Updated December 18, 2023
Top Startups in Japan Offering Employee Stock Options [Dec 2023]
Stock options are gaining popularity among startups in Japan.
These stock option plans offer employees the right to buy company shares at a predetermined price, which aligns the employee’s own interests with the company’s objectives. This helps foster a deeper commitment to their work.
Offering employee stock option plans (ESOP) for private companies isn't new. It just hasn’t been as ubiquitous as in places like SIlicon Valley due to certain caveats.
Until recent years, many employee stock option plans offered by Japanese companies were pretty limited. They had "termination clauses" and "vested schedules". These limitations would only unlock the benefits gradually, and usually meant employees would lose access to their stock options if they left the company.
This practice nullified some of the advantages that came with having stock options, but thanks to recent government initiatives, more and more companies in Japan have been introducing stock option programs with more clear benefits to their employees.
In this post, I’ll introduce the top startups in Japan that offer great employee stock option plans.
Let’s jump right in.
In this article: 📝
In this article: 📝
Established in 2013, Mercari is one of the biggest success stories in Japan. The company is best known for the app Mercari, which is Japan’s largest customer-to-customer marketplace.
The app allows users to buy and sell previously owned items with great ease, which includes everything from clothes to consumer electronics.
Since its conception, Mercari has been on a mission to become a global tech giant and currently has a group of subsidiaries under its corporate umbrella. In its endeavors to do so, the company has been making top-notch efforts to make its employees a true part of the company with its employee stock option program.
In addition to this, it also offers fund matching, which allows employees to purchase even more stocks equal to the amount of funds matched by the company.
Established in 2017 as a part of Mercari’s group of companies, the FinTech startup Merpay offers a payment platform for both businesses and individuals.
Merpay is essentially Mercari’s own online payment system, created as the company’s cashless payment service.
Since then, the system has become widespread in Japan, and the company currently offers services such as an e-wallet for electronic payment identifications and online payment.
As part of Mercari, Merpay also offers an employee stock option program as part of its incentive system, which allows employees to purchase additional stock from the company with fund matching.
Jamm, a seed-stage fintech company, operates in the payments space with a focus on empowering individuals and businesses. The company’s core aim is to facilitate non-predatory, stress-free transactions, revolutionizing the fintech industry starting with payments.
Jamm’s commitment to changing the landscape of financial transactions is evident in its approach to creating a more equitable and user-friendly ecosystem.
Alongside its innovative business model, the company also values its employees and offers a stock option plan to further incentivize them.
Founded in 2022 and headquartered in Tokyo, Carnot is a software startup that harnesses the capabilities of large language models (LLMs) to enhance human productivity. Their innovative solutions are designed to integrate seamlessly into daily tasks, maximizing the potential of individuals and businesses.
Carnot draws its inspiration from the idea of a “perpetual motion machine” and aims to build an ecosystem that continuously moves autonomously. Its platforms Promptflow and consulting services enable business efficiency at an unprecedented scale by creating a workflow that’s powered by generative AI.
Emphasizing employee engagement and investment in its vision, Carnot offers an employee stock option program, aligning its team’s success with the company’s growth.
Founded in 1992, GLOBIS initially focused on creating management ecosystems. Currently, the company is active in various fields, including higher education, and has MBA programs under GLOBIS University.
GLOBIS University’s MBA program, which is available in both Japanese and English, has over 8.500 graduates and counting. In addition, the company provides corporate training and works closely with venture capital companies, having channeled over 1.3 billion USD into startups via its capital partners.
GLOBIS also has an employee stock option program that allows employees to purchase shares from the company.
Kraken Technologies is a subsidiary of the UK-based company group Octopus Energy. Since its conception in 2015, the company has been providing advanced operating systems for utilities, such as managing energy resources, and top-notch customer service experiences.
As a part of Octopus Energy Group’s employee incentive scheme, Kraken Technologies has been offering its employees a share ownership plan ever since its inception.
Octopus Energy is now proud to declare that over 20% of the company is owned by the employees and the company is even vocal about the mutual benefits this incentive plan brings to both the company and its employees.
Cogent Labs’ mission is to “power productivity with Artificial Intelligence.” The company has been providing high-tech, fast-paced AI software as service products since its founding in 2014, and aims to “shape the future” with AI.
