Interview on Aichi Smart Sustainable City Co-Creation Challenge (yaotomi×Minamichita Town×Aichi Prefectural Government Office×ICMG)

Interview on Aichi Smart Sustainable City Co-Creation Challenge
(yaotomi×Minamichita Town×Aichi Prefectural Government Office×ICMG)

Aichi Smart Sustainable City Co-Creation Challenge is a program that is jointly implemented by the Aichi Prefectural Government Office, the National University of Singapore, and ICMG, to bring in a smart sustainable city in Aichi Prefecture through co-creation which started in 2020 and continuing with the second term in 2021.
This time, as a review of last year’s implementation, we interviewed Mr. Inukai of yaotomi Co., Ltd. who applied and was selected for CHALLENGE 3 “Creation of a New Lifestyle Model for Living in the World, the City, and the Region Using Minamichita as a Model,” Mr. Tsutsumida of the Minamichita Town Office,Mr. Mori of the Aichi Prefectural Government, the owner of the challenge, and Sato of ICMG, who was in charge of CHALLENGE 3.

From left to right, are Minamichita Town Tsutsumida, Yaotomi Inukai and Aichi Prefectural Government Mori and ICMG Sato.
-So, first of all, let’s ask Mr. Inukai. Please tell us why you decided to participate in this program.-
Mr.Inukai:Based on the Chita Peninsula of the Aichi Prefecture, Yaotomi has been promoting the sixth industrialization, from production to processing and sales, based on the three pillars of organic vegetable oil — made from rapeseeds and sunflower seeds — and cosmetics made from the oil. However, this is unlikely to be purchased with money so easily in the farmland, therefore we have been coming up with solutions to help deepen cooperation with government agencies to promote our business.
I was always checking the information of the Aichi Prefecture Startup Promotion Division, so when I found out that Minamichita Town was going to participate (in this program), I knew I had to do it.
*Sixth industrialization・・・attempt which encourage the workers to work not only for producing agricultural, forestry and fishery products, but also for processing and selling them by themselves in order to expand the workers’ income and employment in the region.

-And from there, what did you propose to the town of Minamichita? -What did you propose? –
Mr.Inukai:The proposal is that the promotion of organic farming will help to solve the problems faced by Minamichita Town, such as the increase in an abandoned land and vacant houses, consisting of the following four plans.

  1. Incubation center for new farmers to take root
  2. A platform in collaboration with major mass merchandisers to distribute the production of vegetables
  3. Use in school lunches
  4. Component analysis of functionalities to enhance branding of vegetables

To put it simply, when we try to recruit new people in agriculture, we inevitably end up talking about migration and resettlement. To migrate, you will first need a place to live, which leads to the utilization of vacant houses. Also, there are hurdles in starting a new farm. Therefore, it is mandatory to have an incubation center to support them.
In addition, we will collaborate with major mass merchandisers — the sales channel for the vegetables we produce — through ingredient analysis in collaboration with Meijo University to increase the value of vegetables through functional labeling. Hence, we will be able to solve local issues by expanding organic vegetables through co-creation between industry, government, and academia.
-What was the reaction of Mr. Tsutsumida and the people at the town office when they received your application? –
Mr.Tsutsumida: At the time, I was working in the Disaster Prevention and Safety Division, in charge of measures to deal with dangerous vacant houses that were in danger of collapsing due to the weak foundation it was built over the years. The challenge in dealing with vacant houses is how do you get people to buy over and live in them before it becomes decrepit? The most common way to get people to move into vacant houses is to migrate, but this requires work. On the other hand, the number of farmers is decreasing and there are problems with abandoned and idle farmland. Mr. Inukai was already working on expanding his business in Minamichita Town by planting rape flowers on abandoned farmland for oil production.
Among the other proposals we received, there were some related to agriculture (smart agriculture, experiential tour), so we thought it would be interesting if we could connect them to those as well. We were only allowed to select three proposals, but we were forced to select four.(Laughter)
-This may be a bit overlapping, but what were some of the key factors in your selection? –
Mr.Tsutsumida:Well, one of the reasons was that it was a local start-up. I wanted to help local companies in their efforts, but I felt that there was a lot of potential of expanding collaboration with various stakeholders (i.e. the use of the product in school lunches). In Minamichita Town, building a new school lunch center was in progress, so we thought we could use organic crops for food education. In Japan, the market scale for organic crops is still in the process of growing, However, in Europe and the United States, the market scale for organic crops is very large because people learn from a young age that organic is good for the environment and consume it. Therefore, I thought it would be very important to realize a sustainable city from both environmental and economic perspectives.
Also, the best idea is the incubation center. The plan to have new farmers use yaotomi’s farmland and commercialize their business with support from planting to sales will help to strengthen local industry, eliminate abandoned farmland and help with promoting migration and settlement. I felt that the degree of completion of the proposal was very high, as it was even considered to increase the brand value by analyzing the ingredients of organic vegetables in cooperation with universities and labeling them as functional.
Mr.Inukai: I’ve always been thinking of ways to “bring smiles to everyone’s faces” by utilizing our existing local resources and human resource networks. Cooperation with the government was one of the components that yaotomi lacked when we applied for the project.
Mr.Tsutsumida:I think it is essential to collaborate with local companies and conduct co-creation between the public and private sectors to develop the region sustainably. I feel that this program has successfully connected us to that, as some local governments already have existing platforms — connecting the public and private sectors — but I think the challenge is really on “how” to create it. I also thought it was a miracle that Minamichita received business model proposals from 29 domestic and foreign companies for the program about “providing social issues as potential resources”. I would like to utilize the knowledge gained from this program to create a platform dedicated to public-private co-creation.

