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Making Friends Around the World! To Create a Diverse Society

HelloWorld Inc.

Hikaru Nonaka, Keisuke Tomita

Apr 3rd,2024 publication date

“I want to make friends and interact with people worldwide”
HelloWorld Inc. is a startup in Okinawa passionate about bringing children’s aspirations to the world and building a diverse society through dialogue. The company is spreading high-quality English language learning and international exchange experiences from Koza, Okinawa City, through its “Downtown Study Abroad” and “WorldClassroom” programs.
We interviewed Representative Director and Co-CEO Keisuke Tomita and Hikaru Nonaka about the impetus for the company’s establishment, its business activities, and prospects.

HelloWorld’s Social Impact Businesses

HelloWorld’s mission is to “create a society where it is the norm to have at least one friend in each country worldwide.” It believes that diversity is essential to creating a peaceful society without division and that innovation is born from a diverse society.

The company has three projects that socially impact children and the education field.

“Downtown Study Abroad” is a weekend homestay program at a non-Japanese person’s home in Japan. As of March 2024, 9,000 users have participated in this program.

“Downtown Study Abroad” is a cross-cultural experience through homestays (courtesy photo)

“Machinaka Rogaining” is an exploratory fieldwork in which you team up with a non-Japanese person to complete a mission in English. It is an educational and fun program that stimulates children’s curiosity in the English language. Over 13,000 users have participated in this.

Another program, “WorldClassroom” supports speaking practice using speech recognition technology and international exchange with foreign countries. For example, by connecting with students of the same age at a school outside of Japan during school hours, they can practice English as if they were making new friends. The students can practice English by discussing hobbies and favorite sports rather than learning through textbooks.

In addition to improving students’ English proficiency, the automated system reduces the burden on teachers. It boasts approximately 40,000 users.

WorldClassroom allows students to learn with their peers worldwide through the Internet (courtesy photo).

HelloWorld is developing these businesses with schools and local governments, mainly in Okinawa and the Kanto region.

By leveraging technology and close ties to foreigners, the program provides low-cost, advanced English-language education to children whose opportunities to study abroad or engage in international exchange are limited by economic reasons or academic background.

The company’s beginnings: two CEOs with “good balance”

Tomita (left) and Nonaka (right) during the interview

HelloWorld was established in October 2020.

Tomita was developing “Paike,” an app that allows users to befriend people living abroad. Nonaka was promoting “Downtown Study Abroad” business at a different company. The two met at a startup pitch event in Fukuoka in 2018.

“The visions of “Downtown Study Abroad” and Paike paired well. We had been struggling with monetization due to COVID-19, and I thought that by working together, we could achieve our goal of creating a diverse community,” says Tomita, looking back.

Starting a joint venture after a startup event – that’s the ambitious and curious initiative one would expect from an entrepreneur! While it’s impressive, one might wonder about the challenges of running a company with a partner you’ve only known for a few years.

“Through our interviews, you may notice this about us: I excel in going from 0 to 1, making drastic decisions, and taking actions without being bound by the present. On the other hand, Tomita excels in devising rational, achievable, and versatile mechanisms and bringing them into reality. We work well because we are completely different individuals,” said Nonaka.

At the startup event, Nonaka was the first to reach out to Tomita, “You’re the founder of Paike, right?” He is the type who is proactive and charges ahead with what he wants to do.

On the other hand, Tomita, with a background as a former lawyer, is the type who, while possessing ambition and curiosity, proceeds logically.

During the interview, you can’t help but notice the “perfect balance” between the two. Because the two are complete opposites, they can swiftly cooperate and make decisions in the demanding environment of startup management, where speed is crucial.

“We also value communication within the company. Our team has many experienced employees and is entering its second growth phase. From April 2024, we will have 30 full-time employees, so 60 people total, including contractor workers,” said Nonaka. It’s been three and a half years since their start, and they are also focusing on securing talent for business expansion.

