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Japan’s Uncovered Fund forms $14M+ Africa-focused seed fund, unveils 5 investments

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It’s been almost three years since young Japanese investor Takuma Terakubo announced the launch of his sub-Saharan Africa-focused Leapfrog Ventures. It has since been rebranded into the Samurai Africa Fund, and its management has been taken over by Samurai Incubate, the Tokyo-based VC firm that Terakubo previously worked for. After Leapfrog Ventures (also known as Samurai Africa Fund I) finished its investment activities, Terakubo apparently moved on to establish a new fund. We just learned that he established Uncovered Fund in July last year, named it after regions or areas where backing entrepreneurs is considered insufficient, with a targeted total of 1.5 billion yen (about $14.2 million). It has secured funds from institutional investors as well as Japanese footballer Keisuke Honda’s KSK Angel Fund. The fund is expected to invest in early-stage startups in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and other East African countries, as well as larget market such as Nigeria and South Africa. It will be focused on retail, fintech, healthtech, logistics, MaaS, agritech/foodtech, and smart city verticals, with an eye on “Africa in 2030” when the fund will mature. Its ticket size is ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 US. The fund also announced investments in five companies: SkyGarden…

Uncovered Fund’s Takuma Terakubo stands in the middle.
Image credit: Uncovered Fund

It’s been almost three years since young Japanese investor Takuma Terakubo announced the launch of his sub-Saharan Africa-focused Leapfrog Ventures. It has since been rebranded into the Samurai Africa Fund, and its management has been taken over by Samurai Incubate, the Tokyo-based VC firm that Terakubo previously worked for.

After Leapfrog Ventures (also known as Samurai Africa Fund I) finished its investment activities, Terakubo apparently moved on to establish a new fund. We just learned that he established Uncovered Fund in July last year, named it after regions or areas where backing entrepreneurs is considered insufficient, with a targeted total of 1.5 billion yen (about $14.2 million). It has secured funds from institutional investors as well as Japanese footballer Keisuke Honda’s KSK Angel Fund.

The fund is expected to invest in early-stage startups in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and other East African countries, as well as larget market such as Nigeria and South Africa. It will be focused on retail, fintech, healthtech, logistics, MaaS, agritech/foodtech, and smart city verticals, with an eye on “Africa in 2030” when the fund will mature. Its ticket size is ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 US.

Uncovered Fund’s portfolio startups at the moment
Image credit: Uncovered Fund

The fund also announced investments in five companies:

  • SkyGarden (Kenya), helping retail stores digitize offline and online sales
  • Rxall (Nigeria), building a safe drug distribution infrastructure leveraging a fake drugs detection system
  • LipaLater (Kenya), enabling postpaid payments at e-commerce stores in East African countries
  • Gozem (Togo), offering a car-hailing service in West African countries.
  • Send (Nigeria), a digital freight forwarder and customs broker, expected to grow as the AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) was launched last month

Apart from Uncovered Fund, there are an increasing number of funds from Japan investing in African startups. In addition to the aforementioned Samurai Incubate, Double Feather Partners, Asia Africa Investment & Consulting (AAIC), Kepple Africa Ventures are active these days.

Japan’s Clear, study notes organizer app, acquired by stationery giant Kokuyo

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See the original story in Japanese. The parts colored in red were updated on 4:30pm, Feb 12th based on our additional coverage. We just learned that Tokyo-based Clear, the Japanese startup behind a study notes organizer app under the same name, has been acquired by Japanese stationery giant Kokuyo (TSE:7984). Since its launch back in 2010, the startup has secured about 400 million yen (about $3.8 million) from investors to date. According to Japanese startup database Initial, they were estimated to be valued at 1.938 billion yen (about $18.5 million) after securing the series C round back in 2018. Clear secured a series D round last year, which brought the company’s funding sum up to 516,748,113 yen (about $4.9 million) according to their website. Initial has not shared Clear’s post series D round valuation. (Not to be confused with Clear, another Japanese startup developing brands and online media portal focused on Japanese sake products.) Clear was founded in October of 2010 under its previous name of Arcterus by Goichiro Arai (CEO) who has held various posts including Resort Business Manager at Japanese resort development / management major Hoshino Resort together with Yoshiki Shiraishi (COO/CFO) who was Arai’s classmate at Keio…

Clear CEO Goichiro Arai
Image credit: EduLab

See the original story in Japanese.

