Backed by the CCCJ, this annual business plan writing course adapts to beat the lockdown
Every year the Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC) helps participants develop their business savvy. And this year, despite pandemic-related challenges, the competitors did not fail to show their mettle.
The business training program, designed to strengthen the skills of up-and-coming executives, was founded in 1993 by the Australian and New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The initiative provides teams of participants with lectures and training, followed by hands-on experience putting together comprehensive business plans for an assigned project client. The teams then present their business plans to the judges, who are successful business leaders.
This year, there were 47 participants from 13 countries. On June 9, JMEC held its 27th online awards ceremony, at which the winning teams were announced.
Over the years, JMEC has garnered the support of a growing number of foreign chambers of commerce in Japan. The backers now number 18 chambers, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan (CCCJ). Ron Huber, the CCCJ member on the JMEC Executive Committee, spoke about JMEC and how the chamber continues to support the successful business program.
“The CCCJ has supported the JMEC program for more than 20 years now and it is the most distinctive and cost-effective business training program in Japan. Many of our CCCJ members have benefited greatly from JMEC and, similarly, a large proportion of our executive directors and office managers over the years have also been graduates of the initiative. Known affectionately as a ‘mini-MBA,’ JMEC is the perfect program for motivated bilingual professionals wanting to take their careers to the next level.”
This year, the majority of the program was carried out virtually, with lectures, training and team meetings conducted online.
Tom Whitson, JMEC executive committee chairman, opened the awards ceremony by commenting on Japan’s national state of emergency and the effect it had on the program. “Teams had to change the way they researched and interacted to develop their business plans.
“The plans showed perceptive analysis and creative ideas to help our project clients. You have all truly earned your certificates as graduates of our JMEC business-training program. On behalf of the JMEC team, I want to thank the companies that sponsored projects, as well as the lecturers, judges, team mentors and consultants who gave up days of their time to make this program a success.”
Michael Pfeffer, who works as a graphic designer at The Canadian’s publisher, Custom Media, was a member of Team 2, which took home first prize — tickets to Europe on Finnair — after having impressed the judges with their business plan. The project client was Regemat 3D, a Spanish biotech company that focuses on the use of 3D printing in regenerative medicine.
“Having worked for months together with the other members of my team and having shared common goals, it’s easy to forget that some of us have never actually met in person,” Pfeffer said. “We set up regular meetings [online] and reported our progress to our client right up to when we submitted the final business plan.”
“I feel the utmost gratitude for the great team members, our client and the various advisors that helped us along the way.”
Team 2 leader Eric Lam said: “It was a challenging but valuable experience in team building, leadership and, of course, business plan creation. Talking to real people in the industry can give insightful clues on how to further build a case for your ideas.”
Lam also mentioned some of the challenges faced during the program — particularly linguistic ones. “The medical and scientific nature of our client also presented a language barrier due to the terms used. Fortunately, we were blessed with native Japanese team members to help carry out interviews and research in Japanese.” However, Lam emphasized some of the key things he learned during his time on the JMEC program, highlighting the unrivalled learning experience the program provides participants: “Talking to real people in the industry can give insightful clues, and help you understand how to further build a case for your idea. We stumbled upon some absolute gems. Had we not done these interviews, we might have been stumbling around, lost in the dark, for a very long time.”
The second-prize winners took home Hewlett-Packard laptop PCs, and third-prize winners received stylish satchels from the German brand BREE.
Lam recalled how it felt when it was announced his team had won first prize. “My initial reaction was just … speechless. I am a tad embarrassed to admit that I had exhausted myself concentrating on the delivery of a great business plan, and totally forgot to prepare what to say in the event our team actually won.
“Although stumbling for words, it was a proud moment, and I feel the utmost gratitude for the great team members, our client and the various advisors that helped us along the way.”
Pfeffer echoed his teammate’s sentiments, saying: “I was very proud of the team, our mentor and our advisor, and I felt grateful to all the people who supported us. However, the real honour was being a part of this year’s JMEC. I met so many incredible professionals and gained a wealth of experience.”
Pfeffer also provided some advice for those taking part in the next JMEC program. “Get as much as you can out of the initial lectures. If you’re joining by Zoom, turning on your camera will keep you fully engaged in the topic.
“When you receive your team assignment and project client, get started immediately — meet the members, understand the scope of work, research the client and the industry, and schedule a meeting with the client as soon as possible. The sooner you get a jump on the assignment, the more likely you will be positioned for success.”
JMEC 28 began in August, and program lectures start on November 13.