15 Japanese startups pitch to compete in upcoming San Francisco event

15 Japanese startups pitch to compete in upcoming San Francisco event

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San Francisco-based digital marketing agency Btrax has been holding its SF Japan Night pitch event for several years now, giving Japanese startups a chance to show off before a crowd of tech entrepreneurs and investors in one of the world’s hottest startup areas. The company held a preliminary event in Tokyo today, where six finalists were chosen from 15 nominees.

This is a good opportunity to see what sorts of companies are trending in the Japanese startup scene. Here’s a rundown of all the startup pitches from the semi-final event, in order of their appearance.

Judges for the pitch sessions:

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Judging criteria:

  1. Benefit to users
  2. Technical execution
  3. Differentiation from competitors
  4. Business model potential
  5. Global growth potential

Librize

Librize

Librize makes your bookshelf part of a giant virtual library. By scanning the ISBN code printed on the back of most books, the service detects what books you have and shares your collection online with other users. If someone finds a interesting book in your virtual bookshelf, they can visit you or request to borrow it. In order to get the book title and profile from the ISBN code, the service uses several book search interfaces, such as the Amazon Product Advertising API, the Google Book Search API, and the Japanese National Diet Library’s book search API. Each location that has a collection of physical books (like your home, a co-working space, or a coffee shop) is called as a ‘bookspot’.

Librize was launched last September by a few engineers working out of a co-working space in Tokyo. It has acquired over 150 registered ‘bookspots’ and more than 28,000 books during the last five months. The company wants to encourage people to connect with others by borrowing and lending books.

Comobaco (chosen as a finalist)

comobaco

Comobaco allows you and your friends to create a pool of shared items both on the web and in real life. With this service, you are easily able to share things you own (such as books, DVDs, and game titles) with your office colleagues, your roommates, or any similar sort of group.

To use the service, someone at your location has to become the manager of a box, which will then be used to hold the exchanged items. If you put in things you don’t want to use any more, others will have a chance to take them without having to buy. The service’s founder hopes to change the concept of buying things for yourself only into buying things for the sake of the many people around you as well.

Booklap

booklap

Finding the right book to buy at bookstore can often take a long time. One recent survey says that 39% of all bookstore purchases take more than an hour. Similarly when you buy a book on Amazon.com, you’ll rely on book reviews posted by other users — but some of them are not reliable or just not good enough to help you decide.

Booklap is a service that wants to help you find a book you will love to read. It has two ways of doing this. The first is based on your interests which are pulled from ‘social graphs’ such as your Facebook profile. The other way by presenting quotes from books that have impressed other users.

The startup is planning to introduce a smartphone app which will allow a user to easily post quotes by just shooting a picture. What differentiates this from Amazon.com is that book reviews are being posted with the real names of those who have written the review.

Their revenue model is expected to come from affiliate fees from online bookstores like Amazon.com, driving users to buy books on their site. Booklap raised 3 million yen (about $32,00) from Incubate Fund last July.

ChatPerf

chatperf

ChatPerf will add a scenting feature to your iPhone via a small device that can be controlled over the internet. The startup is planning to introduce an SDK that will allow third-party developers to create services and apps based around scent.

They are currently in discussions with an European company to help promote their laundry detergent products using remote scent-transmitting technology. The startup recently raised 3 million yen from the Japanese crowdfunding site Campfire.

Message Leaf

MessageLeaf

Many blog readers want to give private feedback to blog authors, but there isn’t really any good way to receive such feedback in a secure and simple way. Many authors avoid posting their e-mail addresses in fear of receiving spam messages, and a contact form can be inconvenient with many fields or captchas.

Message Leaf is a tool that can be easily set up by blog authors, enabling readers to easily get in touch with them. With the service, readers login using Facebook authentication, and bloggers can enjoy chatting with avid fans casually because the interaction does not appear publicly, unlike Disqus.

WHILL (chosen as a finalist)

WHILL

Whill is a vehicle which helps physically challenged individuals get around a little easier, reaching locations normally beyond their comfort level. The team developed Whill with the intention of making users feel empowered, and its design is in compliance with Japanese traffic laws, allowing users to drive on public roads without a driver’s license.

The product emerged from Campfire (Japan’s Kickstarter-like crowdfunding site) where they raised about $13,000. With that money, they plan to produce the first 100 units and put them up for sale in December. The team includes engineers who previously worked at Nissan Motors, Sony, and Olympus.

Grafic (chosen as a finalist)

grafic

There are now 164 million blogs worldwide. But making and maintaining a blog can still be challenging sometimes. Grafic allows you to create a blog with a smartphone, enabling intuitive control at your fingertips.