The parts colored in red were updated on 4:30pm, Feb 12th based on our additional coverage.

We just learned that Tokyo-based Clear, the Japanese startup behind a study notes organizer app under the same name, has been acquired by Japanese stationery giant Kokuyo (TSE:7984). Since its launch back in 2010, the startup has secured about 400 million yen (about $3.8 million) from investors to date. According to Japanese startup database Initial, they were estimated to be valued at 1.938 billion yen (about $18.5 million) after securing the series C round back in 2018.

Clear secured a series D round last year, which brought the company’s funding sum up to 516,748,113 yen (about $4.9 million) according to their website. Initial has not shared Clear’s post series D round valuation.

(Not to be confused with Clear, another Japanese startup developing brands and online media portal focused on Japanese sake products.)

Clear was founded in October of 2010 under its previous name of Arcterus by Goichiro Arai (CEO) who has held various posts including Resort Business Manager at Japanese resort development / management major Hoshino Resort together with Yoshiki Shiraishi (COO/CFO) who was Arai’s classmate at Keio Business School. The Clear app, launched in December of 2013, allows notebooks sorted by subject or educational unit to be shared with other users and is available for Android, iOS and web.

Started in Japan, the app has expanded into several markets including Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, China, and Hong Kong. It has acquired 2.3 million (Arai says it has already reached 2.5 million) active users (MAUs) in Japan and 3.5 million MAUs worldwide, suggesting that one out of four middle and high school students in Japan is using the app.

Image credit: Clear

Aiming to help cram schools attract their potential customers and better market themselves in addition to developing learning content, the company has partnered with several companies such as:

  • Zoshinkai Publishing (Z-kai Group), Japanese major in offering online or distance learning for students
  • Asahi Gakusei Shimbun, Japanese major news company’s subsidiary for publication for students
  • Sprix (TSE:7030), developing content for cram schools
  • Lacicu, developing web services and educational video apps for cram schools
  • Manabi Aid, offering online video classes for students
  • Rakuten (TSE:4755), Japanese leading e-commerce giant

In an interview with Bridge, Arai shared how his company has reached the agreement:

In fall of 2019, we had a chance to meet Kokuyo CEO Hidekuni Kuroda and we decided to work together.

Kokuyo has a large market share with the paper notebook brand Campus while we do so with the digital notebook brand Clear. We thought it would be a good partnership to utilize the respective brand power each other.

In terms of overseas development, for example, Kokuyo has expanded into Mainland China, while Clear has about 800,000 users of their app in Thailand alone. By sending customers to each other’s strong geographical markets, there would be a possibility of increasing the market share of both brands in respective markets. Having not yet decided on the specifics, Clear may be able to add new functions to the app by bridging the paper and digital gap.

In addition to the notebook mobile app, Clear offers two other key services:

  • Meets – helps cram schools in recruiting students, jointly operated with Education Network and Sprix. Educatiional Network is a subsidiary of aforementioned Zoshinkai Publishing.
  • Shinro Erabi (career choice) – helps high school students find their best career path with resources on universities, jointly operated with Shoei Koho, a subsidiary of after-mentioned CHIeru.

Arai says the partnership with these companies will continue even after his company was acquired.

In March of last year, Clear partnered with CHIeru (TSE:3933), the classroom management solutions provider for schools. CHIeru has a subsidiary focused on helping universities promote, and the partnership helps universities market their entrance exam briefing even in a virtual format during the pandemic with the help of Clear.

Clear won the second prize at Startup Asia Jakarta 2014, while also being selected as a finalist at ASIABEAT 2016 in Xiamen, obtaining international spotlight. They won the Japan preliminary round of The Global EdTech Startup Awards (GESA), and then won the global finals in London in 2018.

