For many years, black culture has worked in silos—this includes both domestically and internationally. By doing this, we tend to miss out on potential partnership opportunities to expand our footprint as a culture. There is a huge benefit to creating “allyship” with other cultures who embrace the black culture. Black Enterprise caught up with the Founder of Teamz, Olumidé Gbenro to talk about how he is helping to create funding opportunities for black businesses from Japanese investors.
Tell me about your background.
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, raised in London, United Kingdom, and came to America as a teenager when my family was fortunate to win the green card lottery. I took the traditional path of university; at first studying physiology and then public health in graduate school until I caught the entrepreneur bug.
Why did you decide to start Teamz?
I met many international business students during my graduate studies at San Diego State University and built a friendship with many of them. A few years passed and we realized we were all in business in our respective countries and we decided to create this platform to find funding opportunities for people who were global-minded; wanted to do business with others around the world; and find solutions to the language, cultural, and regulatory barriers we faced.
Tell us about the event in Tokyo? When is it happening?
Our Tokyo Business Summit will take place March 22–23, 2018, during the iconic cherry blossom flower season. We will be hosting startups from around the world who will be pitching their ideas to investors from the United States, Japan, and China for a chance at immediate access to funding. The last summit we hosted [brought in] investors from billion-dollar valuated Ofo. From hundreds of submissions, which we will collect on our website Teamz.co.jp, we will select 15 companies to pitch on the main stage.
Having two very different and unique cultures, how do you plan to blend African and Japanese business practices?
I think one thing we have in common is the respect and, in some ways, profound reverence for the elderly. Bowing as a sign of respect in both formal and informal situations are common and something that came easily to me while in Tokyo.
What major differences are you seeing from the two cultures involved?
Some differences may be the time it takes to begin a business relationship. In Japan, in order to gain trust in business, you must often meet with someone on several occasions before the real business talk can begin. The first meetings are usually just a chance to talk and get to know the person; I really enjoyed this aspect.
Do you think there is a market for black business in Japan?
I believe there is a huge market for black business in Japan. Asian culture embraces the black culture, especially hip-hop. The Japanese also have a profound respect for black people who are open to learning about their customs so I believe there is a huge opportunity in many fields from tech to music and entertainment, but this is reserved for those willing to ‘go across the pond’ as the saying goes. I encourage other people of color to join me so we can grow together.