Saturday, April 29, 2017

GUEST BLOG POST: The Creativity Crisis: It’s Getting Worse — Kyung Hee Kim

Children's Creativity Museum is an innovative art and technology experience for children ages 2-12 years located in Yerba Buena Gardens, in San Francisco, California, U.S..
In this very special guest post by Professor KH Kim, we find out the updated facts of what is happening to people’s creativity levels over the past decades, now with updated statistics for 2017. This is a follow-up to one of the most important pieces of creativity research from the past decade.

Children are born to be creative, like eagles are born to soar, see the world, and find food, not scratch and fight for scraps in a coop. Instead of competing against each other on memorization tests, when children utilize their creativity to its full potential, creativity can contribute to healthy lives and future careers.

How High-Stakes Testing Has Caused Exam Hell in Asia
High-stakes testing has shaped the main Asian cultural values: 1) filial piety (e.g., to be a good son or daughter by achieving high scores), 2) social conformity (e.g., to think and act like others); and 3) social hierarchy (e.g., to obey the authority). High-stakes testing has made millions of young men focus on preparing for tests, instead of challenging the social hierarchy. It has resulted in exam hell, the excessive rote memorization and private tutoring, starting in early childhood, to achieve high scores among students in Asia. This situation has fostered social conformity and structural inequalities. It has cost Asians their individuality and creativity.

How High-Stakes Testing Has Caused The Creativity Crisis in the U.S.
During the 1990s, American politicians, fearing the educational and economic success of Asia, began to focus on test-taking skills to emulate Asian success.  Today, high-stakes testing costs American taxpayers tens of billions of dollars each year, but the real cost is much higher.

Highly-selective university and graduate school admission procedures rely on high-stakes tests such as the ACT and the SAT. Testing companies and test-preparation companies have reaped enormous financial benefits and lobby Congres heavily for more testing.  However, because students’ scores are highly correlated with both students’ family income and spending on test preparations, high-stakes testing has solidified structural inequalities and socioeconomic barriers for low-income families.

American Education Before and After the 1990s
Creativity is making something unique and useful and often produces innovation. Prior to the 1990s, American education cultivated, inspired, and encouraged.  However, since the 1990s:

Losing curiosities and passionsBecause of the incentives or sanctions on schools and teachers based on students’ test scores, schools have turned to rote lecturing to teach all tested material and spent time teaching specific test-taking skills. Students memorize information without opportunities for application. This approach stifles natural curiosities, the joy of learning, and exploring topics that might lead to their passions.

Narrowing visionsMaking test scores as the measure of success fosters students’ competition and narrows their goals, such as getting rich, while decreasing their empathy and compassion for those in need. However, the greatest innovators in history were inspired by big visions such as changing the world. Their big visions helped their minds transcend the concrete constraints or limitations and recognize patterns or relationships among the unrelated.

Prior to the 1990s, many schools had high expectations and offered many challenges. However, since the 1990s:

Lowering expectationsSchools focus on students whose scores are just below passing score and ignore high-achieving students.

Avoiding risk-taking. High-stakes testing teaches students to avoid taking risks for fear of being wrong. The willingness to accept failure is essential for creativity.

Prior to the 1990s, educators sought to provide students with diverse experiences and views.  However, since the 1990s:

Avoiding collaboration. Because teachers have been compelled to depend on rote lecturing, students have few opportunities for group work or discussions to learn and collaborate with others.

Narrowing mindsSchools have decreased or eliminated instruction time on non-tested subjects such as social studies, science, physical education, arts, and foreign languages. This contraction not only narrows students’ minds but gives them few opportunities for finding or expressing their individuality and cross-pollination across different subjects or fields. Low-income area schools, especially, have decreased time on non-tested subjects to spend more time on test preparations.

Prior to the 1990s, schools provided children with the freedom to think alone and differently. However, since the 1990s:

Losing imagination and deep thoughtTest-centric education has reduced children’s playtime, which stifles imagination. With pressure to cover large amounts of tested material, teachers overfeed students with information, leaving students little time to think or explore concepts in depth.

Fostering conformityAmerican education has increasingly fostered conformity, clipping eagles’ wings of individuality (All schools preparing students for the same tests and all students taking the same tests). It has stifled uniqueness and originality in both educators and students. Wing-clipped eagles cannot do what they were born to do – fly; individuality-clipped children cannot do what they were born to do – fulfill their creative potential.