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Japanese skills marketplace Coconala files for IPO valued at over $207M

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Coconala, the startup behind an online platform under the same name where you can buy and sell knowledge, skills and, experience from users who are willing to teach, announced on Wedneday that that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on March 19 of 2021 with plans to offer 100,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 1,813,000 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 11,092,900 shares. The underwriting will be co-led by Mizuho Securities and Credit Suisse while Coconala’s ticker code will be 4176. Based on the estimated issue price of 1,000 yen (about $9.56) and total number of issued shares (21,474,000), the company will be valued at 21.7 billion yen (about $207 million). Its share price range will be released on March 3 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on march 4 and pricing on March 10. According to the consolidated statement as of August 2020, they posted revenue of 1,775.6 million yen ($17 million) with an ordinary loss of 83.8 million yen ($800,000). Coconala was established under its previous name of Welself in February 2012 by…

Image credit: Coconala

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Coconala, the startup behind an online platform under the same name where you can buy and sell knowledge, skills and, experience from users who are willing to teach, announced on Wedneday that that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on March 19 of 2021 with plans to offer 100,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 1,813,000 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 11,092,900 shares. The underwriting will be co-led by Mizuho Securities and Credit Suisse while Coconala’s ticker code will be 4176.

Based on the estimated issue price of 1,000 yen (about $9.56) and total number of issued shares (21,474,000), the company will be valued at 21.7 billion yen (about $207 million). Its share price range will be released on March 3 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on march 4 and pricing on March 10. According to the consolidated statement as of August 2020, they posted revenue of 1,775.6 million yen ($17 million) with an ordinary loss of 83.8 million yen ($800,000).

Coconala was established under its previous name of Welself in February 2012 by Akiyuki Minami who formerly worked at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank and Japanese private equity fund Advantage Partners. Our readers may recall that he shared his story behind launching the startup at a lecture event for entrepreneurs we previously covered. After graduating from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, he was involved in launchiing two NPOs in Japan, which led him to the experience that offering his skills and abilities to someone else can lead to self-confidence and growth for himself as well.

More than 1.8 million users have been registered by last year while the number is likely to hit 2 million some time this year. With the increase in the number of registered users, the percentage of paying users has been gradually decreasing to around 5-6% for the past one to two years. Their Average Revenue Per Paying User (ARPPU) is on the rise, indicating that users who recognize the value of Coconala are paying more than before. Aiming to upsell, the company launched derivative services such as Coconala Legal Advice in 2016 and Coconala Meets in 2019.

Led by Jafco (15.34%), the company’s main shareholders include Jafco (15.34%), CEO Akiyuki Minami (13.13%), co-founder and director Sato Shinmyo (11.70%), Nissay Capital (11.39% from multiple funds combined), Fidelity (9.72% from multiple funds combined), Mistletoe Japan (7.72%), ImproVista (4.18%), COO Ayumu Suzuki (3.82%), employee Akie Sawayama (2.70%), Environment and Energy Investment (2.34%), and DBJ Capital (2.34%).

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Japanese car subscription startup Nyle secures up to $50M via equity and loans

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Nyle, the company behind a car subscription service called Carmo, announced on Monday that it has secured about 3.7 billion yen (about $35.7 million) in the latest funding round. Participating investors are Dimension (investment arm of Dream Incubator), JIC Venture Growth Investments (JIC-VGI), Environmental Energy Investment, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, SBI Group, Nippon Venture Capital, Gree Ventures, Digital Advertising Consortium, and unnamed individual investors. The company also announced that it has signed loan agreements with several financial institutions for a total of up to 1.3 billion yen (about $12.5 million). Prior to this round, the company raised about 1.5 billion yen from several investors including Sparks Group (TSE:8739), SBI Group, and Aoki Group back in April of 2019. The latest round raied the company’s cum of funding (without loans) to date up to 5.57 billion yen (about $53.7 million) Carmo is completely offered online and allows users to use a new car for as little as the 10,000 yen-range (starting at $96 approx.) per month. It has received 45,000 applications from users for three years since its launch back in January of 2018. Using the funds, Nile plans to strengthen its marketing activities,…

Image credit: Nyle

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Nyle, the company behind a car subscription service called Carmo, announced on Monday that it has secured about 3.7 billion yen (about $35.7 million) in the latest funding round.

Participating investors are Dimension (investment arm of Dream Incubator), JIC Venture Growth Investments (JIC-VGI), Environmental Energy Investment, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, SBI Group, Nippon Venture Capital, Gree Ventures, Digital Advertising Consortium, and unnamed individual investors. The company also announced that it has signed loan agreements with several financial institutions for a total of up to 1.3 billion yen (about $12.5 million).

