UTEC supports the growth of its portfolio from an organizational perspective, especially in building a management team. We have four members in our HR team (※). How do members with different backgrounds support the portfolio company by utilizing their strengths? We asked them to discuss why the support that UTEC can provide is so special.
※ This interview was conducted with 3 speakers


    Senior Manager

    Hirofumi Oki

  • HR Specialist

    Yugo Nakashima

  • Venture Partner &
    HR Specialist

    Masafumi Asakura


A venture capital firms (VCs) with a dedicated HR team is still very rare in Japan. We asked the HR team consisting of professionals who specialize in portfolio HR support about their formation.

- How did the HR team get started?


A VC’s task doesn’t end when it provides funding. And even if the portfolio has a great business strategy, there is no point if there is no organization to implement it. Since our establishment in 2004, UTEC has introduced and produced more than 100 executives in our portfolio companies, not only through investment but also through hands-on management support. In many cases, our portfolio companies at the time of investment consist only of researchers and engineers, so it is very important to have a strong management team to who can support them and to create an organization to deliver sustainable results. We, the HR team, are here to support this assembly of talent.

I worked for a startup that provided HR consulting to emerging companies, and then for an English agency that supported biotech startups. While I was helping UTEC with their recruiting activities, I was unexpectedly invited by its President, Mr. Goji, to join the company in 2018. He told me "I am going to create a position dedicated to building the founding and management team of our portfolio companies, would you like to give it a try?" I decided to join UTEC because I resonated with the vision of UTEC, and felt thrilled because it's quite rare for VCs to provide dedicated HR support in Japan. In the first three years after joining, more than 60 management personnel, including CEOs, have joined our portfolio companies with UTEC HR support. As the number of successful IPOs and overseas M&As by the management team I introduced increased, I felt that we needed a HR support team rather than just a solo HR position, so I approached Mr. Asakura and Mr. Nakashima to form the HR team.


In my previous job, I was a COO of a digital manufacturing startup that raised about 1 billion yen in funding and merged with a company listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. I have worked with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) on IoT promotion labs, machine learning projects, overseas business development, as well as setting up HR organizations and designing HR systems. I was also a member of the management team of a VC-funded startup, so I think my strength lies in my ability to understand both sides, the investor and the startup. Prior to joining the startup, I managed an HR related company in Singapore for about 3 years as CEO.

Mr. Oki asked me, "How about we work together to support UTEC’S portfolios?" and since October 2020, I have been supporting both domestic and international portfolio companies and potential portfolio candidates as a Venture Partner.


In my previous job, I worked for an HR Tech startup that provided ecruitment services targeted at engineers. I worked as the head of the marketing and sales department and helped various companies with their recruitment efforts.

Several of UTEC's portfolio companies were also our clients, and I got to know Mr. Oki as a part of that relationship. When I resigned from my previous position, I was invited to join the HR team at UTEC in October 2020.

When I was approached to join, we talked about, "Recruitment is a very important function in a startup, but there are many executives who are not aware of its importance or difficulty. So we need not only to support the hiring process itself, but to also support the management team to change their awareness and motivation. We are committed to providing HR support to return excellent science and technology to society as a business.


The collective force of the members who come from a variety of backgrounds - The strength of the UTEC HR team

- How does UTEC HR team support the investees?


For portfolio companies who require urgent and high-priority recruitment needs, we provide hands-on support. We don’t really assign portfolio companies we provide hands-on support. We don’t really assign portfolio companies to our team members, but it is rather a system where all four of us support each other while utilizing our knowledge in our respective areas of expertise. For example, Mr. Nakashima supports the hiring of engineers and PR-related activities of investees in the IT field. Mr. Asakura has been supporting portfolio companies by connecting them to senior level management in corporates and organizations, as well as HR support for portfolios related to hardware and global businesses. While both of them have been focusing on HR as their career, they also have strong backgrounds in entreperneurship and engineering.


We believe that it is important to support our portfolios to increase their corporate value based on their vision and business plan. HR support is just one way to achieve this.

For example, when we supported a manufacturer and machine learning portfolio, we started out with organizing the product roadmap and sales strategy, and continued to discuss how the best management executives should execute these strategies. Understanding the technology is the first thing, but we should also keep an eye on the perspective and understand the funding policy and business plan, and what kind of management executives will be able to increase the value of the company in the future, to support our portfolios.


In addition, it is important to not only dig deep down into the needs of the type of personnel needed, but also the significance and incentive of joining the company for the candidate. This is important especially for high-level executives and engineers who are highly sought after. Many of the companies we invest in have excellent technology, but it is often difficult to understand. So we have to make sure the information is easy to understand and attractive to the candidates. I like to be creative in this as I have some experiences in PR and advertising. In a portfolio that Mr. Asakura supported, we discussed with the CEO about how to organize the information so that it is easy to understand and appealing to the candidates. I believe this is the case where the team was able to provide good support by utilizing the strengths of each member.

