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Fukuoka and Estonia – Partners in Innovation

Latitude59 and Estonia's startup community work together to invited startups from around the world.

Fukuoka and Estonia – Partners in Innovation

5 min read

Latitude59 & Estonia

If you’re interested in startups, then you have probably heard that Estonia’s popular startup conference, Latitude59, is this month. The event will be held on May 24th & 25th and several of Fukuoka’s startups will be attending. Since it has grown into such a big event, I thought it would be helpful to explore Fukuoka’s historically strong ties to Estonia’s startup community and why so many startups love attending Latitude59. Thanks to Global Startup Center (aka GSC) concierge, Ikki Toyama, I was able to learn more about our connection to Estonia and what Latitude59 is like for Fukuoka’s startups.

How It All Began

Ikki san explained that our ties to Estonia began about three years ago. Fukuoka city was searching for other countries that were advancing their software capabilities. Since Skype was founded in Estonia, it became a place to watch in terms of software development. After taking a trip to get a better sense of Estonia’s tech community, delegates from Fukuoka realized that Estonia had fantastic startup support as well. That’s why having an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Startup Estonia, one of 3 MoUs Fukuoka shares with Estonia, has been so beneficial to both startup ecosystems.


Over the past year, I’ve written a lot about the MoUs that Fukuoka has with a variety of different cities and countries around the world. Essentially, our startup MoUs ensure that there is a strong reciprocal relationship between Fukuoka and the other communities that sign the MoU. Often, we’ll give support to startups who want to come to Fukuoka and branch out into the Japanese market, and Fukuoka’s startups will receive similar support from the MoU’s co-signer. It’s important to note here that an MoU doesn’t need to exist for a startup to receive support from the GSC. If you need help, they’re there to support however they can!


In Ikki san’s opinion, a big part of the reason Fukuoka and Estonia are so close is that we have such similar communities. Yes, that means that both are similar in size and other features, but it also goes much deeper. He explained that both places are incredibly proactive in their approaches to startup support. So many areas aspire to cultivate thriving startup communities, but they are hindered by their inability to take action. Estonia and Fukuoka have shed the typical fears and issues that hold so many hopeful startup environments back. Instead, both communities take swift action which helps startups to grow and take root in the fast-paced global market.

Latitude59 2017

Going forward in time a bit to the Spring of 2017, Estonia’s largest startup event Latitude59 was celebrating its tenth anniversary. What began as an exciting conference for Estonia’s startups had evolved into an event the entire Nordic region and beyond looked forward to each year. As part of the conference’s 2017 pitch competition, Fukuoka city established the Fukuoka Award to grant to one outstanding startup. The inaugural Fukuoka Award was given to Latvian solid coffee startup, Coffee Pixels. As part of the Fukuoka Award, Coffee Pixels was given a round-trip ticket to Fukuoka as well as GSC support allowing them to bring their product to the Japanese market. While I’ll be interviewing their co-founder for our next edition, you can see the result of this support on Makuake right now. For those of you who don’t know what Makuake is yet, it’s a crowd-funding platform that signed a partnership with Fukuoka city. Coffee Pixels currently has an extremely successful Makuake campaign that was almost 200% funded by the time I wrote this article.

The point is, Latitude59 helps startups to get results. It’s a conference with real benefits and that’s why the event has begun to attract startups from pretty much everywhere. While it started out smaller in scale, it’s grown by leaps and bounds. This year, there will be another Fukuoka Award recipient to bring their international startup to Japan. By creating these unique connections through Latitude59, Fukuoka is expanding its global reach and helping to attract more innovators to our region. Once here, these international startups are able to receive support and advice that helps them tap into the Japanese market (as Coffee Pixels has experienced – but that’s for our next issue).

Looking Forward

This month, another startup will win the Fukuoka Award at Latitude59 just like Coffee Pixels, and Ikki san is looking forward to seeing who will win. He’s excited to help show more innovators what Fukuoka has to offer, and Latitude59 is a great place to do that while also sharing our progress with a global audience. The connections that startups make at this event will help to determine their course for the next year and beyond. It will also give our startup community a chance to interact with more entrepreneurs and startups that may be helpful collaborators or future Fukuoka startups themselves.

I’ve always appreciated how ready Fukuoka is for new ideas, and bringing startups from around the globe to our community is just another way our startup ecosystem gets to grow. It will be great to see who wins the Fukuoka Award and find out what helpful connections our startups come back with this year!