Prior to this round, the company raised about 1.5 billion yen from several investors including Sparks Group (TSE:8739), SBI Group, and Aoki Group back in April of 2019. The latest round raied the company’s cum of funding (without loans) to date up to 5.57 billion yen (about $53.7 million)

Carmo is completely offered online and allows users to use a new car for as little as the 10,000 yen-range (starting at $96 approx.) per month. It has received 45,000 applications from users for three years since its launch back in January of 2018.

Using the funds, Nile plans to strengthen its marketing activities, strengthen alliances with auto repair shops, auto dealers, and gas stations while considering merge and acquire companies with potential synergies.

via PR Times

Rocket Staff, startup behind free manga apps, acquired by Japan’s largest anime retailer

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Rocket Staff, known for its “all-you-can-read for free manga” app called Manga King ( iOS / Android ), was confirmed that it has been acquired by Japanese largest anime retail chain Animate. The amount of the acquisition has not been disclosed but we learned that Animate will take a 70% stake of Rocket Staff’s Japanese and South Korean business entities, making Rocket Staff a consolidated subsidiary of Animate. Following this acquisition, Animate CEO Ryu Takahashi and several of its directors are expected to join the board of directors at Rocket Staff’s Japanese and South Korean companies. Kou Youngwook, the founder of Rocket Staff, will continue serving his company as the CEO, and there will be no major changes in their business. Animate made 65 billion yen in an annual group sales and accounted for a third of the entire Japanese anime market which is estimated to be worth 240 billion yen. Having about 30 group companies under their wing, the anime giant is considered active in corporate acquisitions. As one residing in the Japanese startup community, it is still fresh in our minds that Pixiv, the Japanese startup behind a social illustration service…

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons / Rocket Staff

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Rocket Staff, known for its “all-you-can-read for free manga” app called Manga King ( iOS / Android ), was confirmed that it has been acquired by Japanese largest anime retail chain Animate. The amount of the acquisition has not been disclosed but we learned that Animate will take a 70% stake of Rocket Staff’s Japanese and South Korean business entities, making Rocket Staff a consolidated subsidiary of Animate.

Following this acquisition, Animate CEO Ryu Takahashi and several of its directors are expected to join the board of directors at Rocket Staff’s Japanese and South Korean companies. Kou Youngwook, the founder of Rocket Staff, will continue serving his company as the CEO, and there will be no major changes in their business.

Animate made 65 billion yen in an annual group sales and accounted for a third of the entire Japanese anime market which is estimated to be worth 240 billion yen. Having about 30 group companies under their wing, the anime giant is considered active in corporate acquisitions. As one residing in the Japanese startup community, it is still fresh in our minds that Pixiv, the Japanese startup behind a social illustration service under the same name, was acquired by the Animate group in 2015.

CEO and Founder Kou Yongwook (left and front) and some of his team at Rocket Staff.
Image credit: Rocket Staff

Kou came to Japan alone from South Korea 20 years ago at his age of 20. After working at a TV station based out of Tokyo, he established Rocket Staff in November of 2010. Making the most of his Korean background, he developed apps across Japan and South Korea, coordinated app marketing for both markets, and served as a correspondent reporting on the state of technology in Japan for an IT-focused TV channel in South Korea. Some of his notable apps include Peppermeet, which allows users to chat and share photos with others nearby, and Ad&Joy, which allows users to earn points by watching ads.

In 2018, Rocket Staff launched a blockchain-powered decentralized ad network called ACA Network, but this did not work out and was subsequently forced to shut down. The company’s core business is currently Manga King, which turns manga titles published in a printed form in the past into the mobile app format so that they can share revenue from ads placed alongside manga episodes with manga publishers. There are more than 50,000 manga episodes available on the mobile app now, and users have downloaded these episodes over 300 million times to date.

Rocket Staff’s joining the Animate group is expected to help accelerate the latter’s digital transformation initiative. In our previous interview with Kou, he revealed his vision such as partnering with popular manga artist teams in Taiwan and South Korea, building a new distribution system for manga using blockchain, and working with publishers and other organizations to create a unique ecosystem where fans’ evaluations can lead to creators’ motivation and income.

Stay tuned for our further coverage reporting their business development details after the acquisition.