– What was the impression of the people at the prefectural government office when they saw yaotomi’s proposal for regional development based on industry-government-academia collaboration and organic farming? –
Mr.Mori: Aichi Prefecture is known for its thriving manufacturing industry, including the automobile and aerospace industries, but it is also one of the leading agricultural prefectures in Japan. For example, it ranks first in the country in the area of cabbage cultivation, it also ranks first in the number of flowers produced. The development of agriculture is also an important theme for the prefecture, hence why this proposal is very meaningful to us.
-How were the activities during the co-creation period? And what were some of the challenges you faced? –
Mr.Inukai:The fact that yaotomi’s proposal to promote organic farming with Minamichita Town was selected as one of the programs implemented by Aichi Prefecture, had a positive effect on our external appeal. The fact that we are officially cooperating with a public institution has changed the way we are regarded. When we told the major mass merchandisers, they had a very positive image of us which made it easier for us to talk about our proposal.
– Please tell us how the Co-Creation Challenge has helped you brush up on your plan.-
Mr.Inukai:We needed to be able to discuss migration and settlement measures with government agencies. Even if new farmers want to utilize vacant houses, they don’t know where they are, and it is difficult to ask the landlords about the status of their vacant houses. We were able to brush up on the plan in cooperation with the vacant house bank and other immigration and settlement measures after exchanging opinions with Minamichita Town. As well as other knowledge and know-how, there is a difference in trust that can be gained through cooperation with government agencies. The speed with which we can move forward is also completely different.
Also, Mr. Sato of ICMG was very helpful in taking the ideas I had in my head and turning them into a business plan. We were also able to work effectively with the town of Minamichita, and they contributed to the speedy compilation of the plan and consensus-building by demo day.
Sato:We consider the “co-creation period” to be the heart of the entire program. We devise ways to further brush up the proposals by multiplying the resources of various stakeholders, not just the challenge owners and partners. In the case of the Minamichita Town x yaotomi project, there were four mutually related plans, so we focused on how to combine them into a single proposal as a whole and how to promote consensus building for each plan.
We are often asked, “What is the role of ICMG? “. The role of ICMG is to identify and support what is needed to move co-creation forward. Sometimes we help startups say things that are difficult to say to challenge owners and vice versa. We also help the challenge owners to coordinate internally (within the government). The matching between the challenge owner and the startup is just the start, but we value the fact that we are deeply involved as a member of the team to develop the strategy together and make it a reality.
Mr.Tsutsumida:Based on what yaotomi gave us at the time of the proposal, we were able to gradually upgrade it through the dialogue in the program. I think the best thing about this challenge was that we were able to create a relationship where the public and private sectors could work hand in hand.
Mr.Mori:In addition, We had Mr. Inukai visited the prefectural office and connected with the prefectural government in charge of organic farming, so we were able to utilize Aichi Prefecture’s network to provide support for co-creation.
-Mr. Mori, what was your impression when you saw the final presentation of Demo Day? –
Mr.Mori:I believe that the four proposed plans are linked concretely and have come to fruition beautifully. I thought the plan was perfect for the “Smart Sustainable Co-Creation Challenge” because it leads to sustainability in the region, such as using organic vegetables for school lunches at elementary and junior high schools and supporting new farmers at the incubation center. Also, the collaboration partners came up with specific names. I didn’t know of any other places that were doing this well, such as AEON and Meijo University. I would love to see them share how they are developing further in the future.

