JMEC: Grand Plans

Annual event for aspiring leaders has strong CCCJ ties

Supported by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan (CCCJ), the 26th annual Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC) brought together young, hopeful professionals to create solid business plans for a wide variety of client companies.

Participants — including one Canadian — attended lectures from industry experts on accounting, research, marketing, business and presentation skills, before each one was allotted to one of 13 teams. Although the coronavirus pandemic presented challenges during the final months, participants, consultants, mentors and judges persevered.

JMEC has Canadian connections that go back to the start. The program was launched by the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan, but the CCCJ soon joined them.

For about the first 10 years of JMEC, most lectures were held at the Embassy of Canada to Japan in Tokyo.

Sarah Mak
University of Toronto graduate
Team 7

There have been at least 17 Canadian participants in JMEC, including Sarah Mak this year, and at least five Canada–related projects, including those for McGill MBA Japan and the Canadian Embassy Trade Office. Ron Huber, a CCCJ governor and the current CCCJ JMEC Executive Committee representative, has been particularly active in JMEC, having served as an expert and advisor to a number of JMEC teams. He has also recruited interns from McEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, to work with JMEC.

Unlike past years, when the JMEC winners were announced at a Tokyo American Club gala, this year the victors were announced at a virtual event on June 3. JMEC Executive Committee Chairman Tom Whitson said: “On behalf of the JMEC team, I want to thank the 12 companies that submitted projects to the program [one company requested two different projects] as well as the lecturers, judges, team mentors and consultants who gave up days of their time to make this program a success.”

From left: Team 13 and Team 4 meet online


Whitson also commented on the impact that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic had had on this year’s competition. “JMEC 26 was conducted under the challenging conditions of a national state of emergency, due to Covid-19, which severely curtailed much of the research and interaction that preparing a business plan entails. I want to congratulate all the par-tic-i-pants for their dedication to this competition that resulted in a series of excellent business plans. You have all well and truly earned your certificates as graduates of our JMEC business training program.”

Toshiya Haraguchi
Project Manager
Custom Media K.K.
Team 4

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the JMEC initiative was not run as in past years. Toshiya Haraguchi, JMEC participant and project manager at Custom Media K.K., which publishes The Canadian, spoke about how necessary social distancing and Japan’s national state of emergency impacted his team’s ability to work. In particular, meeting with key industry figures to gain insight in the primary stage of their research was made difficult with social distancing measures in place. “In terms of team meetings, we were able to adapt to online meetings rather quickly.”

Nevertheless, Haraguchi said, “In the beginning we lost brilliant ideas and links posted in chat windows as we tried out different platforms. However, once we found the best platforms, being able to meet online and use cloud storage services really helped us. By April and May, we were having meetings every day.” 

Haraguchi also described how the pandemic affected JMEC at the end, and how the usual celebratory drinks and meetings could not be held. “We still haven’t seen each other since JMEC finished,” he noted, “as the number of Covid-19 cases are still rising in Tokyo. The JMEC winners’ announcement was online this year. It would have been nice to physically gather as a team one last time, have dinner together and scream and shout in celebration of what we had accomplished for the client [the South African Chamber of Commerce in Japan]. If it weren’t for Covid-19 I would have thrown a party with poutine and Nanaimo bars. I look forward to the situation in Japan improving, so we can hold a belated celebration together.”


Haraguchi also spoke about how JMEC has helped him prepare for the future. His past experience studying and working in Canada is something he hopes to return to. “I did my exchange program in the University of Fraser Valley in British Columbia, where I took TESOL and communications for two semesters. I also worked for American Express Canada in Toronto as a VIP travel concierge for a year while I was on a working holiday visa.” He added, “It seemed only natural for me to jump in when my company introduced me to the program, since I hope to work in Canada again in the future.”

“The program requires dedication, grit and willingness to go above and beyond for the client. However, the JMEC program is calibrated so that the harder you try, the more you gain from it. Whether you are a Japanese individual hoping to work for [foreign companies in Japan], an English teacher trying to launch your own business, or an English-speaking professional who would like to sharpen your skills and expand your professional network, the program will really pay dividends for you.”

“The JMEC team produced a business plan that was way above and beyond my expectations, and amplified my initial ideas.”


