Innovation Organization (U-FINO). The latter was established in September 2022 to support innovation for the core functions of Grand Green Osaka, so as to accelerate innovation throughout Osaka and the Kansai region by constructing an ecosystem to help stimulate the creation of new products, services, and businesses.

Mr. Junichi Azuma of the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry describes the background to U-FINO as follows: “Immediately after deciding on the urban redevelopment Umekita 2nd Project, many discussions were held by the parties concerned to determine what sort of townscape would be best. During that process, it was decided to create a place conducive to collaboration with the general public to stimulate innovation centered around an urban park, and it was realized that industrial-academic-governmental cooperation was essential for that. Accordingly, the Umekita 2nd Project Promotional Council to Create an Integrated Site of Greenery and Innovation was established through a collaboration between the public and private sectors, including the Osaka Prefectural Government, Osaka City, the Kansai Economic Federation, the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Urban Renaissance Agency (UR), and the Osaka Science & Technology Center. After establishing the council, which was the predecessor to U-FINO, various efforts were made in cooperation with the Grand Green Osaka developers to realize the new town, ramping up as the early-stage opening of the Umekita 2nd Project approached, and with U-FINO being established as a collaboration between the Osaka Prefectural Government, Osaka City, the Kansai Economic Federation, the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Grand Green Osaka developers, in September 2022.”

Mr. Junichi Azuma of the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry notes, “The healthy lifespan in Osaka Prefecture is ranked low in Japan. The take-up rate for specific health checks is also among the lowest in Japan. We would like to facilitate opportunities for the general public to more easily enjoy sport through Ex-CROSS.”

Members comprising U-FINO from its inauguration in September 2022 are Osaka City, the Kansai Economic Federation, the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and, on behalf of the Grand Green Osaka developers, the Hankyu Hanshin Properties Corporation. A coalition of members of the public and private organizations has been conducting early-stage opening trial projects for the new townscape.

Mr. Ryo Ikeda of Osaka City describes the situation since the integrated public-private organization was launched, stating, “The three of us here have been handling this project since the council era, and now with the establishment of U-FINO are continuing our endeavors under the U-FINO aegis. Having been involved in the same team we all feel an even stronger sense of unity than before. Also, we have now moved into the Grand Front Osaka Knowledge Capital Collaboration Office together with Co-Creation Generator (CCG), which manages the core facilities, so we enjoy close communications under the same roof, while organizing preopening events.”

Mr. Ryo Ikeda of Osaka City points out, “The major characteristic of Grand Green Osaka is that it is the last remaining prime location in Osaka, while featuring an urban park with abundant greenery. We hope that not only Japanese residents but a wide variety of visitors will come together from all over the world so that this townscape can become a genuine hub.”

U-FINO supports innovation in the development of this new townscape. Mr. Ikeda describes the advantages of public-private collaboration: “The primary advantage is being able to bring together each of our strengths. For example, Osaka City cannot easily act beyond its own area due to administrative restrictions. On the other hand, the sense of security presented by governmental involvement is not something typically afforded by private companies, and I consider this, coupled with the agility and speed in a private sector unbound by physical locality, to be a major advantage.”

Guided by its vision—promoting innovation in Osaka and the Kansai region by establishing an ecosystem conducive to new products, services, and businesses by bringing together information, people within Grand Green Osaka, and technologies in order to resolve social issues and create new industries—U-FINO strives to support innovation by sharing the strengths of participating organizations, such as existing networks and expertise, between public and private organizations. So what specifically does U-FINO do?

Mr. Yoshinori Yamashita of the Kansai Economic Federation explained that U-FINO is taking on a variety of trial projects prior to the full-scale opening. One such project is to provide opportunities for open exchange about innovation. He explains, “The Kansai Economic Federation has about 1,300 corporate members. Sharing U-FINO’s activities with these corporate members is also an important responsibility. Furthermore, from fiscal 2020, Umekita Kyōgō-no-ba (‘Innovation Resonance Umekita’) was launched as a trial project to act as a bridge between major companies and startups involved with the core functions of Grand Green Osaka.”

Mr. Yoshinori Yamashita of the Kansai Economic Federation says, “We would like Grand Green Osaka to be a hub for startups in the Keihanshin area (comprising Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe), i.e., a site that brings together companies, universities, research institutes, and so on for open innovation, fund procurement from venture capitals around the world, and business matching among various entities.”

