Kyoto on the island of Honshu was destroyed by numerous wars and fires but eluded the wreckage of WWII. It was dropped from a catalogue of target cities for the atomic bomb. The numerous classical Buddhist temples, walled gardens, imperial palaces, traditional wooden homes or Machiya, and Shinto shrines all escaped obliteration.  Kyoto was once Japan’s capital and the emperor’s residence from 794 until 1868.  The linchpin of the present-day urban sprawl is an ultra-modern glass-and-steel train station in the city centre. The outward urban ramble of Kyoto from this axis is a testament to a city steeped in tradition and colliding with a world in transition.

Kyoto is now a city with “deep tech” startups like Enecoat, Flosfia, and Kyocera that merge high-tech engineering innovation with scientific discovery. The hub for this remarkable transition is Kyoto University. The University is aware that disruptive work takes time and large investments, and private venture capital funds are more cautious in investing in ideas that are not only on the fringe but also those that are deep. For these reasons, the University venture capital scheme offers up to twenty years of support. Kyoto University is rigorously involved in the deep sciences around regenerative medicine, stem cell science, and cleantech energy.

Since Dr. Hideki Yukawa won the 1949 Physics Nobel Prize, Kyoto University has produced more Nobel Laureates than any university in Asia. Eleven graduates or faculty have been awarded Nobel Prizes. Five in Physics, three in Chemistry, and three in Biology and Medicine. Seven years ago, Kyoto University started its innovation department and investment fund. From this humble initiative, graduates of Kyoto University have created over 242 startups. Because Kyoto is small, entrepreneurs think globally from the outset to be able to scale up unencumbered.

Long before Kyoto University supported entrepreneurs, Kyoto was known for startups like Nintendo. Nintendo was not always a technology giant. At its launch in 1889, it was producing ordinary playing cards. Nintendo made the digital transition comparable to the changeover from slate and chalk to tablets and styluses. Kyoto University has an Office for Society-Academia Collaboration for Innovation. The University finances startups using two venture capital funds. In 2015, the government of Japan created a $300M fund at Kyoto University to drive entrepreneurship and innovation. Enecoat Technologies is a beneficiary of the fund and has received ¥500M ($3.6M) to support its work on Next-Generation Solar Cell Technology.

Within three years, the Kyoto-based firm intends to put ultra-thin transparent solar sheets on your windows. The hope is to power homes using natural sunlight or artificial lights from inside the house. Perovskite solar cells have displayed competitive power conversion efficiencies, but their stability is limited. To improve stability, researchers are studying degradation in both the perovskite material itself and the surrounding device layers.

Flosfia is a deep-tech Kyoto startup backed by Kyoto University which has a high scholar density of scientists and researchers. Flosfia’s semiconductors use energy with greater efficiency. This has the potential to extend the lifespan of Electric Vehicles. Countries that are not doing pioneering work in specific fields can quickly lag as the speed of technological advance is overwhelming. Today, Japan has ten percent of the semiconductor market. Thirty years ago it dominated the field. Flosfia intends to establish a market presence now dominated by South Korea’s Samsung and TSMC in Taiwan. Flosfia has also created alliances with Taiwan’s principal chip manufacturers, as the cultivation of Chip Talent is critical to economic growth and national security.

To nurture the development of chip talent, TSMC’s Jack Sun is the Dean of a novel Semiconductor Graduate School. To build the industry-academic linkage that Kyoto is celebrated for, Burn Lin is now Dean of another new Chip School. Sun and Lin, two industry chip technology titans, are now Professors in the Practice of Chip Technology. With a global record of expertise and leadership in the semiconductor industry, they now nurture the next generation of makers. The new graduate chip schools they lead will maintain Taiwan’s position as a critical node in the chip supply chain system.

The integrated circuit industry is in high-growth mode. Thriving demand across the advanced manufacturing ecosystem – including trailblazing core manufacturers, advanced robotics, and new materials – has put a spotlight on the global shortage of Chip Talent. To be able to develop their own integrated circuits, and overcome a series of complex challenges, countries are addressing the demand for specialist digital talent.

In 2020, industry experts forecasted that China may spend over $300 bn on importing semiconductors. In 2021, China established a School of Integrated Circuits with a Major in semiconductors.  The talent gap in chip science in China is about 600,000 specialists, when all affected areas of the chip ecosystem are measured collectively.

Chip Talent shortages will affect the continuous advancement of chip research, and the stable development of the semiconductor industry. Kyoto wants to be part of that semiconductor future and Kyoto University increases that hope for Japan. Chip Talent involves electronic information engineering, microelectronics, and other interdisciplinary sciences that Kyoto is noted for. Likewise, the US Government has approved a $280bn support package for domestic chip research and manufacture.