Joichi Ito is an entrepreneur with a calling: to nurture risk-takers who will help build Japan's Internet economy. Last December, he launched Neoteny, Japan's first self-financed incubator for Web and e-commerce ventures. It seeds fledgling ideas and helps budding entrepreneurs develop business plans and get financing from the big guys. Neoteny hopes to create success stories that will, in turn, fund new ventures along the way. "We're going to need lots and lots of entrepreneurs to rebuild Japan," says Ito, 34. "With my experience and support, I can help."
Ito is a rarity in the Japanese business world. He's bicultural, having spent his formative years in Canada and the U.S., where his father was a chemistry professor. A college dropout, he started Eccosys in 1994. It designed some of Japan's first Web sites and helped firms set up online operations. That was the start of a string of winning ventures: Eccosys grew into Digital Garage, a leading Web consulting firm. Ito also set up the Japan offices of PSINET, an Internet service provider, and portal Infoseek Japan, of which he is chairman.
Neoteny "is not about personal gain," says Ito, "but about encouraging a lot of good companies to bloom."