Strengthening Your Network

JMEC 17 Participant Featured in Article on the Website of the Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan (SCCIJ)

Business training program looking for Swiss participants

Japan Market Expansion Competition (JMEC) expands its reach to more companies and individuals from Switzerland. The JMEC program is centered on a business plan competition: its dual objectives are to strengthen the skills of up-and-coming executives, while paving the way for foreign companies doing business in Japan.

Completion despite Quake

JMEC connects highly motivated mid-career professionals willing to challenge themselves with companies in need of a business plan for their activities in the Japanese market. This year, the program, which is in its 17th year, was successfully completed despite the devastating effects of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Fifty-one participants between the ages of 24 and 60 developed business plans for firms such as Hafele Japan, Erco Lighting, TÜV SÜD, Honka Japan, Sumitomo 3 M and Tyler Foundation. “The participants were from 20 different nations, almost half were Japanese and more than one-third women,” says JMEC assistant program director Alena Eckelmann.

No Free Weekends

Participants are English-speaking, Japanese and non-Japanese individuals living and working in Japan who have a genuine interest in improving their business skills. After attending a series of lectures and workshops, participants work in teams to develop the best business plan for project clients within the competition. At the end of each JMEC program, a jury awards prizes to the three best business plans.

“I preferred the JMEC program to an MBA course because I wanted to have a result and not an exam at the end of this education,” explains Marko Zelger, the only Swiss participant in the program, on his motivation for participating. “It is an intensive and tough experience, though,” he admits. There were no free weekends because the training and work is done entirely apart from the participants’ normal job duties.

Team Experience

“I enjoyed the team mixture of participants with diverse industry and job backgrounds,” Zelger lauds the program. If the team gets stuck, a mentor and several consultants with decades of business experience are at hand for support. “One can lose oneself in the many project tasks,” says Zelger. The 30-year-old graduated in Japanese studies from the University of Zurich and works at the executive search agency Gaipro in Tokyo.

Client Benefits

JMEC teams have successfully written business plans addressing all possible objectives, including market entry, product and service launches, distribution strategies and targeting new market segments. Participating companies have to pay a fee of 1.2 million yen. “This sounds a lot, but is much lower than professional consultancies,” explains Eckelmann. Each team would invest 1,400 hours into the project, which translates into an hourly wage of 850 yen. A typical business plan consists of 50 to 100 pages plus appendices.

A survey of past projects shows that two-thirds of the clients began implementing their business plan within six months of receipt. All said they received results as expected or better. JMEC teams often come up with out-of-the-box solutions, unconstrained by in-house politics. “The amount of work put in is truly amazing, and the quality of the results is at a professional consulting level,” says Chris Phelan of the project client Weatherly Japan.

Business Plans since 1993

As of June 2011, 848 JMEC graduates from more than 45 countries have collectively written 159 business plans for organizations of all types both within and outside of Japan. The program is supported by 16 foreign chambers of commerce in Japan, among them the U.S., Australia & New Zealand, Germany, and Switzerland. JMEC also receives corporate sponsorship from members of the business community.

The fall of 2011 marks the beginning of the program's 18th year in Japan. Information sessions for individual participants are scheduled for the evenings of September 15 and 27 and October 5 and 18. A morning session will take place on October 13.

This article was first published on the website of the Swiss Chamber of Commerce in Japan (SCCIJ) on June 24, 2011.