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Interviews with foreign-affiliated companies in Kansai (IE JAPAN Ltd.)

Last update:September 8,2017

【Great Britain】 IE JAPAN Ltd.

Founded: December 2011
Address: 16F Umeda Square Building, 1-12-17 Umeda, Kita-ku, Osaka, 530-0001
Line of business: Fuel cell
Website: Intelligent Energy

Interview(2014)

After a nearly two-year period of preparation, IE JAPAN Ltd. was established in December 2011 as a Japanese arm of Intelligent Energy Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as “IE”), which is a fuel cell system development company based in the U.K.
For almost eight and half years, IE has been promoting research and development activities with Suzuki Motor Corporation for the purpose of incorporating IE’s fuel cell technologies in Suzuki’s two-wheel vehicles.  In 2012, IE and Suzuki established a joint venture company called SMILE FC System Ltd. in Yokohama, through the dispatch of human resources to the company from both sides.  Subsidies from the Subsidy Program for Projects Promoting Asian Site Location in Japan (currently known as the Subsidy Program for Projects Promoting Foreign Direct Investment, Site Location and Regional Development in Japan (Project for Site Location for Global Companies)), a program promoted by our Ministry, were used in establishing the joint venture company.
IE has had its base in the Kansai area for almost four years, including the preparation period.  Besides Representative Director Yamakawa, IE Japan has two members of staff in the Kansai area and two more members in the Kanto area.  Representative Director Yamakawa is seconded to SMILE FC System as well as managing IE Japan as its President.  We asked Representative Director Yamakawa, who is simultaneously managing these two positions, about the current situation of the company.

Why Kansai?

Well, people often ask me why we decided to set up our office in Osaka.  In our business, we don’t particularly target any specific regions, and we approach our businesses from a global perspective, and Japan is no exception.  So, we don’t consciously think that our office should be in the Kanto or the Kansai area.  In terms of convenience, you may say that it is more convenient to set up our office in Tokyo, as there are more companies which have their head office in Tokyo and as you can find more companies you can do more business within the area.  But, in the world today, you can easily go anywhere in Japan, and you can normally travel anywhere in the world within two days, however far away the place is.  So, unless the place is extremely difficult to access, I don’t think there is a problem in terms of transportation.  I don’t feel any inconvenience having our office in Kansai.  Even though we don’t have our base in Tokyo, we can cover our clients in the area through business trips.  There are some people who say that it is more convenient to be in Tokyo, as it is easier to have meetings with or to take orders from your clients because you are closer to the clients.  And also, as you can save travel expenses and time by having an office in Tokyo rather than in Osaka.  But, in reality, a unit price for office space in Tokyo is more than double that in Osaka and any other major city in Japan, so I believe that having an office in Osaka doesn’t cost as much as having an office in Tokyo.
In addition, when you think about the future of Japan, instead of having everything concentrated in Tokyo, I think that it will be ideal for more and more business bases to be established in local areas and for those business entities to become able to pay taxes directly to their respective local authorities.  I strongly feel that I would like to make a contribution in this respect.  Since many people from overseas don’t know any other Japanese cities except Tokyo, they tend to set up their first office in Tokyo when they enter the Japanese market.  But, they don’t necessarily say, “Why aren’t you based in Tokyo?” to the companies based in Kansai.  IE in the U.K. is a spin-out company from Loughborough University and it doesn’t have its head office in London either.  Moreover, although IE has its head office in England, there are employees who commute from Scotland or even the U.S.  There is a culture that puts a great importance on one’s “living environment” in Europe and the U.S.  Many people strongly feel that they want to spend their weekends in their local areas.  I am the same.  Even when I have work in the Kanto area for a whole week, I always come back to my home on weekends.  For me, Tokyo is the last place to choose as a location for my office.  I thought about Kobe as an option, but in the end, I decided to register our office in Osaka which is another major city in the Kansai area.  Currently, I am very happy to have our office in Umeda, Osaka which is easily accessible to our visitors.

Support from JETRO and British Embassy

We have been utilizing JETRO support programs since the establishment of our company, and we still consult with them on various accounting, tax-related and other issues, including work permits that are required for foreign nationals when they come to work in Japan.
In addition, excellent business support is available from the British Embassy and the British Consulate General for British companies that have entered the Japanese market, and we have been benefiting from their support programs, such as their referral service in which the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) introduces Japanese companies to us when we embark on new business.  Thanks to our relationships with those organizations, when Prime Minister Cameron visited Japan, we had an opportunity to make a joint presentation with Suzuki at the British Embassy to talk about how IE has come to establish itself in Japan.

Future prospect

As the use of ENE-FARM (household fuel cell cogeneration systems) has been expanding in Japan in recent years and also as sales of fuel cell vehicles are expected from various auto manufacturers in the near future, fuel cell technologies have been drawing more and more attention in the market, and expectations have been gradually heightened for fuel cell technologies to become an ace solution to solve energy issues.  In coming years, as the IE group, we are going to further deepen and accelerate the development of our unique technologies.  For example, we are considering moving into new business areas, such as emergency power sources for mobile phone base stations or charging technologies for mobile devices, including mobile phones, tablets, etc.  As the development of fuel cells will still require plenty of advanced materials, we are hoping that we can rely on the excellent capabilities of Japanese companies in those areas, including element technologies, material development and processing technologies.  My mission is to become a technological bridge between the U.K and Japan so as to make a contribution to the environment.  Through those activities, I also hope that we can increase the number of our employees.  The fuel cell industry is not yet fully established in the market, so the companies in this industry, including our company and our competitors, are not competing as rivals yet, but are still acting as partners that can together advance fuel cell technologies and boost the fuel cell market in coming years.
People in the Kansai area are good at coming up with new ideas, taking quick action, making changes with a positive attitude, and telling the central government what they want without hesitation.  In this environment, I would like to continue to seek challenges in new areas to further develop fuel cell technologies and pass our beautiful Mother Earth onto following generations.

Contact Information

Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Kansai Bureau
International Investment Promotion Division
Address: 1-5-44 Otemae, Chuo-ku, Osaka, 540-8535
Phone:+81-6-6966-6033
E-Mail:invest-japan-kansai@meti.go.jp