UTokyo-inspired startup pivots to AI, achieves listing in 9 years Entrepreneurs 25

June 26, 2024

This series introduces entrepreneurs who have received startup support from UTokyo programs or who have utilized university research. UTokyo’s support aims to expand Japan’s innovation ecosystem.

UTokyo entrepreneurs 25

President Akihiko Ishikawa of Aidemy Inc. became the youngest CEO of a company listed on the Growth section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange when his startup made its initial public offering in June 2023. He was 30 at the time.

This milestone is part of a remarkable journey that began when Ishikawa founded his company in 2014, while he was an undergraduate student at the University of Tokyo. He drew inspiration from notable UTokyo alumni who were successful entrepreneurs, and received crucial support from the university’s incubation ecosystem. Ishikawa, therefore, credits his success to his alma mater: “I owe a great deal to the University of Tokyo for what I have accomplished,” he said.

But his path to success was full of challenges, particularly during the first three years, when the startup struggled to attract users for the apps it developed. It was only after receiving advice from investors that Aidemy shifted its focus to a business model centered around training personnel for the burgeoning areas of artificial intelligence and digital transformation, which resulted in the company’s remarkable growth. Aidemy is pivoting again, this time helping companies with their efforts to promote digital transformation and develop their own in-house technologies to bring about this transition.

Aidemy, based in Tokyo’s central business district, reported a healthy 1.66 billion yen in sales for the year ending May 2023. Looking ahead, the company aims to expand its operations internationally, leveraging a team that combines the agility of young employees with the rich experience of senior staff.

Following in the footsteps

Aidemy Business
Aidemy Business offers online tutorials for enterprises to train their staff in AI and digital transformation technologies. (Photo courtesy of Aidemy Inc.)

After enrolling at UTokyo in 2012, Ishikawa became inspired upon learning that prominent Japanese entrepreneurs, including Kenji Kasahara, founder of Mixi, Inc. (operator of Japanese social media platform Mixi), and President Mitsuru Izumo of biotechnology company Euglena Co., Ltd., are university alumni. “It struck me that these individuals, who had attended UTokyo and led much the same campus life as me, had succeeded in addressing global challenges through entrepreneurship,” Ishikawa said. “It got me to think that entrepreneurship, after all, might not be as formidable a challenge as many people imagine.”

His budding inspiration to become an entrepreneur got a boost when he took on a leadership role in an intercollegiate business club called King, as well as winning a student business contest.

UTokyo’s hands-on incubation support proved to be invaluable for Ishikawa. Before launching his startup, initially named Goods Inc., he took part in Entrepreneur Dojo, a systematic entrepreneurship and startup learning program sponsored by UTokyo’s Division of University Corporate Relations. This helped Ishikawa refine his business ideas and compile business documents, a process he was unfamiliar with.

Brainstorming generates ideas, breeds success

After its inception, Goods released an app that recommended merchandise to users and another that enabled users to preorder and pay for bento lunch boxes from shops near the campus. The company withdrew the apps after failing to attract enough users.

Ishikawa took a temporary leave of absence from his studies at the Faculty of Engineering to concentrate on his business. Wanting to further deepen his technical knowledge, he returned to the faculty’s urban engineering department, where he became involved in AI-driven optimization of water purification processes at a laboratory specializing in water treatment. This was where he became fascinated with AI.

Ishikawa then enrolled in the Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, where he had the opportunity to independently take a course taught by Professor Yutaka Matsuo of the Graduate School of Engineering, a leading Japanese AI researcher. While taking this course, Ishikawa met Tomotaka Goji, president of the University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners Co., Ltd. (UTEC), which would later provide funding to Ishikawa’s company. Ishikawa and Goji, who was enrolled in a doctoral program while maintaining his executive job, were members of the same team tasked with developing an AI-based app.