Bringing diversity to society through English education

“Our vision is an educational business that brings diversity to our society. And profitability is important for sustainability. At the same time, we are also engaged in activities to provide services to economically disadvantaged children,” says Tomita. 

“The ‘Downtown Study Abroad Fund,’ which began to provide study abroad experiences to children, offers free opportunities to households who cannot afford to participate in the Downtown Study Abroad programs due to economic reasons. So far, there have been 65 beneficiaries, and they are expected to expand in the fiscal year 2024.

The ‘WorldClassroom’ project started by utilizing Okinawa Prefecture’s “Manufacturing Productivity Improvement Support Program,” and it also received financial support from the Okinawa Development Finance Corporation.

“The support system for startups in Okinawa is very comprehensive,” says Nonaka. “This includes subsidies and networking with various individuals. We received considerable help from the Okinawa General Bureau and officials at the Okinawa Prefectural Office. Moreover, it’s easy to connect with people in Okinawa and meet those who can help you with problem-solving. This is what makes Okinawa uniquely interesting.”

In implementing the ‘WorldClassroom’ project, they received support from English teachers on maternity leave and tested various classroom materials.

In addition, the location of HelloWorld’s office in Koza, Okinawa City, may also be considered one of the environmental factors that further accelerate their business’s aim for diversity.

The office is located within the “Startup Shopping Street,” a thriving hub for startups in the prefecture. Right next door is the entrepreneurship and support facility “Lagoon KOZA,” where various startups and entrepreneurs continuously pop up, creating a stimulating environment.

Koza Startup Shopping District. HelloWorld Inc.’s office is on the second floor of the building on the right.

Furthermore, just beyond the shopping district is an international street called “Gate Street,” which leads to the entrance of the U.S. Kadena Air Base. On the weekends, one can enjoy Okinawa’s lively nightlife scene, bustling with many people, including foreigners.

Tomita was captivated by the unique charm of Koza during his first visit in 2020 for a workcation, where old-fashioned shopping streets blend with foreign cultures. This led him to decide to relocate to Okinawa.

“I believe that the environment to support startups in Okinawa is gradually getting set up. While opportunities for entrepreneurship knowledge-sharing are beneficial, considering the current situation in Okinawa, I feel it’s important first to increase the number of people working in startups. By doing so, more people can understand the excitement and enjoyment of startup culture,” he remarks.

What is a diverse society?
“A society where having friends from around the world is the norm!”

“Downtown Study Abroad,” “Town Rogaining,” and “WorldClassroom” are HelloWorld’s businesses centered on the themes of “diversity” and “international exchange.”

When asked about the attractions of this diversity and international exchange, Nonaka answers, “It’s a means to broaden your perspective and expand yourself. Japan and Okinawa are island nations; sometimes, we tend to live only within our world, measuring our possibilities based on that. Communications and experiences abroad may not have significant immediate meaning, but they can influence our future choices. The allure of diversity and international exchange lies in realizing that we can be more free as individuals.”

Says Tomita, “In terms of diversity, I believe it’s crucial to mix various people. A society with diversity is what fosters innovation and creates mechanisms to prevent division, segregation, and conflict. I believe that the opposite of conflict is not peace but dialogue. And I see international exchange as the catalyst for dialogue. What we are creating is a device to stir diversity.”

The epitome of creating a diverse society is a society where having friends from every country in the world is considered the norm.

If you have friends in every country, you naturally start to perceive the issues happening in those places as your concern and become curious to understand different cultures. That may be the first step towards a peaceful society.

With “diversity” and “international exchange” in mind, HelloWorld focuses on its English education business. From its growth as a startup spreading peace from Koza, Okinawa City, to the world, it’s worth keeping an eye on in the future.

HelloWorld Inc.

Date of Establishment
October 1, 2020
Hikaru Nonaka, Keisuke Tomita
Head Office Location
1-7-8 Chuo, Okinawa City, Okinawa Prefecture (Headquarters) / 16-5 Nihonbashi Kodenmacho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo (Tokyo Branch)

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