Fostering hierarchyStudents’ low scores are often due to structural inequalities, which start in early childhood (e.g., the number of words exposed to by age 3), affecting their later academic achievement. Yet, high-stakes testing has determined the deservingness and un-deservingness of passers or failers.   The claim of “meritocracy” has disguised the structural inequalities by conditioning disadvantaged students to blame themselves for their lack of effort.

Results of the 2017 Creativity Crisis Study
In “TheCreativity Crisis (2011)” I reported that American creativity declined from the 1990s to 2008. Since 2008, my research reveals that the Creativity Crisis has grown worse. In addition, the results also reveal that the youngest age groups (5 and 6-year-olds) suffered the greatest.

The significant declines in outbox thinking skills (fluid and original thinking) indicate that Americans generate not only fewer ideas or solutions to open-ended questions or challenges, but also fewer unusual or unique ideas than those in preceding decades (Figure 1).

The significant declines in newbox thinking skills (elaboration and simplicity) indicate that Americans think less in depth, with less focus, and they think less critically and in more black-and-white terms than those in preceding decades (Figure 2).

The significant decline in open-mindedness (creative attitude) indicates that Americans are less open to new experiences and different people, ideas, and views than those in preceding decades (Figure 3).

The greatest declines in creativity among the youngest age groups suggest that the younger children are, the more they are harmed by American test-centric education.

Similarities between American high-stakes testing and Asian exam hell have appeared. Increasingly, fewer American innovators will emerge. The longer test-centric education continues, the fewer will remember or know that eagles can fly, and the more we will see creativity and innovation decline.  America must not abandon its traditional way of raising eagles. Eagles that soar high will see the whole big world, and children who maximize their potential will become world’s greatest innovators. The world has improved from breakthroughs made by eagles, not by wing-clipped chicks.

Dr. Kim is Professor of Creativity and Innovation at the College of William & Mary  ( or Tweet @Kreativity_Kim).

Dr. KH Kim is Professor of Creativity & Innovation at the College of William & Mary. After being an English teacher in Korea for ten years and upon getting her PhD from the University of Georgia, she taught there and then at Eastern Michigan University. She has dedicated her career to researching creativity and innovators. Her research study titled "The Creativity Crisis" was the subject of a 2010 Newsweek cover story that captured the world’s attention. Frequently sought after by the media, she has shared her expertise with numerous outlets including New York Times, Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, and others. She is the author of The Creativity Challenge: How We Can Recapture American Innovation and has won the Early Scholar Award and the Hollingworth Award from the National Association for Gifted Children, the Berlyne Award from the American Psychology Association, as well as the Torrance Award from the American Creativity Association.

Originally published on IDEATOVALUE.COM

Friday, April 28, 2017

NEWS POST: NCC Laments Slow Adoption Of ICT In Government Institutions

The NCC EVC said that Nigeria’s ICT initiatives must focus on cybercrimes, cyber security, indigenous software development, digital multimedia platforms, amongst others.
The slow adoption of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) among government institutions in particular, is worrying the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

As a result, Nigeria, though already plugged into the ICT ecosystem, is yet to harvest fully the dividends of the ICT revolution sweeping across the world. To correct these lapses, the country’s educational curricula must integrate ICT at all levels of education, stressing that the systems and institutions must be brought into compliance by training and re-training of the people.

The Executive Vice Chairman, NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, made this known at the Beacon of ICT Distinguished Lecture/Awards Series in Lagos. Danbatta, represented by the Executive Commissioner, Sunday Dare, noted that while “our youth have fully embraced ICT, our government, institutions both public and private are still in the process of adopting ICT in their operations and activities. Yet, the future lies in ICT. Nigeria must make deliberate policies that will accelerate ICT penetration.”

While regretting the technology weaknesses among public institutions, he however disclosed that government has made some commendable strides in adopting ICT in various aspects of its operations.

“However, a more systematic and accelerated approach will yield more dividends; create more opportunities and jobs for the economy and our teeming youth,” he stated. According to him, Nigeria is yet to acquire the full dividends of the ICT revolution.

“Nigeria, though already plugged into the ICT ecosystem, is yet to harvest fully the dividends of the ICT revolution sweeping across the world.” Danbatta said that ICT had become a one-stop shop for modern tools of development, innovation, employment opportunities and for a smarter world.

He said that as the world moved towards the Fifth Generation (5G) revolution and the Internet of Things (IoT), Nigeria must embrace fully the opportunities offered by the ICT.

The NCC EVC said that Nigeria’s ICT initiatives must focus on cybercrimes, cyber security, indigenous software development, digital multimedia platforms, amongst others.

