Photo/IllutrationOsamu Iizuka, left, the “entrepreneur No. 1” from the Kyushu University "startup club," works with fellow students in Fukuoka on Jan. 13 to develop software. (Kazumi Tako)

FUKUOKA--The "startup club" of Kyushu University has no time for laggers. If you are a slow-starting dilly-dallier, then just forget about it.

Founded last year and certified by the university itself, there is nothing quite like Kigyo-bu (startup club) across the nation.

There are few clubs that are certified by university authorities and aimed at entrepreneurship. The one at Kyushu University only accepts students who are “seriously” seeking to set up their own businesses. It has actually turned down about 100 admission requests, club officials said.

The club’s members are an animated bunch and celebrated the birth of the club’s first offspring business venture earlier this year.

Osamu Iizuka, a fourth-year medical student, smiled in embarrassment when he was introduced under the title of “CEO” at a monthly news conference at Kyushu University on Jan. 23 alongside President Chiharu Kubo and other university officials.

But when he took the mike, Iizuka, 26, clad in a smart, dark blue suit, oozed confidence as he talked about a new company he had set up earlier that month.

“I have set this goal of expanding globally as a business venture from Kyushu University,” he said in concluding his speech.

Iizuka operates Medmain Inc., which is developing image-based pathological diagnosis software to be used by medical practitioners. The use of artificial intelligence in the software is designed to facilitate the diagnosis of diseases based on the imagery of cells. He was voted “entrepreneur No. 1” of the startup club, which was established in June.

Four student developers of the software, including Iizuka himself, are currently giving their AI system “lessons” in image data under the help of the university’s School of Medicine and hospital.

Iizuka and his co-workers are using Kyushu University’s supercomputer to enhance accuracy so their system can be commercialized within two years. They were the winners of a business plan contest held in the United States in November.

Iizuka said he had aspired to work for a university, hospital or similar institution as a research doctor. While studying medicine, however, he thought it was fun to create software programs for use in computer-aided data analysis and other tasks. He then began thinking about ways to start his own company, hoping to draw on his knowledge of medicine in expanding business using information technology.

Iizuka was told around that time that the startup club was being set up. He joined the club in October and received coaching on fund-raising methods and other know-how.

“The startup club has a strength in that it allows a student who has never even worked for a company to talk to corporate managers,” Iizuka said.

The adviser to the club is Masaki Kumano, an associate professor of commerce, who has hands-on experience in entrepreneurship.

The club’s activities are centered on group work to develop business plans and improve them through discussions. About 50 people, including entrepreneurs, lawyers and certified public accountants who are graduates of Kyushu University, support the club as so-called “mentors,” who are available to respond to questions from students.

Members of the club meet every Monday night at an entrepreneurship support facility, operated by the city government and other parties in the Tenjin district of central Fukuoka. Iizuka was a speaker at the Jan. 22 meeting, where he talked about his own business and took questions from other club members.

“Is there no problem with the copyright for image data?” one fellow club member asked. “What is the strength of your business?” asked another.

The club, with about 80 members, has set a goal of helping to set up 50 offspring business ventures during the next decade, with five of them to be listed on the stock exchange.

“I wanted to try something new in a situation where the graduates of major courses practically have limited career options,” said Aki Yoshihisa, a third-year medical student. The ambitious 21-year-old was admitted into the club in January.

Two more groups within the startup club are preparing to incorporate themselves.

“We could contribute to our regional community by spawning a large number of business ventures,” Kumano, the club adviser, said. “I hope to help build a brand saying that you should come to Kyushu University if you want to be an entrepreneur.”

It remains to be seen how many more business ventures with roots at Kyushu University will still be born of the startup club’s activities. And there is no guarantee that all startups will succeed. However, outside parties, including a major company, have shown an interest in the club’s ambitions.

Toppan Printing Co., a Tokyo-based industry leader, has called on the Kyushu University startup club to enter Toppan’s open competition program for creating a new business.

“The availability of startups with whom we can work could give us inspiration for expanding our own operations,” said Hiroaki Taka of Toppan’s Kyushu Subdivision. “I initially thought (of the startup club) as yet another circle that engages in fun activities. I was surprised to learn how serious everybody was there.”