SPICE’s Inaugural Online Course on Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Healing During a Pandemic

SPICE concludes its first offering of Stanford e-Entrepreneurship, aimed at training young social entrepreneurs in Japan.
Yellow building in Japanese country side
Yunokoshi Hot Spring in Akita Prefecture, Japan; photo courtesy Yasuko Kinoshita

“What is social innovation?” was the central question that Professor Emeritus Seiichiro Yonekura, Hitotsubashi University Institute of Innovation Research, posed to 25 high school students who were enrolled in the inaugural offering of Stanford e-Entrepreneurship Japan in spring 2020. Yonekura was the first guest lecturer of the online course that is jointly sponsored by SPICE and the Japanese NPO e-Entrepreneurship, and his lecture set the context for a four-month course that also featured sessions by e-Entrepreneurship’s Yusuke Matsuda, Stanford scholars, and Silicon Valley- and Japan-based entrepreneurs. The goal of Stanford e-Entrepreneurship Japan is to foster creative thinking and problem-solving skills in students with a focus on innovation to address social issues.

For Yasuko Kinoshita, a student from Akita Prefecture, she immediately took this question to heart and began to think critically about how to help Akita’s economy, which has been largely dominated by traditional industries like agriculture, fishing, forestry, and sake brewing. Like many prefectures in Japan, Akita grapples with population decline due to an aging population and young people moving to urban centers like Tokyo for college and employment. Kinoshita’s final paper focused on ways to encourage youth to stay in Akita or to return to Akita after going away to college, and proposed ways that Akita could promote its strengths—such as its abundance of onsen (hot springs)—to establish workplaces that promote physical and psychological health for customers. Onsen waters are thought by many to be “healing.”

A student with a diploma with a teacher standing in front of a banner
Stanford e-Entrepreneurship Japan honoree Yasuko Kinoshita with Principal Takahiro Watanabe, Akita Senior High School; photo courtesy Yasuko Kinoshita
Stanford e-Entrepreneurship Japan Instructor Maiko Tamagawa Bacha observed that since the course was taught while students were at home during the pandemic, there seemed to be a type of “healing” quality that the course offered by way of convening students from throughout Japan. Students’ comments suggested that it was almost therapeutic to hear about how students in other parts of Japan were coping. Bacha noted, “Yasuko was a student who really stood out because she not only effectively engaged with students, scholars, and entrepreneurs but also put into practice insights gained from the course. I found the following statement from her final research paper especially poignant: ‘Offering a new role in society for elderly people can enhance the economy by facilitating an industry.’” While being concurrently enrolled at Akita Senior High School and Stanford e-Entrepreneurship Japan, Kinoshita founded a company to manage Yunokoshi Onsen. Given that many elderly—for health benefits—partake of the onsen waters, her experiences with Yunokoshi were very insightful to the other students in the class who shared an interest in Japan’s aging population. Kinoshita considered ways that onsen can help to bring about even more physical and psychological healing especially for the elderly during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. When asked about her experience in the course, Kinoshita noted:

Stanford e-Entrepreneurship Japan allowed me to have an experience to come up with realistic but ideal solutions to address real-world problems as a team. Before attending the program, I simply had the idea of wanting to combine my science background and my dream of solving social problems. However, one of the classes, which was the class on demographic change offered by Dr. Karen Eggleston, helped me to focus my interest, and enabled me to take action to address issues concerning the elderly by founding a company to manage Yunokoshi Onsen.

In her onsen management role, Kinoshita creates and updates websites, raises money through crowdfunding, and plans for new projects such as attracting people of all ages to the onsen, which has typically attracted more elderly. She is planning to allow local people to staff restaurants at Yunokoshi Onsen in order to provide them with an experience of learning the inner workings of restaurants.

Kinoshita will be invited to Stanford University in 2021 for a ceremony during which she will be afforded the opportunity to present her research to an audience of members of the Stanford and Japanese communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the Consulate General of Japan.

Stanford e-Entrepreneurship Japan is a partnership between SPICE and NPO e-Entrepreneurship, which is led by Yusuke Matsuda, MBA, and Mana Miura. Stanford e-Entrepreneurship Japan enrolls exceptional high school students from throughout Japan. Top Japanese and American scholars and entrepreneurs provide web-based lectures and engage students in live discussion sessions or “virtual classes” on topics like health care and public health, food and agriculture, environment and energy, and technology and innovation. The course is offered in English and includes reading assignments, online lectures, and discussion board posts. The course culminates in an independent research project. Students who successfully complete the course receive a Certificate of Completion from SPICE, Stanford University.

The spring 2020 course was taught by Maiko Tamagawa Bacha and generously supported by Water Dragon Foundation. Teacher Advisor Roy Lee, a teacher at Seiko Jr. and Sr. High School, Yokohama, Japan, contributed his time to the spring 2020 course as well as several high school and college students.

The fall 2020 course will be taught by Irene Bryant and is generously supported by Andrew and Mako Ogawa, Noriko Honda Chen, and the Capital Group. 


Yusuke Matsuda

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Maiko Tamagawa Bacha

Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE)
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Mana Miura

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