※Presentation at Demo Day

Mr.Tsutsumida:In June of this year, the use of the product in school lunches was implemented. The next step will be after autumn, but we would like to strengthen the dissemination of information as part of “dietary education. We are also holding a study session on foods with functional claims. We have a policy of “local production for local consumption”, which means that what we consume locally is produced locally as much as possible. We would like children to eat vegetables that are safe and functional based on scientific evidence, and we would also like to make use of them in the tourism industry. In the area of linking organic farming to migration and settlement, we are considering plans for an incubation center to foster new farmers, while sharing the role with the agricultural policy division.
In addition, a study session on the necessity of public-private co-creation was held for all employees in February as a result of this challenge, and in April, the “Community Development Promotion Office” was newly established with public-private co-creation specified in its duties. In addition to the collaboration agreement with Qlue, which is another proposal of the Co-Creation Challenge, there are plans for collaboration agreements with two private companies, and various other initiatives are being accelerated as a result of the Co-Creation Challenge. I feel that the organizational culture of Minamichita Town Hall is changing with this challenge.

-Do you have any aspirations for this year or a message for startups? –
Mr.Mori:This challenge focuses on innovation and aims to “create new industries by startups” and “strengthen existing industries through collaboration between companies in the prefecture and startups. ” I would like to see domestic and international startups interested in the idea of smart sustainable cities apply. If your proposal is selected, ICMG will provide you with companionship and support to promote co-creation, and you will also be able to use the network of the Aichi Prefectural Government to the extent possible.
-Is there anything you would like to convey as ICMG, the co-organizer of this program?-
Sato: At ICMG, we are thoroughly researching what conditions are necessary for open innovation and co-creation initiatives to really “make things happen,” and we are putting that know-how into this program. We will meet the expectations of all “serious” startups, and we hope to create unique and valuable initiatives with those who have a passion for this program again this year.
-Mr. Inukai, please give a message to those who are considering participating in the Co-Creation Challenge this year. –
Mr.Inukai:I think it’s a really good opportunity if you’re willing to grab it, rather than expecting others to do something for you.
More than anything, it sets the stage for dialogue. This is a big thing. It is really hard to create such a place. (Laughs) If you just go to the counter, you will not be taken seriously in many cases. (laughs) I think we are lucky to have such a chance to have our proposals thoroughly considered. For us, it was a great advantage. If you are interested in this project, I highly recommend you apply for it.

Thank you very much, everyone!


Aichi Smart Sustainable City Co-Creation Challenge

The Aichi Smart Sustainable City Co-Creation Challenge aims to realize a “Smart Sustainable City” in Aichi Prefecture through co-creation between companies and organizations in Aichi Prefecture and start-ups from Japan and overseas. 3 challenge themes have been set, and the challenge owners will work together to solve the issues set as the themes.

yaotomi corporation

Based in the Chita Peninsula of Aichi Prefecture, yaotomi offers a lifestyle that makes people healthy from the inside and outside with its three main products: organic vegetables (JAS certified),oil made from sunflower seeds and rapeseeds, and cosmetics made from the oil. It is a regional agricultural trading company that promotes the sixth industrialization, which integrates production, processing, and sales.

Minamichita Town

Located at the southernmost tip of the Chita Peninsula in Aichi Prefecture, Minamichita Town consists of the tip of the peninsula and offshore islands such as Shinojima and Hidakajima. It is a fish town and fishing base that supplies fresh seafood to the urban areas, and a tourist spot where you can enjoy swimming and natural hot springs. However, it has the highest rate of vacant houses in Aichi Prefecture, with the vacant house rate reaching 21.6% according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in 2018. In addition, according to a fact-finding survey conducted by the town on all buildings in 2016-2017, there are 990 potential vacant houses in the town. Among them, there were 77 old and dangerous houses.