The company’s main product/service, called Smart Read, allows efficient document processing powered by Artificial Intelligence. Among its other products are Tegaki, a handwriting recognition system that turns human writing into data, and Kaidoku, a natural language recognition engine.
Cogent Lab also has an integrated DX platform, COGENT DX, which Smart Read is a part of.
And given that the company found its place on this list, it also offers its employees an incentive scheme in the form of employee stock options.
Cybozu was founded in 1997 and is Japan’s leading groupware provider, offering software solutions that help inspire and improve collaboration among those working in teams.
Selected as one of the best workplaces in Asia by the Great Place to Work initiative, Cybozu offers its employees great benefits, one of which is its “Global Shareholding” system.
The company was actually one of the earliest startups to offer a useful stock option plan in 2005, and has since improved its system and has even become the first company to extend its stock option program overseas.
The company’s Global Shareholding system is the employee stock option program that’s available internationally. The company even allows fixed-term workers in Japan to benefit from the program, which is huge, to say the least.
Bodygram is all about utilizing body data in new ways to bring value to businesses. The company was established in 2019 and has quickly spread out to multiple industries with its body measurement technology.
Bodygram utilizes advanced AI technology to scan and measure body data and estimate sizes. As accurate body measurements can be helpful in a wide range of businesses, the company provides its body measurement technology to mattress makers, worker’s uniform manufacturers, as well as insurance providers for health-related applications of the data.
Bodygram is also among the companies that share the belief that having a collective interest is a good motivator, which is why the startup offers an employee stock option plan.
Founded in 2018 as a life sciences startup, SyntheticGestalt is a company that heavily utilizes machine learning to develop systems that “advance the civilization.”
The company works in collaboration with well-known universities’ research departments in both the UK and Japan. SyntheticGestalt believes that Biotechnology and AI will be crucial elements in revolutionizing the industry in the future, and builds machine learning models that can discover “valuable molecules.”
The company has offices in the United Kingdom and Japan, and offers a stock option plan to employees.
With over 25 years of experience under its belt since its conception in 1997, Rakuten is one of the largest multi-business conglomerates in Japan. The company is the head of a global group of over 70 subsidiaries operating in various fields, such as e-commerce, FinTech, and communications, among others.
Rakuten is also among the companies that offer the most benefits to its employees with not just one but two separate stock option programs. The first one, called the “Stock Option Program”, allows employees to buy 100 shares from the company for 1 JPY, which has become a common concept in Japan.
The second program, called the “Employee Stock Ownership Plan”, is similar to a regular stock option program but allows employees to buy shares from the company regularly according to a plan of their choosing.
Accredify is a Singapore-based company that was established in 2019. It focuses its business mainly on collecting and providing verifiable data, and provides solutions for issuing tamper-proof and instantly verifiable documents.
TrustTech, which is the company’s main product, is utilized in many industries, including education, healthcare, and the public sector, among others. It’s used for exchanging digital identity and data in a safe way, and it also promotes building trust within the organizations and companies Accredify works with.
As a multi-award-winning organization, with over 12 million verified documents under its belt, Accredify is also among the companies that value their employees and offer a stock option plan.
Founded in 2018 with headquarters in Tokyo, KabuK Style Inc. introduces a new dimension to travel through its subscription service HafH (Home away from Home), providing enriching life experiences that blend living, working, and leisure.
By integrating technology into every aspect of travel, KabuK Style has made it easier for travelers to book and enjoy trips without the usual stress of fluctuating prices and complex payments. Their services include a groundbreaking “Save Now, Buy Later” approach, offering fixed monthly fees that convert into points for a hassle-free booking process.
The company recognizes and rewards its team’s contributions by offering an employee stock option plan.
Having been founded in 2021, NABLA Mobility only recently entered the startup space. However, the company has already made waves with its Untangle API: an API that enables software to predict turbulence, calculate altitude, and help optimize fuel efficiency.
NABLA Mobility’s goal is to “inspire mobility” and help decarbonize the aviation industry by providing flight-related information and data that can help lower carbon emissions.
Upon the success of Untangle API, NABLA Mobility is currently gearing up for the launch of another product, Weave, which is an app that’ll enable remote access to data obtained through Untangle.
Like the other companies here, NABLA Mobility also offers an employee stock option plan.
Flatt Security is a Tokyo-based security tech startup that was founded in 2018. The company offers a wide range of products and services in digital security, with a focus on developers.