Convener of BoICT, Ken Nwogbo, said that the lecture aimed at charting the way forward for the ICT sector and put the country on the global ICT map. Nwogbo said that the awards were to reward best practices and recognize outstanding contributions to the growth of the sector.

Meanwhile, the Managing Director, Ericsson Nigeria, Rutger Reman, has said that Nigeria has become central to the entire African digital market such that a progress or otherwise recorded in Nigeria would “surely have serious implications on the entire African economy.
“To achieve the desired economy digitization, there is a need for the regulator and operators in the sector to focus on addressing infrastructure issues while adopting latest models of deploying technology in a way to get more people connected.”

Reman said, “Ericsson is positioned to help Nigeria fully digitize each of these sectors for efficiency.” He said with Information and Communications Technology being used to manage each of the sectors, “We now have smart transport, smart buildings, smart travel, smart work, smart agriculture and land use, smart services/smart industry and smart grids including smart homes, among others.

Originally published on The Guardian Nigeria 

Monday, April 24, 2017

NEWS POST: Goldman Environmental Prize Awarded Amid Murders, Violence Against Activists

Clock-wise (Top row) Uros Macerl, Slovenia, Wendy Bowman, Australia, Prafulla Samantara, India, Rodrigue (Bottom row) Mugaruka Katembo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rodrigo Tot, Guatemala, mark! Lopez, United States
This year’s winners include activists who went undercover to expose corruption, community leaders who strove to achieve safe environments for their people and fought for their rights, often at great personal risk.
The Goldman Environmental Prize, dubbed the Green Nobel Prize, honors grassroots environmental heroes from Europe, Asia, North America, Central and South America, Africa, and Island and Island nations.
The winners will be awarded the Prize today at the San Francisco Opera House.

A Congolese park ranger, a Guatemalan indigenous land rights activist and an octogenarian Australian who blocked a coal mining firm from taking her family's farm were among the six winners of one of the world's most prestigious environmental prizes on Monday.

Announced in San Francisco, the 2017 Goldman Prize Environmental Prize worth US$175,000 to each winner comes as violence against land rights campaigners continues to rise globally. Two previous winners of the prize were murdered for their activism.

In January, gunmen assassinated Mexican Isidro Baldenegro, one of the 2005 winners and anti-logging campaigner. Honduran indigenous rights advocate Berta Caceres, who won the prize in 2015, was shot dead last year.

"That environmentalists are under threat is a reflection of what's happening in the world right now," said Lorrae Rominger, acting director for the Goldman Prize Environmental Prize.

"Activists fighting very powerful interests are being targeted," Rominger told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.

The prize committee is looking at ways to improve safety for the winners so they can continue their campaigns, she said.

Globally, more than three environmentalists and land rights activists were killed a week in 2015, up from two a week in 2014, according to the latest report by Global Witness, a U.K.-based campaign group.

Some of this year's prize winners say danger is part of life for environmental campaigners.
Rodrigue Katembo, 41, a ranger in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park, went undercover at significant personal risk to document corrupt practices by an oil company looking to drill in the protected area.

His expose about the firm's attempt to bribe officials led the oil company to withdraw from the project. But as part of the investigation, Katembo was arrested and tortured for 17 days, the Goldman Prize committee said in a statement.

Indigenous Land
Another winner, Rodrigo Tot, a land rights campaigner and community leader of Guatemala's indigenous Q'eqchi people, said one of his sons was murdered because of his activism.

"The fight to defend our land has been very hard. I lost one of my sons," Tot, 59, said in a phone interview.

Tot has led campaigns to protect indigenous land from government and foreign mining companies seeking to tap into the nickel deposits in central Guatemala.

He says nickel mines would have poisoned local water sources by discharging untreated wastewater in streams and lakes used for fishing and farming.

"Our land has a lot of natural resources and sources of water. We don't want our resources to be polluted," Tot said.

His campaigning led to a rare victory when Guatemala's Constitutional Court ordered the government in a landmark ruling in 2011 to issue land titles to the community of around 400 people living in the village of Agua Caliente.

But the fight continues. So far, the government has failed to comply with the court's ruling.
"We still don't have our collective land rights. We are always looking for ways to put pressure on the government," Tot said.

Australian family farmer Wendy Bowman, a co-winner of the prize, is known for her successful fight to stop coal mining expansion that she says causes air and water pollution.
Bowman, 83, is one of the last residents left in Camberwell, a small village in Hunter Valley in southeastern Australia, an area surrounded by coal mining.

