IC Net Limited has been providing consulting services for ODA projects in 100 countries for 20 years. The know-how and network that the company, a leading one in international development assistance, has built up for these 20 years is enormous and unparalleled. The company has recently started assisting overseas expansion of private companies by fully using these networks. “What is the role required of Japanese companies in developing countries?” “What are the pros and cons of overseas expansion for Japanese companies?” We discussed these questions thoroughly with Mr. Tada, the president who connects Japanese companies and developing countries and aims to revitalize both of them.
―First of all, please tell us what your company does.
Our main business, which accounts for 80% of our sales, is the ODA consulting business. Specifically, we are entrusted with a budget from organizations such as JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), government agencies and the World Bank, and carry out development projects in such fields as education, health and governance of developing countries. In our ten specialized fields (education, agriculture, health, governance, monitoring and evaluation, fisheries, financial and private sector development, tourism, environment, reconstruction support), we have implemented projects in 100 countries in the last 20 years.
Aside from assistance through ODA, we run a global human resource development program to train people to become human resources that can succeed overseas, and a business incubation program to invest in entrepreneurs who set up business in developing countries. In the business incubation program, with subsidies received from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, we have promoted new businesses set up abroad by 11 Japanese companies, and invested in projects that were gathered through our business idea contest.
―I heard that you have also started promoting the overseas expansion of private companies recently.
Yes. Recently, we have been trying very hard on global business promotion that assists the overseas expansion of Japanese companies. We have been working hard conducting market research, strategy development, and project operation for ODA in 100 countries including Asia, Africa and the U.S. This has allowed our company to accumulate human resources and know-how to set up businesses in various countries as well as local partners that work alongside us. We thought that this unparalleled strength would be of use when Japanese companies expand overseas.
―What kind of support are you providing specifically?
Starting from consulting before overseas expansion, to market research, strategy development, local partner search, company founding procedures, human resource development, and operation support after expansion, we are available to respond to any problems and requests. In addition, we believe that we can make the best use of our strengths when consulting during deliberations on which country to expand to.
For example, when we are asked for advice such as “We want to sell this product in Thailand, so how can we do market research,” we sometimes make suggestions along the lines of “Due to the saturated market, it will probably become a price war in Thailand. But in Laos, there is a chance for market penetration because it is underserved.” This is because instead of consulting on a particular country, we can make a decision based on our database of various countries and our experience. Also, due to ODA support, we conduct many projects in provincial towns as well as central cities, which lets us search needs in towns other than central areas. For example, we may say “there are higher possibilities to be successful in Chiang Mai or Sukhothai than in Bangkok,” when talking about Thailand.
That means we pay attention to sales expansion and technology transfers, which are fundamental reasons for our clients to expand overseas, and select the most suitable area for clients to expand to, develop strategies for success, and support the business operation after expansion if needed.
―I see. That’s the strength unique to your company. What is the major industry type and size of your clients?
Our clients are in every industry, including restaurants, manufacturers, and TV production companies. No matter what the industry, we can respond relatively flexibly. Though some of our clients are big companies, it is small-to-mediumsized companies, as expected, that see the highest pace of growth after using our services. So, we help them by placing importance on whether there is a potential for the business to expand in the future, rather than focusing on short-term profits. There are many countries that require the techniques and services of Japanese companies. So for Japanese companies aiming for overseas expansion, we provide the first consultation session free of charge regardless of the issue at hand.
―You accept requests for consulting from local companies overseas as well.
Yes. We are expanding our support range from Japanese companies to also include foreign companies that ask for our support. Just as for Japanese companies, we also conduct business support in other countries. We often receive matching requests to introduce Japanese companies that have abilities in certain fields. Currently, we are working on a request from a local company in Kazakhstan to introduce a Japanese company. We also consider working on helping companies expand to Japan from overseas.
―How many overseas offices do you have at the moment?
Including representative offices, we have company bases in eight areas, including Thailand, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. We would like to increase this to 15 bases in the next five years. Additionally, in the countries where we have bases, the business is run on a stand-alone basis. For example, we operate a music school in Cambodia, manage hotels and supermarkets in Laos, and so on. Of course, we also focus on consulting for Japanese companies using the strength of our bases, but we ourselves also invest locally, setting up and managing businesses. That’s why we can provide real support, not just armchair plans, in the consulting business.