Essentially, the company aims to provide a secure development process for programmers and society at large, by providing solutions that can keep source codes and other related data safe.
In addition to developing products, the company also supports the future of security engineering via security education and works on a vulnerability research project to ensure internet safety for all.
As part of an employee incentive program, Flatt Security also offers an employee stock option plans.
Founded in 2018, Synspective is a company that specializes in designing, building, and operating a fleet of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites. The company’s cutting-edge satellites play a crucial role in detecting and understanding geological, topographical, and climatic changes across the globe, among others.
Essentially, Synspective utilizes SAR satellite data that’s augmented with proprietary data analysis techniques to offer two primary services: SAR data sales and solution services.
The company demonstrates its dedication to integrating SAR satellite technology into society with the agility of a startup, and this commitment is reflected in its main concept of “synthetic data for perspective on sustainable development.”
Synspective is another great company that also offers an employee stock option plan.
Founded in San Francisco, USA, Autify is a dynamic startup that addresses a universal challenge in software development: the time-consuming nature of software testing.
The company identifies lengthy software testing processes as the ultimate bottleneck for developers globally and wants to streamline this critical phase with its products and services.
Basically, Autify offers innovative solutions that enable software companies to quickly deliver high-quality products to their clients. The company’s services are designed to accommodate the needs of a fast-paced, evolving marketplace by allowing developers to keep pace with the increasing demand.
Autify also values its employees’ dedication and contribution to the company by offering an employee stock option program.
Established in 2017, Babel is a dynamic and innovative company that leverages the latest AI automation technology to create a range of entertaining apps and services.
The company’s product suite, which utilizes its core AI technology, includes both business-to-consumer and business-to-business offerings. Babel’s key products include iface AI, a machine learning and AI-based app for face-swapping videos, and m8 (Pronounced “mate”), an AI companion designed to assist consumers in their everyday lives.
In addition, the company also has a B2B service called Ailead, which enhances the effectiveness of online sales activities by automatically analyzing data collected from business meetings and providing feedback on them automatically.
In addition to being a fun, innovative business, working at Babel is also great because the company cares about its employees and offers a stock option program.
Founded in 2012, Cybereason is a global company with headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts. The company has a significant presence in Tokyo as well, and it stands out as an industry leader in cyber-defense solutions.
The company harnesses the power of machine learning and AI to detect and analyze threats across various digital platforms, including computers and mobile devices. Cybereason’s innovative approach integrates massive volumes of data to automate the detection and prevention of cyber-attacks, ensuring robust and efficient cyber-security.
Cybereason is another company that values the professional prospects of its employees. This is why the company offers an employee stock option plan as part of its comprehensive list of benefits.
Established in 2021 and based in Tokyo, Tailor is a notable company that’s among the rare startups backed by the startup accelerator company, Y-Combinator, and is the first of its kind to do so in over 15 years.
The company’s main product is an innovative backend platform that significantly accelerates the process of building internal tools for companies, making it ten times faster than traditional methods.
Tailor is pioneering a headless Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platform, enabling the creation of core systems to support large companies’ operations.
The company is also dedicated to providing its employees with great benefits and offers an employee stock option plan in this endeavor.
Founded in 2017 with headquarters in Tokyo, NearMe is dedicated to addressing the concept of Mottinai – a Japanese term for waste and inefficiency in society.
In the simplest terms, NearMe is on a mission to foster a vibrant and sustainable future. The startup has developed a versatile ride-sharing service catering to a variety of needs, from airport transfers to daily commutes, including specialized services like golf course transfers, school drop-offs, and even hospital visits.
NearMe’s approach combines practical transportation solutions with an emphasis on sustainability, and this sense of responsibility carries over to its internal practices as well, as the company offers its employees a stock option program.
Headquartered in Tokyo, HENNGE was founded in 1996 and has made significant strides in the realm of transformative technology since then.
The company operates primarily in the B2B sector and is known for its innovative cloud security service HENNGE One. The service enables businesses to adopt flexible work environments and utilize cloud technology securely, regardless of their location.
HENNGE is on a mission to keep its customers up-to-date and is at the forefront of technology with its products.
The company is also dedicated to providing a good career for its employees. In this effort, HENNGE offers an employee stock option plan that grants employees the right to buy stocks from the company.
Established in 2019, Scene offers a web-based 3D documentation tool primarily aimed at manufacturing firms. The tool is designed to streamline the process of using 3D CAD designs in various documents, such as assembly instruction documents, sales proposals, etc.
