What ideas link “research” and “entrepreneurship” for a practicing psychiatrist engaged in the creation of new medical care? Susmed, Inc. President Taro Ueno

Susmed Inc., aims to utilize ICT to create “sustainable medicine,” and it is these two words that form the basis for the company name. The company has achieved rapid growth centered on the development of therapeutic apps and support for clinical trials, utilizing a digital medical platform, and was also listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2021. DIMENSION Business Producer spoke to Susmed President Taro Ueno about the qualities an entrepreneur needs, and the essentials for business growth.

Qualities common to a “researcher” and “entrepreneur”

ーーWhat would you say are the important qualities that an entrepreneur needs?

What I would say is “always question precedent.” You need to always seek to find the way things should be done, and not necessarily follow the way that they have always been done.

This kind of attitude is one that is in some ways similar to that of a researcher, who values study that is new and unprecedented. My background as a doctor engaged in research has, therefore, been helpful in some ways when setting up a business.

Another quality I would mention is to take a stance on social issues.

It is precisely because solutions have their origins in social issues that a company has social significance. I think that setting up companies for the specific purpose of solving social issues will become more and more important in the future.


Taro Ueno
A medical doctor who also holds a doctorate in medical science. After completing his medical training he acquired a PhD. Graduated from Tohoku University School of Medicine in 2006. He has made numerous scientific achievements, with a focus on the field of sleep medicine, as well as continuing to provide specialized outpatient care as a clinician. He is also leading joint research with other institutions, including the National Cancer Center Japan, and serves as a councilor of the Japanese Society of Sleep Research. He established Susmed, Inc. in 2015, and the company was listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2021.
He is the recipient of various prizes and grants, including the Inoue Research Award for Young Scientists, the Takeda Science Foundation Grant for Research in Medicine, the Naito Foundation Research Grant, and the Young Investigator Award by the Higo Foundation for the Promotion of Medical Education and Research. He serves as an expert member of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Healthcare IT Study Group, and as an industry-academia advisory member to the Union of Brain Science Associations in Japan.


ーーIt’s rare for a medical doctor to establish a startup. What was the background to you establishing your own company?

My background is in psychiatry, and it is within that broad discipline that I have specialized in research into sleep disorders.

In a clinical setting a major problem is the overprescription of sleeping pills. Even though it is recognized that sleeping pills are not a good choice due to the danger of dependency, doctors are busy people and don’t have the time to provide non-pharmaceutical treatments that could replace sleeping pills.

Facing this issue for myself, I wondered whether it could be solved through the use of an app, so I launched a company, initially in the form of a limited liability company. Having previously created my own drowsiness test app and medical interview app in the past, I thought that with the help of a proper IT engineer it would be possible to create an app-based treatment regimen.

My initial intentions weren’t entrepreneurial, and my idea was more from the perspective of a researcher, seeking to not only treat my own patients, but also to create a new form of medical care in a way that could be scaled up.

Whether it originated in “research” or “entrepreneurship” is beside the point, as the purpose was the same.

Susmed’s vision is to provide “sustainable medicine.” This objective relates to an issue that all doctors of my generation feel, namely that we don’t believe that the universal healthcare insurance system can continue forever in its current form.

Although it might have been unusual for me to set up a company in an attempt to solve an existing issue, the sense of purpose behind setting up the company is a very generalized one that is shared by many doctors.

ーーAs your position has changed in line with the company growing from being a startup to become a listed company on the stock exchange, could you share any points you are aware of about how your qualities as a manager have developed and evolved?

I am someone who is a doctor by profession and I have never learned about entrepreneurship or management. That is why I have been learning about these things ever since I started the company, and that process of learning is ongoing.

At the same time I am always conscious that I want to constantly question whether the existing way of doing things is really the best way.

In addition, what is really important to me is to “question precedent.” While there will always be a reason why something has been done a certain way, my approach is to first understand the concept behind that precedent and then either follow it, or propose a different format if I consider the existing way to be irrational. This readiness to “question precedent” is something that is important in all aspects of both research and business if you want to continue to grow.


ーーOn the course of your long journey of running a business, in particular a deep tech company, what have you done to keep yourself motivated?

My desire to create new medical care was exactly the same, both when I was working as a researcher, and also when I established the company. Although we have not yet reached the stage where we are distributing new medical care through society, there is much we can still do and we are only really at the beginning of our journey.

Looking objectively at what I am doing, I realize that in order to remain in business in the long term, it is important to have a vision that you can embrace and keep constantly in mind.

Also, in terms of my own personal view on life, when I die I want to be able to say, “I managed to do that.”

I want to be laid in my coffin having first passed on the baton of healthcare properly to the next generation, and also having worked to find a method of replacing the present universal healthcare insurance system that is likely to fail one day, and in so doing contributed to passing on sustainable healthcare to the next generation. (laughs)


ーーThis is truly something that relates to the way we perceive life and death. Have you had some formative experiences in this regard?

One of the good things about being a doctor is that you are always “close to death.”

There is a tendency in society today to ignore the inevitability of dying. All thoughts of death and dying are relegated to hospitals, and society runs on the assumption that everyone will be able to live a normal life again tomorrow.

However, when you do spend time thinking about death, you naturally find yourself starting to prioritize things. Members at my company often make fun of me for talking about issues of life and death early on Monday mornings (laughs).

Today’s medicine was developed by those before us, and unless someone takes medicine another step forward today there will be no progress in the future.

I am by no means out of ideas and burnt out yet, and there is still a great deal that needs to be done.





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