And I think the hands-on support is another great characteristic of UTEC. For one of our portfolios, Mr. Oki provided onsite support in 2019, and then I was in charge of the hands-on support from 2021 when the investment phase changed.


We are also unique in that we have representatives to enhance the value of the portfolios (Venture Partner) in addition to the HR team. Venutre Partners are professionals with expertise in finance, product management, business development and intellectual property. Venture Partners have experience working as CEOs and CFOs of public companies, in international business development at life science companies, or as professionals supporting IPO at an international private equity firm. The Venture Partner system allows for the building of a support system from various angles and through collaboration. HR team is also in charge of hiring, assigning, and managing Venture Partners.


What's the best part of supporting startups as the UTEC HR team? We asked for their frank opinion.

- What do you find most rewarding about joining the HR team?


People are at the core of business management. It is all up to the people in the management team, whether they can achieve the mission they set up and the business plan they formulated. So it is very rewarding to be able to engage in building the organization of the portfolios for this purpose from the very beginning. Also the personal matters and career of each professional are very sensitive, so it is often difficult for the management team to discuss the issue with others other than the HR team. So the advice we give requires much responsibility, but this is why this work is so rewarding and unique. Furthermore we have the knowledge and access to data from 17 years of experience in providing HR support which makes the process that much more advanced and interesting.


I think it is a great opportunity to work with highly motivated people, including the management of our portfolios and the members of UTEC. I was very impressed with one of our international portfolios working on a machine learning solution for the problem of aging population in Japan. I find it very rewarding to be able to work with ambitious management teams of portfolio companies in both Japan and overseas. And I think it is a precious opportunity to work with venture capitalists with experiences in supporting the IPO of a company on the NASDAQ in the US or the growth of a business worth over 100 billion yen.


The portfolios we invest in tend to be in the fields of biotechnology and hardware that require significant investment until they come to fruition. It is only in the UTEC HR team that we are able to be involved with our portfolios from the team building stage in creating the business concept before the company is even established, and work with them for up to 10 years after the investment. For those who want to support startups throughout their life-cycle for a long time, I believe UTEC is a great place to work.


One of the most rewarding aspects of working for the UTEC HR team is the opportunity to learn how to think with the bigger picture. For instance, the requirements for the personnel may differ from what the portfolio company thinks necessary and what UTEC thinks it requires. Say if I was getting paid from the portfolio company as a recruiting consultant, I would basically support on how to hire the kind of personnel requested, but from UTEC's standpoint, we will need to take a step back and think, "What kind of organization will lead to increased corporate value for the portfolio company?" In order to do this, we can't just be yes-men, but HR professionals who can speak with the management of portfolio companies as equals. In this kind of environment, I'm learning every day to think from the bigger picture about HR operations.

And I also feel rewarded for what I do. As a result of our support, more portfolio companies start to realize that management should be actively involved in HR. I joined UTEC with the intention of increasing the presence of HR in the startup world, so this is a pleasant change.


One of the most interesting aspects is working with UTEC's capitalists to provide support. Capitalists work with their portfolios to create business plans and funding policies, and we create organizational chart plans according to them. Collaborating with capitalists with different backgrounds is always very inspiring.


The HR team has been organized to provide support to our portfolio companies, but we are going up a step further to enhance the team for the next stage.

- Would you share your individual and team goals for the future?


In mid-to-long-term, our goal is to bring UTEC's portfolio companies a success in the global market. There will be cases when our Japanese portfolio companies undergo an IPO or M&A abroad or when our foregin portfolio companies undergo an M&A or IPO in Japan. I want to build organizations in our portfolio companies which can realize this.

In a short-term, I would like to strengthen portfolios in the physical science domain, especially those in the manufacturing industry. I was the COO of a digital manufacturing company, and I'm currently involved in design and technology in the company I manage, so I hope to enhance that at UTEC as well. More specifically, I would like to create a system to support the entire process of design, prototyping, and mass production.


My awareness of the problem hasn't changed. There are many startups in Japan with great technologies and ideas. But a number of companies have neglected the HR aspect and end up struggling. In order for startups to grow, an HR perspective is absolutely required on top of the business and finance perspectives. Since many companies that UTEC invests in are competitive in their technologies and ideas to compete on a global stage, I would like to support them from the HR domain.


We will continue to pursue our goal of creating management teams to compete on the global stage in order to realize the vision of researchers and entrepreneurs who aim to solve issues of humankind. And I would also like to create a flow for people whom we introduced to become executives to come back to UTEC or UTEC's portfolios to take on another challenge in startups. There are several people already who have done so, and I would like to create a larger virtuous startup ecosystem.

As for the team, we aim to establish an HR team that is one of the best value-add teams in Asia. In our most recent fund, the UTEC 4, about half of the investments were made internationally, and most of the domestic investments were made on the premise of a global expansion. We would like to create a system that would be selected by researchers and entrepreneurs around the world, where we can provide global HR support.