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Startupbootcamp Scale Osaka Alumni Story - Interview with WeSpire Founder & CEO Susan Hunt Stevens

Despite the impact of COVID-19 on the economy of Japan and the world, Japan's startup ecosystem has continued to strengthen and so too has interest from overseas tech companies when entering the Japanese market. In this article, Susan shared with us the story behind her market entry into Japan and her experience with Startupbootcamp Scale Osaka. Hope you have fun exploring her journey with us!

Susan Hunt Stevens
Founder & CEO of WeSpire

Susan Hunt Stevens is the Founder & CEO of WeSpire, an award-winning employee experience technology platform focused on engaging people in environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives. She founded WeSpire to use her digital behavior change expertise to help people embrace healthier and more sustainable lifestyles after her son was diagnosed with serious food allergies. She was named an EY Entrepreneur of the Year for New England, a Boston Business Journal Woman of Influence, and to the Environmental Leader 100 list. Prior to WeSpire, she spent 9 years at The New York Times Company, most recently as SVP/General Manager for, a $60M digital media division.

Tell us your founding story, how WeSpire got started?

WeSpire got started as a consumer app to help people make healthy and sustainable choices in their daily lives. It was only after a few years that companies started calling and asking if we had an enterprise version. We didn't realize the need was so high to engage employees, but that's ended up being the bulk of our business.

Meeting with Startupbootcamp Scale Osaka

What was your experience with the Startupbootcamp program and how did this help with your plan for the Japan market?

We were so honored to be selected and learned a tremendous amount in the program. It was very well organized and I really enjoyed working with our partners. Being virtual, due to Covid-19, actually made it possible for us to do the program. I'm not sure we could have participated otherwise. Although it would have been nice to have a week in-person at the end to meet everyone! In terms of our plan for the Japanese market, what became very clear during the program was the importance culturally of in-person meetings for sales and having a local partner. We still intend to come to Japan, but need to wait until Covid has passed.


Some government agencies and top executives of large companies have a gloomy view of the Japanese market, saying that the population is decreasing and economic growth is slowing down. Is Japan really a big market for startups? What opportunities did you find in the Japanese market?

We are not a consumer company where the broad GDP of a country has a direct impact on our business. What matters to us are three things: does the country have a lot of tech-enabled employees and is it embracing digitization of work, do they care about the UN SDGs, sustainability, wellbeing and other forms of environmental, social, and governance initiatives, and do they need to worry about employee engagement and retention? The Japanese market fits that criteria very well.


What is the problem you have faced and how did you tackle the issue regarding entering the Japanese market and localizing your business in Japan?

We help companies engage their employees in environmental and social initiatives and we already were very fortunate to have a Japanese headquartered customer, Komatsu. They have been a great partner to help with localization, particularly language. We've worked with them since the start of Covid, entirely virtually. But we recognize that they have some attributes that aren't necessarily common to all large Japanese companies, most notably a bilingual workforce, so we can do customer success and support in English.


What is the most important lesson you have learned since you entered the Japanese market?

What we realized through the program is that to successfully enter the Japanese market, we would need to have a partner to help navigate both cultural and language differences and a sales and support team that was fluent in Japanese. But we would also want to send someone from our home office to be the resource to the partner and be the expert in all things “Wespire”. Covid just made the process of sending someone, establishing a partner, and hiring a team a lot more complicated. We still intend to come, but need things with Covid to settle down.


What’s next for WeSpire within the Japanese market?

The most important lesson I learned from the program was the difference between Japanese companies that truly operate globally, like Komatsu or Dentsu, and companies that may have international sales, but don't really operate globally. While it's true that every company is global now, the strength of global operations varies widely. The irony is that to successfully serve this market, WeSpire itself has to establish global operations and become truly global as well. That's an incredibly exciting challenge and opportunity, but will require much greater investment and effort. We look forward to Covid getting behind us for many reasons and beginning to put these plans in place.

Many thanks from Startupbootcamp Scale Osaka to Susan for sharing her story, and all the best for the future!

■ About WeSpire

WeSpire’s award-winning employee experience platform is the first and only technology in the CSR market that brings together the four key programs of a forward-thinking culture: sustainability; social impact; wellbeing; and inclusive workplace culture. WeSpire changes employee behavior and provides organizations with unparalleled analytics about the business value of their engagement efforts.

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