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Aruba, January 10, 2013 - A week after getting married, Yusuke Takahashi had an alarming surprise for his wife's family. He dropped his prestigious and stable job as a university professor and struck out on his own as an entrepreneur. A few weeks after, finding it hard to get feedback on his ideas within Japan, Mr Takahashi decided he had to go to San Francisco to validate them. He spent two months sleeping on various couches while he talked to more than 200 people, from chief executives to those at the same stage as himself. Mr Takahashi read Steve Blank's The Four Steps to the Epiphany, translated into Japanese as The Textbook for Entrepreneurs, on the nine-hour flight from Tokyo, having randomly found it on his iPad. "I read the book twice on the airplane," he says, "and I found out where I'm at right now and what I should do when I land." Mr Takahashi is one of a growing number of Japanese shunning prestigious employment in large firms in favour of doing their own thing.

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Japan has lost its edge, and a lot of it due to not having this entrepreneurial spirit and agility”

He shares a space with Mr. Takahashi at Open Network Labs, an "accelerator" based in Tokyo which was set up in 2010 with the aims of fostering an ecosystem for entrepreneurs. The "accelerator" chooses around half a dozen start-ups to spend three months at the lab developing their ideas. "One of my dreams was to do my start-up," Mr Tsuda says of his drive to be an entrepreneur in what is a risk-averse society with a legacy of having a job for life. But ultimately it is the economy, rather than personal ambitions, that is making this decision for Japan's growing number of entrepreneurs. Big companies aren't doing as well and are hiring fewer young graduates. "There are like 40,000 fresh graduate students who don't have work," Mr Tsuda says. "So some people try to set up their own companies because they have to survive".

It is a reason often heard by Hiro Maeda, one of the founders of Open Network Labs. It is not just young graduates who are turning to their own enterprises, but Mr Maeda sees many applications from people in their 30s and older who have worked in established companies.

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