Typically, this process involves taking numerous screenshots for use in slides and documents, but Scene’s tool allows users to leverage existing 3D CAD models directly to create 3D documents, offering an integrated solution that’s also efficient.
From a technical perspective, Scene functions as a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor, which combines 3D scenes and 2D canvas elements.
Scene cares deeply about the prospects of its employees, and the company has an employee stock option program to back this claim up.
Conocer Inc. is a dynamic Tokyo-based startup that specializes in providing educational support specifically tailored to junior high and elementary school students.
With 33 tutoring centers as of July 2023, Conocer stands out as a Full-Stack startup, combining physical spaces with technology to create an effective educational experience. Their approach includes utilizing innovative applications and tailor-made content to cater to the unique learning needs of each student.
Conocer also offers an employee stock option plan as part of its benefits package.
Established in 2019 in Tokyo, Visual Alpha is a fintech startup focusing on B2B SaaS solutions. The company’s products cater to institutional investors, asset managers, and financial professionals.
Simply put, Visual Alpha’s asset management and investment consultancy solutions as well as portfolio monitoring and content automation products help streamline financial operations and enhance decision-making in the financial sector.
Committed to its mission of revolutionizing financial services through technology, Visual Alpha offers an employee stock option program that helps foster a culture of shared ownership and success.
Nomu is a Tokyo and Singapore-based startup on a mission to innovate the future of drinks and beverages. Focused on creating healthier and sustainable consumption options, the company blends technology and eco-friendly practices to create superior products.
Nomu offers a selection of customizable beverages, combining robotics, beverage technology, and data analytics to cater to individual preferences and lifestyles.
The startup aspires to be the world’s favorite brand for sustainable and healthier consumption, aiming to improve the world for future generations.
Complementing this innovative approach, NOMU also offers an employee stock option plan, demonstrating their commitment to their employees’ welfare.
Socious was founded in 2021 with the mission to “give everyone the chance to make a difference.” Essentially, the company helps organizations working for social change find new talent by connecting them with individuals who want to make an impact.
Socious basically provides a job platform for those whose dream job is to help and inspire social change. What’s more, the company’s job board is based on blockchain technology, which helps Socious provide a secure platform for social communities.
In fact, the company is even planning to offer blockchain-based tokens as a way to award those contributing to social change the most.
As part of its employee incentive system, Socious also offers a stock option program to its employees, which neatly aligns with the company’s values.
Chemican Inc. is a forward-thinking company that specializes in enhancing the management of Safety Data Sheet (SDS) information for companies dealing with chemical substances.
Basically, the company offers a unique software solution that automates the detection of SDS information within PDF files, ensuring compliance with regulatory safety requirements. In fact, this focus on safety and efficiency positions Chemican as a key player in the field of chemical management technology.
Additionally, to support its employees and treat them as members of the company, Chemical offers an employee stock ownership option program.
Citadel AI was established in 2020 and, as you can tell by the name, is an Artificial Intelligence-focused company.
Citadel’s products help monitor and test high-risk AI systems, ensuring their security and reliability.
The company is on a mission to improve AI and increase its reliability, making it more useful in our daily lives. Their products Citadel Lens and Radar help achieve a trustworthy AI right from the get-go, assisting throughout the whole process from development to deployment.
To demonstrate its dedication to its employees and to include them in the ownership of the company, Citadel AI also offers an employee stock option plan.
RESTAR is the creator of REMETIS, a software solution that can process, analyze, and categorize real-estate-related data efficiently for real-estate investment analysis.
The company is on a mission to create an active and dynamic real estate market in Japan, and effectively combines geographical data with real estate data to provide real estate companies and financial institutions with a top-notch data management platform.
RESTAR’s software platform not only allows for data analysis but also helps lower the transaction costs of real estate deals and simplifies the workflow of real estate investors.
As part of its employee incentive benefits, the company also offers its employees a stock ownership program.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is current at the time this post was written in 2023, according to the company data provided to Japan Dev. Please keep in mind that each company’s rules and offers regarding stock option plans are subject to changes.
To be certain of the stock option plans offered by each company, please make sure to ask the company directly.
To learn more about employee stock options and the potential advantages and disadvantages of this practice, you can head over to my post where I talked about the current state of employee stock options in Japan to a greater extent.
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