AnyMind Group acquires Tokyo-based cross-border marketing firm Engawa

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See the original story in Japanese. AnyMind Group (previously known as AdAsia Holdings), the startup developing and offering AI-based marketing solutions in Japan and other Asian countries, announced on Friday that it will take a full stake in cross-border marketing company Engawa, a subsidiary of Japanese PR and marketing firm Sunny Side Up (TSE: 2180). The price of the acquisition is not disclosed. Upon this, Engawa’s president and CEO Takanobu Ushiyama join the board of directors of AnyMind’s Japanese subsidiary AnyMind Japan. For Anymind, this will be the seven startup acquisition. Engawa was established in 2015 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Sunny Side Up, and then secured funding form Japanese ad production company TYO (subsequently merged with other ad production company AOI Pro. back in 2017). Engawa has been consisted of the team of Tokyo Weekender, an English-language news publication founded back in 1970, and the members from Sunny Side Up. The company has been helping SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) rooted in local regions through partnership with local governments across Japan. According to Japanese company database Initial, Engawa was valued at 680 million yen (about $6 million) as of the post-series A round back in September of 2018….

From left: AnyMind Group CEO Kosuke Sogo, Engawa CEO Takanobu Ushiyama
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

See the original story in Japanese.

AnyMind Group (previously known as AdAsia Holdings), the startup developing and offering AI-based marketing solutions in Japan and other Asian countries, announced on Friday that it will take a full stake in cross-border marketing company Engawa, a subsidiary of Japanese PR and marketing firm Sunny Side Up (TSE: 2180). The price of the acquisition is not disclosed. Upon this, Engawa’s president and CEO Takanobu Ushiyama join the board of directors of AnyMind’s Japanese subsidiary AnyMind Japan. For Anymind, this will be the seven startup acquisition.

Engawa was established in 2015 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Sunny Side Up, and then secured funding form Japanese ad production company TYO (subsequently merged with other ad production company AOI Pro. back in 2017). Engawa has been consisted of the team of Tokyo Weekender, an English-language news publication founded back in 1970, and the members from Sunny Side Up. The company has been helping SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) rooted in local regions through partnership with local governments across Japan. According to Japanese company database Initial, Engawa was valued at 680 million yen (about $6 million) as of the post-series A round back in September of 2018.

In August 2019, AnyMind established a joint venture and Asia-focused influencer marketing agency called AnyUp with Sunny Side Up’s subsidiary Sunny Side Partners. AnyMind says potential synergies in business and human resources encouraged them to acquire Engawa. For the time being, it is expected that the acquisition will help AnyMind better reach their solutions to Engawa’s more than 700 clients such as small manufacturers and local producers across the country.

In an interview with Bridge, Engawa’s Ushiyama says,

When we think about how to maximize the potential for business growth in cross-border marketing, we believe that AnyMind is an ideal partner because of its huge digital assets. Since the further growth of Engawa is beneficial to our former parent company Sunny Side Up, the acquisition talks went went smoothly.

Kosuke Sogo, CEO of AnyMind, added,

AnyMind has a growing client base among large enterprises, but we have not yet been able to reach out to local governments and manufacturers in Japan where you will typically need a long-term and face-to-face-based sales effort. Engawa has many clients from small manufacturers and local producers across the country, which is extremely attractive for us.

In the field of influencer marketing, both AnyMind and Engawa have their own influencer network in Southeast Asia and China, respectively, and will be able to operate them in an integrated manner and add them to each other’s client proposal menus. AnyMind Japan, the Japanese subsidiary of AnyMind, has more than 100 employees, and Ushiyama’s addition to AnyMind Japan’s board of two managing directors (CEO Sogo plus Junki Kitajima, CEO of Grove, whose company was acquired by AnyMind earlier last year) is expected to strengthen the management structure.

Last year, AnyMind launched its out-of-home (OOH) ad business by rolling out digital signage across Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, which will be the first milestone to build a network of digital signage in regional airports across the country. In view of helping strengthen the promotion and marketing solutions for local companies through Engawa, the expansion of this digital signage ad network all across regional airports in Japan will be also a tail wind for both companies.