Umekita Kyōgō-no-ba (‘Innovation Resonance Umekita’) is akin to stalls at a local fair, enabling the open innovation departments of major companies and individuals from universities and support organizations to gather and interact. The mere presence of such a place makes it easier for startups and universities, for instance, to meet with companies on a one-to-one basis, boosting the opportunity for direct consultation on ideas and issues, which is expected to encourage innovation throughout the Kansai region.

Mr. Yamashita says, “A total of 137 meetings were held over two days at the third Umekita Kyōgō-no-ba (‘Innovation Resonance Umekita’) held in February 2023 as an event in commemoration of the establishment of U-FINO. This year startups from Tokyo participated, showing that it is growing in size with each passing year. Grand Green Osaka aims to be a hub for the whole Kansai region, not simply Osaka. We will push forward with this project, so that it can be implemented by the early-stage opening of the new Umekita townscape in the summer of 2024.”

At the third Umekita Kyōgō-no-ba(‘Innovation Resonance Umekita’) held in February 2023, major companies in Kansai, support organizations, and universities participated, and stall-like booths were run by 27 organizations, providing opportunities for startup companies to hold individual consultations. (Photo: Masashi Kimura)

There is also a focus on sharing information, as epitomized by one such event, Innovation Stream Kansai 6.0, held as part of events to commemorate U-FINO’s establishment. At this exhibition, visitors could personally experience cutting-edge technologies and research into products and services with a high probability of commercialization which is being done by universities and research institutes in the Kansai region, coupled with innovation-related seminars.

Mr. Ikeda comments, “Innovation Stream Kansai was initiated in fiscal 2017 by our predecessor council, with the aim of introducing the wide-ranging, cutting-edge research and services being conducted at universities and research institutes in the Kansai region, while offering them (i.e. the universities and research institutes) the opportunity to enhance their services and products through exposure to visitors, and thus giving something back to society. The most recent event was the sixth to be held, having evolved into a hands-on exhibition with virtual reality content and demo equipment that visitors could easily understand.”

Visitors could experience cutting-edge technologies and details of research into services and products that are expected to be commercialized, through this hands-on exhibition at Innovation Stream Kansai 6.0, in which 26 Kansai universities, research institutes, and the like participated.
(Photo: Koichi Higashiya)
At Ex-CROSS, attendees could experience parasports. A sonic ball is used to play blind soccer with a guide’s voice. The general public could take on members of the Japan women’s national team by wearing an eye mask.

Ex-CROSS, an interactive event combining sports with entertainment and technology, is another information-sharing trial project whose origins date back to the previous council. These exhibitions invite top athletes, with ranks of booths at which cutting-edge technologies for sports and wellness can be experienced along with next-generation activities.

Mr. Azuma, who has been handling such events since 2017, explains, “These events showcase sports that the public can easily try, but they also afford an opportunity to demonstrate the cutting-edge technologies offered by sports and wellness-related companies, as well as for companies to look for compatible partners.”

Another U-FINO trial project is for global business expansion and community creation. The networking event MedTech Connect promotes information exchange and interchange across medical and healthcare industries. Such events are also held in America, Singapore, and Taiwan, and MedTech Connect Osaka 2023 marked the third time it was held in Japan, with a symposium held to discuss the necessity of establishing a Japanese healthcare ecosystem from a global perspective.

A panel discussion during MedTech Connect Osaka 2023. A lively exchange of views ensued among medtech ecosystem stakeholders.

Finally, efforts are being made in the area of the development of human resources for innovation. The Kansai region boasts a wealth of technology, which produces added universal value, so the Technology Commercialization & Entrepreneurship Program (T-CEP) has been implemented since fiscal 2019 to visualize such value, discover and nurture the human resources for their commercialization, and establish a mechanism for people to respond to such technologies. This human resource development program for fostering innovation brings researchers from the universities and research institutes that have developed the technologies together with company people, mainly from the Kansai region, providing an environment conducive to nurturing the talent for the joint business development of such technologies. In order to convert innovative knowledge into wealth, it will continue to function as a platform for both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.

T-CEP has been set up so that previous participants coach this year’s participants. Over the last five years, the community has grown to around 100 members.

Mr. Ikeda spiritedly adds, “Each event or program may just be one small point right now, but we would like to update and link these points to form a larger stratum in the future. I believe diversity is a source of innovation, so I would like to work with everyone to bring about an environment that appeals to many different people.”

Grand Green Osaka has begun the countdown to the early-stage opening in the summer of 2024. Given the groundwork being laid by U-FINO, innovations created in Osaka and the surrounding Kansai region will soon be disseminated to the world.

portrait photos: Sadaho Naito text: Akiko Wakimoto