The Grafic team is currently planning to monetize via paid user subscriptions and tie-up with brands who can provide blog design templates that help with their product promotion. The iOS app is already live and an Android app will be out coming soon.

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Trippiece

trippiece

Trippiece is a service that allows you to share your travel plans on the web. For those who are bored with the many plans presented by travel agencies, but have no time to create a plan by youself, you can use Trippiece to find a travel experience that might fit your tastes.

So far they have seen more than $2.5 million in transaction over their platform, and more than 6,000 people have joined the travel experiences listed on the website. They are currently planning to move their home base to Singapore in order to avoid possible violation of Japan’s strict travel laws which (as they explain) are intended to protect the existing business of travel agencies.

Trippiece was founded in 2011, and has fundraised 3.87 million yen (about $42,000) from Samurai Incubate, 5 million yen (about $54,000) from Movida Japan, and funding from Japanese digital ad agency Opt (JQS:2389) to the tune of tens of millions of yen. I previously interviewed the startup’s co-founder and CEO Ian Ishida, so check that out if you’d like to learn about the service.

Designclue (chosen as a finalist)

designclue

When you order logo design here in Japan, it will usually not be very cheap due to high labor costs in the country. But it can also be very hard for most Japanese people to order design work from overseas because of the language barrier.

Designclue is a logo-focused crowdsourcing site which allows users to easily place orders from independent foreign designers. The website has multilingual interfaces to easily facilitate your design orders. Users can receive many design proposals at affordable rates from registered designers in emerging markets.

The startup announced that it has fundraised 14.7 million yen (about $150,000) from two Japanese seed investors, Incubate Fund and East Ventures.

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TexaGPS

TexaGPS

TexaGPS (pronounced as ‘tether GPS’) is an iOS app that adds a location-detection feature to your non-GPS-enabled iPad when it’s alongside your iPhone with the app installed. For those who want to use the iPad as a navigational device, this app saves them from having to dish out on an extra data plan for the iPad only.

The app was developed by a team from Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. It’s available for $5 dollars on the App Store and has seen more than 2,000 downloads since its launch last December.

Best Style

beststyle1

Stylists sometimes say there are 10,000 rules for choosing outfits. Best Style wants to help you get around all those by using technology to find the best outfit for today. It asks you how you’re feeling, or if you have some sort of special occasion, like a date for example.

Every piece of clothing in the presented outfits are linked with a purchase page on fashion e-commerce sites, and the startup intends to generate revenue by driving traffic to affiliate partners. Best Style is backed by Incubate Fund.

Terra Motors

TerraMotors

Terra Motors is a producer of electric motorcycles, which have great potential in terms of market needs in emerging countries. With a solid trust in the quality of Japan-made products, they plan to expand their production of motorcycles to help compete against Chinese manufacturers which are currently grabbing more market share. The startup recently hired an engineer who formerly worked at Suzuki Motors, and they constructed a factory in Vietnam with the capacity to produce 10,000 motorcycles a year. They are also involved in a project in the Philippines where the government is currently attempting to transition from gas-powered vehicles to electric.

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Million Moments

millionmoments

Sorting through a batch of digital photos can be troublesome. But Million Moments puts all your shots into an album, and helps you organize them by attaching labels. It also lets you share an album page with followers on networks like Facebook and Twitter. The service was developed by a subsidiary of Sony, inspired by a young mother who wanted a quick and easy way to manage her children’s snapshots.

It is currently available for iOS and Android, and has reached more than a half million downloads since its launch last June. The company is considering to monetize by deploying photos to cloud-based services and enabling picture-printing services.

ShareWis (chosen as a finalist)

ShareWis

ShareWis is a learning site that provides a number of online learning courses, motivating users to learn new things by visualizing their learning process, creating a feeling of the accomplishment. The service was launched in Osaka in December of 2012, and has over 75,000 courses and more than 13,000 registered users. Their revenue model is based on advertising from vocational schools and publishers, as well as providing premium seminar content like Skillshare and Udemy are doing. They won at the Japan e-learning awards 2012 and raised funds from Movida Japan last September.

UI Scope

UIscope

UI Scope allows software and hardware developers to crowdsource testing tasks for their products. A registered tester (called a ‘panel’ in the service) receives a camera from the startup so that it can record the testing process. When a developer (called ‘a client’) chooses someone from all registered testers and ask them to test the product, that person will take about 20 minutes to test it and report back with a video of the testing process. The developer pays 3,000 yen (about $32) for this testing, and the tester receives 500 yen. The testing results are reported online in the form of video, screenshots, and behavioral reports in text.

UI Scope was launched last August with the aim of creating a huge database of product testing by gathering such test results and case studies. It has raised 5 million yen (about $53,800) from Movida Japan, and has acquired 120 developers and 2500 testers during the last six months.