Japan’s biotech firm Spiber secures $240M to build polymer production facility in US

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Spiber has been developing plant-based artificial protein fiber material called Brewed Protein. The Japanese startup announced on Wednesday that it has secured 25 billion yen (about $240 million) utilizing a value securitization structure. This funding round uses the company’s tangible and intangible assets as collateral to solicit funds from a wide range of investors, which allows them to get funds without making choices like debt financing or third-party allocation of shares which is likely to take time to negotiate with lenders or cause equity dilution. This round was arranged by Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities with participation from The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ as the initial lender and a credit investor while the names of the other investors participating have not been disclosed. Spiber signed a collaboration agreement with US-based grain producing major Archer-Daniels Linseed Company (NYSE:ADM) in September. The funds will be used to build a mass production system for brewed protein in the US in addition to research and development of new materials scheduled to launch in several years. Spiber was founded in 2007 as a spin-off from the Institute for Advanced Biosciences at Keio University in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture. Since its incorporating, the company has to…

Brewed Protein
Image credit: Spiber

Spiber has been developing plant-based artificial protein fiber material called Brewed Protein. The Japanese startup announced on Wednesday that it has secured 25 billion yen (about $240 million) utilizing a value securitization structure. This funding round uses the company’s tangible and intangible assets as collateral to solicit funds from a wide range of investors, which allows them to get funds without making choices like debt financing or third-party allocation of shares which is likely to take time to negotiate with lenders or cause equity dilution.

This round was arranged by Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities with participation from The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ as the initial lender and a credit investor while the names of the other investors participating have not been disclosed. Spiber signed a collaboration agreement with US-based grain producing major Archer-Daniels Linseed Company (NYSE:ADM) in September. The funds will be used to build a mass production system for brewed protein in the US in addition to research and development of new materials scheduled to launch in several years.

Spiber was founded in 2007 as a spin-off from the Institute for Advanced Biosciences at Keio University in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture. Since its incorporating, the company has to date secured an estimated amount of over 35 billion yen (about $340 million). In April of 2019, the company secured 5 billion yen ($48.4 million) in syndicated loans from The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Yamagata Bank, Shonai Bank, and Tsuruoka Shinkin Bank to develop a huge world-class plant for protein fermentation and purification operations in eastern Thailand (Rayong Province). The company is reportedly valued at over 111.5 yen ($1.08 billion).

Initially focused on spider silk which is said to be the strongest material on earth, the company had been developing a man-made synthetic fiber material called Qmonos. However, although the protein fibroin in spider silk is strong, it causes super shrinkage when wet, making it difficult to maintain the dimensional stability of products made from the material. Subsequently the startup succeeded to develop a protein fiber with high dimensional stability by removing the amino acid sequence features causing shrinkage from the fibroin gene, and rebranded Qmonos into Brewed Protein.

The new material is produced by microbial fermentation from plant-based sugars such as glucose and sucrose, which does not require any petroleum-derived material at all. It attracts huge attention because of many use cases: a microplastic-free and non-animal-derived material in the apparel industry, contributing to weight reduction in the logistics industry, a next-generation core material for artificial hair in the medical industry.

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Japan’s QD Laser, developer of retinal scanning displays, files for IPO

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Japanese startup QD Laser, the developer of retinal scanning displays called the Retissa series, announced on Monday that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on February 5 of 2021 with plans to offer 9,451,800 shares for public subscription and to sell 2,033,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 4,107,600 shares. The underwriting will be led by SMBC Nikko securities while QD Laser’s ticker code will be 6613. Based on the estimated issue price of 275 yen (about $2.65), the company will be valued at 9.51 billion yen (about $91.7 million). Its share price range will be released on January 20 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on January 21 and pricing on January 27. According to the consolidated statement as of March 2020, they posted revenue of 756.63 million yen ($7.3 million) with an ordinary loss of 1.23 billion yen ($11.8 million). QD Laser was established in 2006 as a spin-off from Fujitsu Laboratories where QD Laser’s founder and CEO Mitsuru Sugawara was previously quantum dot lasers. Using the company’s technology, images can be directly delivered onto the device wearer’s retina from a laser…

Retissa Display II
Image credit: QD Laser

Japanese startup QD Laser, the developer of retinal scanning displays called the Retissa series, announced on Monday that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on February 5 of 2021 with plans to offer 9,451,800 shares for public subscription and to sell 2,033,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 4,107,600 shares. The underwriting will be led by SMBC Nikko securities while QD Laser’s ticker code will be 6613.

Based on the estimated issue price of 275 yen (about $2.65), the company will be valued at 9.51 billion yen (about $91.7 million). Its share price range will be released on January 20 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on January 21 and pricing on January 27. According to the consolidated statement as of March 2020, they posted revenue of 756.63 million yen ($7.3 million) with an ordinary loss of 1.23 billion yen ($11.8 million).