She stopped Yancoal, a Chinese-owned mining company, from taking her family farm and has refused to sell her land to the company, the prize committee said.

Other winners include Uros Macerl, an organic farmer from Slovenia who successfully blocked a cement facility which activists say would have produced toxic waste, Indian anti-mining campaigner Prafulla Samantara and a Los Angeles community organizer who goes by the name mark! Lopez.

Meet The Winners Of The 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize
The winners include Uros Macerl from Slovenia, Prafulla Samantara from India, mark! Lopez from the United States, Rodrigo Tot from Guatemala, Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo from DRC and Wendy Bowman from Australia.

The world’s most prestigious award for grassroots environmental activism has announced its winners for 2017.

Every year, the Goldman Environmental Prize, dubbed the Green Nobel Prize, honors grassroots environmental heroes from Europe, Asia, North America, Central and South America, Africa, and Island and Island nations.

This year’s winners include activists who went undercover to expose corruption, indigenous leaders who fought for the rights of their communities and took on big destructive development projects, and activists who strove to achieve safe environments for their communities, often at great personal risk.

The winners will be awarded the prize today at the San Francisco Opera House, followed by a ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. on April 26.

Here are the winners of the 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize.

Uroš Macerl (Slovenia)
In 2003, Lafarge Cement, one of the world’s largest cement companies, took over a 130-year-old cement plant in Trbovlje in Slovenia and began burning petcoke, a carbon-rich byproduct of the oil refining process. Worried that the pollution from the cement plant was making water unpotable and soil infertile, Uroš Macerl, an organic farmer and president of a local environmental group, who lived on the outskirts of the Lafarge plant, got together farmers, residents, and local groups in his community to collect air quality data. He found that there had indeed been a sharp rise in pollutants since Lafarge had begun burning petcoke.

When Lafarge, in 2009, applied for an environmental permit to co-incinerate hazardous industrial waste with petcoke, Macerl filed and won a lawsuit that canceled the permit. But when the company continued to burn petcoke and waste, Macerl organized protests and rallied community opposition until the plant was ordered to shut down in 2015.

Prafulla Samantara (India)
In the state of Odisha in India, an 8,000-year-old indigenous tribe, the Dongri Kondh, lives in the Niyamgiri Hills, a forested region rich in biodiversity. The tribe considers the Niyamgiri Hills to be sacred, and see themselves as its protectors. But for many years, the tribe has been at loggerheads with the Odisha State Mining Company (OMC), which in 2004, signed an agreement with UK-based Vedanta Resources to mine bauxite, an aluminum ore, in the hills.

Prafulla Samantara, a social justice activist who grew up in a family of farmers, has fought for the rights of the Dongri Kondh for more than 12 years. He rallied the tribe to make their voices heard about the Vedanta mining project proposed on land they had called home for years, and filed a petition with the Supreme Court to halt the mine. In May 2016, the Indian Supreme Court denied a petition from the OMC that sought to overturn the tribal council votes and to mine the bauxite as a sole venture.

mark! Lopez (United States)
In 2000, Georgia-based Exide took over an old battery recycling plant in Los Angeles, and increased the volume of batteries being processed at the plant. Emission levels of pollutants such as lead and arsenic are believed to have skyrocketed as a result. Following an investigation by a federal grand jury about its operations, Exide agreed to shut down the plant but nobody seemed to address the contamination beyond the smelter site.

mark! Lopez, born in a family of activists in Los Angeles, went door to door to inform the community about the dangers of lead contamination, and rallied the residents into pressuring the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) to test homes around the smelter site. When the tests showed that most homes were contaminated and required remediation, Lopez and his team persuaded the state of California to approve US$176.6 million for the testing and cleanup of affected homes.

Rodrigo Tot (Guatemala)
In 2006, the Guatemalan government issued a permit to restart the Fénix mine, a nickel mine that had once been operational between the 1960s and 80s. The indigenous Q’eqchi people who lived around the mine claimed that the company was forcibly removing them from their land without their consent.

To find out if the community had legal claims to the land, Rodrigo Tot, an indigenous leader in Guatemala’s Agua Caliente, spent years gathering evidence of Q’eqchi’s land ownership. Then, based on the evidence he collected, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, in 2011, ordered the government to issue land titles to the people of Agua Caliente.

The battle over land ownership is ongoing,  but Tot and the community continue to fight for land titles of the indigenous peoples.

Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo (Democratic Republic of Congo)
In 2010, the Democratic Republic of the Congo allowed SOCO International, a British oil company, to explore for oil in an area that extends into Virunga National Park. Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When 41-year-old Congolese park ranger Rodrigue Katembo was offered money by SOCO to let their vehicles pass through Virunga National Park to set up an oil exploration base by the river, he decided to look into their dealings. Together with the park director, Emmanuel De Merode, Katembo began to document evidence of corruption by SOCO, its contractors and others. Katembo even used undercover cameras to record footage of SOCO and its contractors offering bribes and discussing illegal activities.

His footage were featured in the documentary film Virunga that became hugely popular through Netflix and generated international outrage over SOCO’s conduct in Virunga. The Church of England, in 2016, announced it would divest its US$1.8 million holding in the company, and a few months later, SOCO announced it was giving up its oil license. Katembo continues to to protect Virunga and its wildlife from poachers, militia, and extractive industries.

Wendy Bowman (Australia)
Nearly two-thirds  of Hunter Valley in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, has been given away in coal concessions, producing 145 million tons of coal every year. As a result of the widespread coal mining, countless landowners have moved. And for those who remain, coal dust has become a part of their lives, affecting their homes, farmlands, water sources and health.

But the now 83-year-old Wendy Bowman, one of the last residents left in Camberwell, a small village in Hunter Valley surrounded by coal mines, managed to take on a powerful multinational mining company and stopped it from taking her family farm and protected her community in Hunter Valley from further pollution and environmental degradation.

Originally published (STORY 1) on REUTERS and (STORY 2) on MONGABAY.COM

Monday, April 10, 2017

NEWS POST: Startups In Japan Seeing Ample Cash But Lack Of Innovators

In this Feb. 14, 2017 photo, Yusuke Asakura, who heads a Tokyo-based angel network of entrepreneurs investing in global startups, speaks during an interview in Tokyo. Asakura just returned from a stint at Stanford University as a visiting scholar studying the "startup bubble" in Japan. Japan Inc., long dominated by old-style companies, is finally warming up to startups. But megabanks, venture capitalists and major companies looking to invest can't find enough innovative entrepreneurs, some in the industry say. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)
Japan Inc. where companies with roots going back decades, if not centuries, have long dominated, is finally warming up to startups.

Major banks and venture capitalists are keen to tap into faster growth by investing in innovative entrepreneurs, when they can find them. Money raised for ventures in Japan reached a record 276 billion yen (US$2.5 billion) last year.

That's up from about 50 billion yen (US$450 million) annually after the financial crisis, according to Japan Venture Research Co.

Open Fields
Silicon Valley still raises 50 times more cash for startups than Japan, but the number of U.S. startups chasing that cash is higher. So there's relatively more money to go around in Japan, where young, daring risk-takers are still relatively scarce.

That helps startups to survive, says Yusuke Asakura, who heads a Tokyo-based angel network of entrepreneurs.

Still, he says Japan needs a change of "mindset."

"Japanese value hard work, but what creates innovation is not keeping at the hard work but deciding it is too much work and figuring out how not to do it," said Asakura, who led a turnaround as chief executive at Mixi, a social networking service in Japan.

He now sits on boards of two startups - Raksul, an online service that farms printing work out to plants nationwide, and digital hotel reservation service Loco Partners, which recently was bought by Japanese telecoms operator KDDI.

"There is potential for startups in all the old-fashioned sectors," he said, pointing to growing use of digital tools in education and home-remodeling. "Creating a totally new sector is one way. But there are many old areas that need fixing."

In this Friday, April 15, 2016 photo, Tokyo-based startup Classico Chief Executive Arata Ohwa speaks while showing a new stethoscope during an interview at his office in Tokyo. His Tokyo-based startup Classico sells online stylish lab coats and scrub tops for medical doctors and nurses around the world, especially in the U.S. and Japan. More recently, he has branched into ergonomic stethoscopes, ranging in price from US$380 to US$520. He raised the seed money through crowd-funding. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Cool Stethoscope
Arata Ohwa did exactly that: Innovating in an area where practically nothing had changed for decades.

His Tokyo-based startup Classico sells stylish lab coats and scrub tops online to doctors and nurses around the world, especially in the U.S. and Japan. Classico coats cost about US$200 each, about seven times more than utilitarian conventional ones, but are more fashionable.

More recently, Ohwa raised seed money through crowd funding to begin designing, making and selling ergonomic stethoscopes that sell from US$380 to US$520 apiece.