In third place was Team 3, with a presentation for AlgaEnergy, a Spanish biotechnology company that creates product solutions derived from microalgae for a range of industries such as agriculture and cosmetics. Team 3 focused on microalgae-based solutions for the food and beverage industry — specifically condiments enriched with microalgae. AlgaEnergy Development Projects Manager José Maria de Gregorio Muniz said: “Our JMEC team presented their findings and business plan to us, and we were much impressed by the quality of their research, analysis and outcomes. The team was very well organized and highly dedicated to the project, and their plan will enable us to draw very valuable conclusions!”

Team 13 took second prize with their plan for Sun Tamaniwa Farm, an indoor farming project by Hamish Ross, a Tokyo-based entrepreneur and investor. Ross said: “I was very impressed by the depth and conclusions of the plan, which was way beyond my original expectations. It has given me the confidence to progress with the project, because the team were able to access potential customers and ideas that I hadn’t thought of. Flexibility and the ability to think outside the box are a hallmark of JMEC teams, and this team showed such characteristics in spades.”

The winners were Team 12, who also developed a business plan for AlgaEnergy. However, Team 12 focused on the roll-out of cosmetic brand MareVitae. Alga Energy Expansion Director Miguel Rodriguez-Villa said: “The quality of the team’s work was exceptional and exceeded our expectations, with profound and valuable insights on the Japanese market, which are very useful for an appropriate approach regarding our expansion plans in Japan. On behalf of AlgaEnergy, congratulations to the team for their first-place prize!”

Team 12


The judges also rewarded certain teams with special honours, to recognize their impressive efforts and dedication. 

Team 6 received the Best Presentation Award for an impressive oral presentation to the JMEC judges for Global Dreamers Lab, a visionary museum facility project in Tokyo by Carl Williams, a US Air Force veteran with deep ties to Japan. “The JMEC team produced a business plan that was way above and beyond my expectations, and amplified my initial ideas,” Williams said. “The plan provides a solid foundation and roadmap for taking the project forward, and I congratulate my highly dedicated team on their well-deserved award!”

The Best Market Research Award went to Team 2 for their extensive and outstanding efforts for Herniamesh, an Italian maker of medical devices, including surgical mesh solutions, sold through their worldwide distribution network. Marketing and Sales Area Manager Marco Bertolino said, “We were very happy with the team’s final business plan, which provided highly useful research and analysis to help us re-enter the Japanese market — and I congratulate the team on their award!”

Team 8 won the Best Executive Summary Award for a potential market re-entry project for Ardex, a global company headquartered in Germany that is a leading solution and service provider of innovative tile and flooring systems. Andreas Oberecker, the company’s Asia regional managing director, said: “Choosing JMEC as partner for our project proved to be absolutely the right decision. Our JMEC team was highly motivated and moved quickly, and we were impressed by the level of technical and commercial detail that was uncovered.”

First Place  |  Team 12
Jonathan Ho, Yasuko Yoshino, Hiroshi Koyama, Hailan Huang, Takenori Nishimura
Project Client: AlgaEnergy—MareVitae® Cosmetics
Prize: Return tickets to Europe on Finnair (economy) and one-year memberships of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ)

Second Place  |  Team 13
James Greer, Miyuki Sasaki, Toshifumi Suzuki,  Bogna Baliszewska, Ngo Van Nguyen
Project Client: Sun Tamaniwa Farm
Prize: Hewlett-Packard notebook computers and one-year ACCJ memberships

Third Place  |  Team 3
Geoffrey Kayiira, Nonoka Tajiri, Shunsuke Akiyama, Noriko Kubodera, Javier Lopez Gimenez
Project Client: AlgaEnergy—Macami Food Condiments
Prize: Bree travel bags and free tickets to an ACCJ event

Best Presentation  |  Team 6
Amanda Marshall, Yuta Nagasaki, Tatsuro Oshimoto, Derrick Sugiyama
Project Client: Global Dreamers Lab

Best Market Research  |  Team 2
Xing Zhang, Shisa Hoshino, Hajime Watanabe, Jinghui ‘Sunny’ Huang
Project Client: Herniamesh

Best Executive Summary  |  Team 8
Charles Feuchter, Yuka Miyazaki, Diah Wasis Wulandari, Yusa Kawauchi, Yuichi Fujimori
Project Client: Ardex

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