While pursuing his studies, Ishikawa engaged in entrepreneurial pursuits as well, working with venture capital investors and poring over more than 40 business ideas. “Learning from my previous failures, I didn't rigidly adhere to my own ideas about the direction of the new business and decided to heed investors’ advice to focus on AI-related ventures,” Ishikawa explained. His company, renamed Aidemy in 2017, pivoted its focus from app development, which had attracted only limited user interest, to AI-related ventures, aligning with investor interests and technological trends.

Ishikawa attributes his success in securing investors and engaging stakeholders during his student years to his experience in Kabuki acting from kindergarten through fifth grade. “I learned the basic manners of being courteous, paying my respects to senior actors before performances, conveying words of gratitude and so on, which were essential for building rapport with people who were older than me,” he explained. “Engaging older people is also important in business.”

Bringing AI and digital transformation to the workplace


Ishikawa realized he had succeeded in providing a service sought after by users when registration for Aidemy Free — a free tutorial service on AI programming released by his company in 2017 — exceeded 10,000 users within 100 days. Not long after that, a fee-based, intensive tutorial service completely sold out on the day of its release.

During this period, Ishikawa had just two younger employees on his staff, one who had previously belonged to the King student business club, while the other was from UTokyo; but they were joined by about 40 interns and part-time workers from UTokyo, who helped with tasks such as tutoring, creating teaching materials and grading programming assignments submitted by users.

“Deep learning, which is behind AI’s rapid surge, gained prominence in 2012," Ishikawa said. “The student instructors were adept at quickly grasping such new technologies, explaining them in an easily understandable manner and helping to implement them.”

Ishikawa soon realized that many of the users were working adults, which led him to launch Aidemy Business, an online learning service designed to provide support in developing the talent necessary for major companies to carry out their digital transformation. As Aidemy grew rapidly, the company was able to assemble a team of young employees, UTokyo faculty serving as technical advisers, and seasoned business professionals with rich marketing experience.

Aidemy is now focusing on supporting major companies in “insourcing” AI and digital transformation technologies by bringing them in-house and operating them on-site. To this end, it has launched a service called Modeloy, where Aidemy staff work closely with clients to develop and introduce tailored AI and digital transformation technologies for internal use.

“The demand for AI is increasing across various industries,” Ishikawa noted. “To gain a competitive edge, companies need to develop their own AI technologies, but there's a lack of talented personnel. To address this, we offer support in insourcing AI technologies, working hand in hand with companies. This approach is unique and sets us apart from our competitors.”

Aidemy has catered to more than 550 corporate clients, including leading air conditioner manufacturer Daikin Industries, Ltd., telecommuncations giant KDDI Corp. and major frozen food producer Nichirei Foods Inc., and has tutored approximately 260,000 users. Ishikawa, not content with resting on his laurels, is eager to tackle new challenges. “I’d like to make Aidemy a leading startup in the world,” he said. “We will further strengthen our team to elevate ourselves to the next level and take on this challenge.”


Aidemy Inc.

Established by CEO Akihiko Ishikawa in 2014, initially under the name Goods Inc. The startup received funding from various angel investors, including UTokyo alumni. For two and a half years, the company was headquartered at Entrepreneur Plaza, an incubation facility provided by UTokyo’s Division of University Corporate Relations. The company secured 92 million yen in funding from UTEC and other investors in 2018, followed by an investment of 830 million yen from UTokyo Innovation Platform Co., Ltd. (UTokyo IPC) and other parties in 2020. Listed on the Growth section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2023. New business ventures include: Aidemy GX, to nurture talent skilled in green transformation; My Aide, a personal AI assistant; and Lab Bank, a data usage platform for research and development institutions. Ishikawa also supports approximately 10 startups founded by younger UTokyo alumni and others through funding as an angel investor. In 2024, the company acquired website design consultancy Fact-real, Inc., as a wholly-owned subsidiary. The entire group, comprising about 120 employees, strives to enhance its global presence.

Date of interview: Feb. 9, 2024
Interview/Text: Yumiko Mori
Top and bottom photos: Public Relations Group

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