Classico's U Scope is made of a more pliant material than traditional stethoscopes, whose basic design has been the same for a century.

It can be rolled up to fit into a pocket, and doctors say it's light and easy-to-use. This year, it won Germany's iF Design Award and Red Dot Design Award.

"In the medical industry, even if you do what's considered normal in the internet world, everyone says it's new," said Ohwa, 36.

Hot Startups
Investment by financial institutions and manufacturers, some of whom are setting up corporate venture capital funds, is driving the startup boom.

Local companies that once tended to think locally without considering overseas markets increasingly are focusing on global platforms, said Akira Kitamura, chief executive at Japan Venture Research.

"Companies are investing in open innovation because they don't want to end up like Sharp or Toshiba," said Kitamura, referring to big-name companies whose fortunes have fallen in recent years.

Japan's earliest "startup" ventures were in the 1970s. The 1980s brought internet giant Softbank Corp., travel company H.I.S. and the Culture Convenience Club, a video-rental chain. Online retailer Rakuten and game company DeNA were born during the boom of the late 1990s-early 2000s.

Until recently, such newcomers were viewed by suspicion.

The classic example is Takafumi Horie, whose downfall was as dramatic as his ascent as a star entrepreneur and founder of Livedoor. He was convicted in 2007 for financial crimes that usually do not land old-guard executives in jail. Horie, who pleaded innocent, spent nearly two years in prison.

Startups still face other hurdles in Japan, where initial public offerings remain the main exit option, rather than the relatively easier mergers and acquisitions approach typical of the U.S. and Europe.

In this March 2, 2017 photo, Yusuke Umeda, the co-chief executive of Tokyo-based startup Uzabase, speaks during an interview in Tokyo. Umeda is banking on a smartphone news service focused on business and economic news, targeting people willing to pay for the service. Japan Inc., long dominated by old-style companies, is finally warming up to startups. But megabanks, venture capitalists and major companies looking to invest can't find enough innovative entrepreneurs, some in the industry say. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)
Yusuke Umeda, 35-year-old co-chief executive of Tokyo-based startup Uzabase, is banking on a smartphone subscription news service focused on business and economic news.

Umeda's NewsPicks service has attracted 2 million users who each pay 1,500 yen (US$14) a month, 550,000 of them daily active users. It eked out a profit last year on nearly 3.1 billion yen (US$31 million) in sales last year, up 63 percent from 2015.

The service produces original stories and collects and curates reports from The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Japan, TechCrunch and other news services. It also adds comments to items written by its own pool of hired writers and experts.

"And so they know it's not fake news," Umeda said.

While working for the Swiss investment bank UBS, Umeda found Western financial data services hard to use. He launched Speeda, a Japanese-language service designed for financial professionals in 2009, and NewsPicks in 2013. His company has gotten 1 billion yen (US$9 million) in Japanese venture money from investors such as Globis, Monex and Itochu Technology Ventures.

"It's unimaginable how easy it has become to get funding from both big companies and venture capital," said Umeda. "The culture to nurture startups and try out new businesses is also growing. That was totally absent eight years ago. That's a big change. And I think that is positive."

Many Tongues
Some startups, like software distributor Sourcenext Corp., serve as bridges between Japan and the rest of the world.

Sourcenext helped facilitate launches of Dropbox and Evernote in Japan. Its iOS and Android voice-recognition application, iGotcha, transcribes voicemails into text in 11 different languages.

The app sends messages to email and Facebook Messenger accounts by WiFi and collects and organizes voicemails from a user's mobile phone numbers.

Noriyuki Matsuda, the company's billionaire chief executive, founded the company in 1996 in Japan but has lived in California since 2012.

While the climate toward ventures is gradually improving in Japan, it still hasn't caught up with more globally-minded Silicon Valley, says Matsuda, 51.

"You can make deals there," Matsuda, who used to work for IBM Japan, said of Silicon Valley. "There are many advanced tools that have been developed in Silicon Valley, and we bring those products and the culture to Japan."

In this Jan. 26, 2017 photo, Noriyuki Matsuda, founder and CEO of Sourcenext Corp., looks outside from his office in Tokyo. Matsuda, 51, founded the company in 1996, has lived since 2012 in Silicon Valley. "You can make deals there," said Matsuda, who used to work for IBM Japan. "There are so many advanced tools that have been developed in Silicon Valley, and we bring the products and the culture to Japan." (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Originally published on AP BIG STORY