Always being a “HERO”: Qualities needed by an entrepreneur Euglena Co. Ltd. President & CEO Mitsuru Izumo
Seeing for himself children in Bangladesh suffering from poor nutrition inspired President & CEO of Euglena Co., Ltd. Mitsuru Izumo to establish the company in 2005, which then went on to become the world’s first company to succeed in the first outdoor mass cultivation of the microalgae Euglena for food use. As one of the component companies of the Prime Market of Tokyo Stock Exchange Euglena is rapidly expanding the scope of its business to include the use of microalgae euglena and chlorella in foods, cosmetics, and biofuels. DIMENSION Business Producer Masato Shimodaira spoke to Izumo about what he thinks are the qualities needed by entrepreneurs, and asked about any hints for starting a company.
“Take that first move, and jump out of your comfort zone”
ーーSo, to start off, could you tell us a little about what led you to start your own company?
Perhaps the formative experience that had the most direct impact on me establishing the company was my visit to Bangladesh in the summer after my first year of university. It was my very first trip overseas. It was such a tremendous shock to see the children in Bangladesh suffering from poor nutrition and it made me want to do something about it, which ultimately is what led to launching the company.
When people travel to places that are completely disconnected from their ordinary daily lives, they invariably experience emotion, suffering, and embarrassment. I believe that it is these out-of-the-ordinary experiences that create the formative experiences necessary for starting a business.
Anyone listening or reading this may misunderstand my meaning and immediately seek to head off to Bangladesh (laughs) for a formative experience, but the reality is that it doesn’t have to be overseas, it can also be somewhere close to home.
First and foremost what is important is to “jump out of your comfort zone.” That is what leads to formative experiences.
Born in 1980.
After graduating from the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Tokyo, in 2022 he joined the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Ltd. Shocked by the realities of poverty he had seen for himself on a visit to Bangladesh while still a student, in 2005 he established Euglena, Co., Ltd., becoming president and CEO. The company succeeded in realizing the world’s first outdoor mass cultivation of the microalgae Euglena for food use. The company was registered on the Mothers’ Section of Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2012, before moving to the First Section in 2014 (currently TSE Prime Market). He has authored several books, including I decided to save the world with Euglena (Shogakukan Shinsho).
ーーEven if someone had the same experience as you, I think it would probably be rare to find someone who would perceive it as an important purpose for their life’s work, so why did you find that this experience in Bangladesh resonated so deeply with you?
That’s a really good question, but it’s also one without an answer.
An entrepreneur is someone who thinks, “I’ll try it out,” or “I’ll just say it.” That is the starting point for everything.
When I went off to Bangladesh during my student days, I didn’t even have any special knowledge about nutrition. It was simply a tremendous shock to see the realities of life in Bangladesh and I thought it was wrong for children to have to live like that.
That’s what made me decide to find something in Japan with the highest nutritional value and take it to Bangladesh. I sought advice from many people and also learned a great deal. So by taking the first moves, and consulting with various people, little by little I was able to identify my dreams and goals.
There’s no rule that says that you can’t share your goals with anyone until they are all perfectly formed.
I think it is important to be honest about feelings such as frustration, mystification, enjoyment, and excitement, and first and foremost try and do something.
ーーThere were probably various solutions available for something that has high nutritional value, so why did you settle on euglena?
Do you think that euglena popped up rationally as the answer after examining things in detail and studying various aspects? (laughs)
Such a thing isn’t possible if you go about it in a normal way. Even I understood that there were many other options besides euglena.
It was more intuitive than that. I believed that if I could supply euglena as a food source to Bangladesh it would make the children there happy. That is why I decided to concentrate on euglena, rather than basing my decision on something more rational like, “it has greater market potential than other methods.”
“If I take them euglena, it will make children suffering from poor nutrition healthy.” I continue to think about how I can give shape to this dream, and it is on that basis that I continue to run the company.
“HERO” as an entrepreneurial quality
ーーWhat would you say are the important qualities needed by an entrepreneur?
I would say being and continuing to be a “HERO.” “HERO” here stands for four words that are important qualities to have.
First is H for Hope, or having a goal and an image of what you want to achieve.
Second is E for Efficacy, which means having belief in your own ability to see things through.
Third is R for Resilience, which means never giving up and constantly doing things over and over again.
Fourth is O for Optimistic, which means always being positive.
Japanese people tend to be weak in terms of E for Efficacy, and the key point here is to remember that you “don’t need evidence.” I like myself and believe in myself without any evidence—this is something that is any essential quality for any leader.
ーーSo what factors helped you to nurture this sense of self-efficacy without the need for evidence?
I think that this is a quality that is greatly influenced by external factors. Education and family environment have a great influence, and conversely, it can be said that it is something that you could change by yourself if you so desired.
In my case, my mother was a professional giver of compliments. Being constantly praised means that your self-efficacy is high, even if you don’t like it. Conversely, if those closest to you, for example your family, friends and teachers, all constantly tell you that you can’t do something, then you start to believe it and your sense of self-efficacy drops.
You need to consciously insert yourself into an environment where you are engaged in friendly competition with colleagues and surrounded by friends who believe in you. That could be in a university lab or club, or it could be in a company department or team.
I think it’s really important to never stop searching for an environment that enhances your own efficacy, as it’s also very important for your own personal development.
Interviewer Masato SHIMODAIRA
Born in 1986. Born in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture. After working at a law firm as an attorney, he worked at LINE as an in-house lawyer and in charge of new business development before joining DI. Launched the domestic VC fund "DIMENSION". He is an outside director of several companies in which he has invested. Graduated from Hitotsubashi University Faculty of Law and Keio Law School, and received his MBA from Globis University Graduate School of Management. He is currently delivering a 5-part textbook on startup management strategy on the video platform Udemy. He is also a mentor for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's U30 Kansai Entrepreneurial Community and a mentor for the Cho-Kyogakko Startup Program. Hobbies include basketball.