QD Laser was established in 2006 as a spin-off from Fujitsu Laboratories where QD Laser’s founder and CEO Mitsuru Sugawara was previously quantum dot lasers. Using the company’s technology, images can be directly delivered onto the device wearer’s retina from a laser projector built inside the frame, and has the potential to improve the quality of life (QoL) of the visually impaired who are not totally blind but are forced to live in a blurred world. It is also expected to be applied to augmented reality and smart glasses.

Led by Japanese computer manufacturing giant Fujitsu (26.64% through their three funds, TSE:6702), the company’s major shareholders include Tokyo Century (TSE:8439, 13.02%), Mitsui & Co. Global Investment (12.45%), Axa Life Insurance (6.80%), QD Laser’s Sugawara (5.17%), Beyond Next Ventures (2.67%), Daiichi Life Insurance, Realtech Fund (2.66%), DG Ventures (2.36%), and Nikko-SBI Innovation Fund (2.36%).

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Japanese leading beverage can maker invents connected sprayer for drone

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In order to confront an issue, you have to “monitor” it and then “take action” to solve it. People do this process unconsciously on a daily basis, but the technical hurdles may become higher when you try to do all this remotely or automate tasks with robots. Many of small drones have been limited their functions to monitoring because their limited payload for pursuing longer flight times with limited battery capacity and securing agility during flight makes it difficult to mount complex moving parts needed for action. Toyo Seikan Group Holdings (TSE:5901), one of the world’s largest beverage container manufacturers, announced this week that it has developed Sabot for Drone, a remotely-controllable spraying device which can be attached to a drone to spray liquids and chemicals at high pressure. Since the liquid or chemical is filled into the can using the company’s aerosol packaging technology, there is no need to install a pump or other complicated mechanism on the drone. The product has a variety of applications but the company introduces several use cases such as exterminating a beehive in high places using chemicals, marking on the ground and walls, and anti-corrosion and waterproofing treatment by spraying resin. Since the…

In order to confront an issue, you have to “monitor” it and then “take action” to solve it. People do this process unconsciously on a daily basis, but the technical hurdles may become higher when you try to do all this remotely or automate tasks with robots.

Many of small drones have been limited their functions to monitoring because their limited payload for pursuing longer flight times with limited battery capacity and securing agility during flight makes it difficult to mount complex moving parts needed for action.

Toyo Seikan Group Holdings (TSE:5901), one of the world’s largest beverage container manufacturers, announced this week that it has developed Sabot for Drone, a remotely-controllable spraying device which can be attached to a drone to spray liquids and chemicals at high pressure. Since the liquid or chemical is filled into the can using the company’s aerosol packaging technology, there is no need to install a pump or other complicated mechanism on the drone.

The product has a variety of applications but the company introduces several use cases such as exterminating a beehive in high places using chemicals, marking on the ground and walls, and anti-corrosion and waterproofing treatment by spraying resin. Since the capacity of the sprayer is limited, it is not suitable for spraying pesticides over a wide area or for fire-fighting work, but it will save a lot of labor and shorten the time required for work that conventionally required blocking traffic and arranging an elevation work vehicle.

The product’s first model supports an SDK (software developer kit) by Chinese drone giant DJI and is fully compatible with DJI Matrice 200 series V2. The Tokyo-headquartered company claims it has chosen DJI because of its standardization and familiarity among many industrial drone choices. They are discussing with major construction companies and power companies the potential use of the device for their maintenance work while preparing for joint development of the contents of the sprayer with major chemical and paint manufacturers.

Established in 1917, Toyo Seikan launched an initiative called the Open up! Project last year in aim to encourage innovation and new developments for the next century. As one of the outcomes from the initiative, the Sabot device is named after “skipping unnecessary work that humans do not need to do” and also an anagram of Tobas (flying) in Japanese.

In September, Toyo Seikan joined the Series A round of Shiok Meats, a Singapore-based foodtech startup creating cell-cultured shrimp meat, which was the first investment in startups. Toyo Seikan claims that they want to work with Shiok Meats to help delivering the cultured shrimp meat and other alternative crustacean foods to dinner tables in Asia, a region facing social issues such as food and protein crises, climate change, and marine pollution.

