Tomoaki Sato, 19, is a first-year physics student at Waseda University in Tokyo. He has an interest in technology and is developing an app to help Muslims living in non-Muslim-majority countries to find and buy halal foods more easily. He was in the UAE at the end of last month as part of a delegation representing the Japanese-GCC Association of Students.
q) Welcome to the UAE. Your app sounds great. How did you come up with the idea?
a) I had a Muslim friend, Hussein, from Saudi Arabia who was living in Tokyo for six months. When we would go for lunch he would check the [food] packaging very carefully to make sure it was halal. It was a very time-consuming process. From May to August of last year, I did market research. And then from August I started developing the app. I went to a breakthrough camp for one month from August to September and they gave me support in writing a business plan. I also got mentorship support from Movida, the Japanese technology and software company.
So how does the app work?
First, you can use the app to search for halal restaurants, supermarkets and convenience food stores near to where you are. Second, you can also use the app to shop for groceries online. I interviewed local Muslims because they all know where to go in their areas. But there is a sharing platform so people can add more details. The app is free.
Who is this intended for?
It’s for Muslims who live in places where they are the minority. So in Japan, there are 100,000 Muslims living there and 1 million Muslim visitors per year. I would also like to expand the app for use in America, China, India and Thailand. We would look for partners there. My research showed that the halal food market worldwide is worth half a trillion dollars. In Japan, it’s worth [US]$900 million [Dh3.3 billion] and the online halal food market is worth $400m.
And how will it make money?
The restaurants and stores will pay for advertising on the site.
I am a member of the university entrepreneurship association. The professors there are supporting me to do a presentation in Silicon Valley. Waseda University Entrepreneurial Research Unit is the first venture capital firm in Japan. I am hoping they will invest in my company.
What does Hussein, your Saudi friend, think of it all?
I have many friends who are Muslim – from Egypt as well. They really like the idea. It’s the first of its type and they are so happy for it. I want to make the world happier.