2013.12.16

The Global Brain Alliance Forum: Highlights from the pitches and panels in Tokyo

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Tokyo-based investment company Global Brain held its annual startup conference event in Tokyo this past Friday, the Global Brain Alliance Forum, or GBAF for short. Let’s have a quick rundown on the top three winners out of nine nominees at the startup competition session, before looking at the other talks that took place during the event.

1st place: Triibe (Singapore)

gbaf-triibe-pitch

Triibe is a customer feedback management tool for physical retail stores, developed by Singapore-based startup Ascriber. They have deployed the app at over 300 retail stores and restaurant chains, mainly in Singapore. After visiting a merchant, if you rate them in the app and then share to Facebook, you can receive 10% off when you visit them next time.

For retailers, the platform gives you an analytics dashboard page when you can browse metrics from customers about their satisfaction and experience. One of their key features is a realtime alert system. When the platform receives negative feedback from a customer, your store manager can be notified via SMS or e-mail at once, which helps you address the needs of that customer as soon as possible.

There are already more than a few competitors in the space, but Triibe is expecting to differentiate with several features and expanded operations in Japan and the rest of Asia.

2nd place: Monaca (Japan)

gbaf-monaca-pitch

Monaca is a cross-platform mobile application development platform offered by Japanese company Asial. It helps non-tech-savvy users to develop native apps using web standards like HTML5, JavaScript and CSS.

When I previously met with the company’s CEO Masahiro Tanaka at ICT Spring in Luxembourg, he told me that this scene has been getting popular around the world since it requires no license or installation fee, and it allows computer vocational schools to give their students opportunities to easily develop an app.

3rd place: Whoscall (Taiwan)

gbaf-whoscall-pitch

Whoscall is a spam call-block and caller-detection app for the iOS and Android platforms. They have accumulated over 600 million profiles of telephone numbers and callers in their database, and can show you a caller’s name when you get an incoming call.

Earlier this month, Gogolook, the startup behind the app, reportedly secured an disclosed sum of funding from Korean search engine company Naver. I had a chance to talk with the company’s CEO Jeff Kuo, but he was unwilling to talk much about it. My guess is that he wants to prevent the perception that the investment would narrow their partnership opportunities with other companies, despite the fact that they are opened to partnering with any company, in addition to the Korean search engine.

Prior to these funds, the company raised $500,000 from angel investors, and an undisclosed sum from Trinity Venture Capital. In this space, we have already seen several competitors like Number Guru and TrueCaller.

Panel: Techstars on US trends and Asian opportunities

gbaf-techstars-on-stage

From the left: Techstars president David Brown and managing partner Mark Solon, and Global Brain Katsuyuki Hasegawa (moderator)

In a session introducing trends in recent US incubation, Global Brain’s Katsuyuki Hasegawa moderated a panel with Techstars president David Brown and managing partner Mark Solon.

The incubator launched way back in 2002 in Boulder, Colorado. Mark says their long-term efforts helped the city emerge as the nation’s fourth startup city, following Silicon Valley, New York City, and Boston.

According to Solon, they are partnering with many established companies to provide mentorships for their incubatees, including US-based telco Sprint, UK-based Barclays, and sporting goods company Nike. Many companies like these know they need to encourage more open innovation, and many will no longer depend so much on their internal business and engineering development efforts.

David explained that they want to expand their presence in Asia, but they have still no local accelerator from Japan participating in their global alliance network. So far, it’s only JFDI Asia in Singapore. I asked him if they’re interested in partnering with any Japanese incubator as part of the network. He replied by noting that the network has certain criteria to approve new members. But he says they are pleased to collaboratively work with local accelerators and incubators in Japan and the rest of the world.

What’s new with Global Brain?

gbaf-incj-masujima-on-stage

From the left: Yasuhiko Yurimoto (Global Brain), Shigeyuki Tsuchida (INCJ), and Masakazu Masujima (Mori Hamada & Matsumoto legal office)

In the opening remarks of the event, Global Brain’s founder and CEO Yasuhiko Yurimoto said:

I have big news to share with you today. Our company will be reborn to serve startups and entrepreneurs much better.

The details of that teaser would emerge later as he moderated a panel discussion with Shigeyuki Tsuchida, INCJ’s [1] strategic investment group chief Shigeyuki Tsuchida, and lawyer Masakazu Masujima, announcing that his company would remove a redemption clause in the term sheets of startups in which they invest, strengthening his team so it could finish due diligence in as little as one or two weeks.

If you are an entrepreneur who has experienced the fundraising process, you know how this clause can be a headache to your business. Typical VC firms can take more than a couple of months to determine their valuation of your company. So the roll out will be welcomed by potential investees. He also revealed the company will publicly disclose term sheet templates, and he hopes to encourage other investment firms can eliminate constraints so that entrepreneurs can more easily find fundraising opportunities.

gbaf-winners-on-stage

From the left: Yasuhiko Yurimoto (CEO, Global Brain), Vinnie Lauria (Partner, Golden Gate Ventures), Chester Jungseok Roh (CSO, 5rocks), Mark Hsu (CEO, TMI), Ryoichi Tsukada (Director, Asial), Jeff Kuo (CEO, Gogolook), Clark Chun Kiat Chua (Co-founder, Ascribr)


  1. For those who are not familiar, INCJ is Innovation Network Corporation of Japan, the country’s state-run initiative for investing innovative activities and companies. The governmental company recently announced it has invested 10 billion yen ($97 million) in a startup-focused fund managed by Global Brain.
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Masaru Ikeda

Masaru Ikeda

Masaru started his career as a programmer/engineer, and previously co-founded several system integration companies and consulting firms. He’s been traveling around Silicon Valley and Asia exploring the IT industry, and he also curates event updates for the Tokyo edition of Startup Digest.

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