Japan’s Slideflow, turns your slides into website in seconds, launches on Product Hunt

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Bubble and Webflow are popular as low-code and no-code tools for building websites while WIX and Squarespace are thought better for creating simple pages. In Japan, we have recently seen that the developer of AI-powered website building assistant for engineers Front-End.Ai secured about $1 million US last week while landing page builder startup Peraichi announced in September that its 49% stake has been acquired by Japanese online printing and on-demand logistics startup Raksul (TSE:4384). And now, a new startup has emerged from Japan that aims to make it easier to build websites using the graphics tools we use every day such as Google Slides and PowerPoint (no mention of whether or not Keynote will be supported in the future, which is curious for me as a Macintosh user). Tokyo-based startup Yagocoro unveiled its latest product called Slideflow on Product Hunt on Saturday, which allows users to build websites using presentation slides from Google Slides and PowerPoint. The company is developing English and Japanese versions of the service in parallel, and expects to launch it in January next year. Yagocoro was launched in 2018 by Shinnosuke Ito and Masahiro Kawasaki, the founders of Laughtech (previously known as BitGather), who launched Japanese…

Image credit: Product Hunt

Bubble and Webflow are popular as low-code and no-code tools for building websites while WIX and Squarespace are thought better for creating simple pages. In Japan, we have recently seen that the developer of AI-powered website building assistant for engineers Front-End.Ai secured about $1 million US last week while landing page builder startup Peraichi announced in September that its 49% stake has been acquired by Japanese online printing and on-demand logistics startup Raksul (TSE:4384).

And now, a new startup has emerged from Japan that aims to make it easier to build websites using the graphics tools we use every day such as Google Slides and PowerPoint (no mention of whether or not Keynote will be supported in the future, which is curious for me as a Macintosh user).

Tokyo-based startup Yagocoro unveiled its latest product called Slideflow on Product Hunt on Saturday, which allows users to build websites using presentation slides from Google Slides and PowerPoint. The company is developing English and Japanese versions of the service in parallel, and expects to launch it in January next year.

Yagocoro was launched in 2018 by Shinnosuke Ito and Masahiro Kawasaki, the founders of Laughtech (previously known as BitGather), who launched Japanese ‘viral mills’ CuRAZY back in 2014. Laughtech was acquired by Japanese PR agency Vector (TSE:6058) in 2016, and CuRAZY continues to be operated by Smart Media which was merged the three web media operating companies acquired by Vector, including Laughtech. Subsequently, Ito and his team launched an offshore software development business in Vietnam, which triggered them to think about creating a service that can be used globally, and they started developing Slideflow.

Disclosure: Bridge is run by PR Times (TSE:3922), a subsidiary of Vector (TSE:6058).

Ito says,

It is easy to forget when we are immersed in the IT industry that there are still many people who feel that even WIX is difficult to use. Even business professionals working at globally-renowned consulting firms, who usually create business presentations with PowerPoint every day, come to me for an advice on how to build websites with WIX. I think there should be no big difference in the UX skill needed for both presentation slides and websites.

Image credit: Yagocoro

Given the fact that even WIX is still difficult for some people to use and it has no much variety in design templates (about only 600), Ito came up with an idea leveraging PowerPoint slides to create a website because the Microsoft tool is used by 500 million people globally which can help lowering the learning cost. Thanks to more than 320 billion slides available on the Internet, this approach may help them curate template designers more easily.

PowerPoint can also export slides in HTML format, but this is not enough functionality to create a website. Slideflow categorizes images and text in the slides by layer, and arranges them using HTML and CSS, however, this is not enough to support responsiveness, links, and forms, so they made it possible by integrating open source tool Webiny for the code generation process.

Ito continues:

Our target for the first year is to have 6,000 templates consisting of 10 pages each on average ready. We would like to differentiate our product from other tools like WIX in the number of templates while focusing on polishing user experience.

The platform’s detailed pricing structure has not yet been disclosed, but it appears to be based on a monthly subscription fee. Ito told us that their annual recurring revenue (ARR) after three years since the official launch is target around $10 million US. The company also plans to offer additional functions like website marketing, analytics, and e-commerce integration as well.

Yagocoro has secured a seed round of funding from B Dash Ventures, East Ventures, The SEED, and Advantage. Detailed financial terms have not been disclosed.