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Japanese video tech startup Paronym secures funding from Thai telecom giant

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Tokyo-based Paronym, the Japanese startup behind the TIG interactive video technology, announced on Monday that it has secured an undisclosed sum from Intouch Holdings (BKK:INTUCH), the parent company of Thailand’s largest telecom operator AIS (BKK:ADVANC). Paronym has been raising a series B round since last year, and has so far secured approximately 230 million yen (about $2.1 million) from Japan Post Capital and NTT Docomo Ventures. The company says it has closed the latest round with the funding from Intouch Holdings. This entire round brought the startup’s funding sum up to date to 690 million yen ($6.4 million). Founded back in 2016, Paronym has developed the TIG interactive video solution that allows viewers to obtain necessary information by tapping an item in a video clip. Use cases include e-commerce sites selling interiors and fashion outfits, recipe sites (linking to foods and ingredients in the recipe), and online travel guides (linking to travel destinations). The platform offers tracking editing tool that allows content owners to associate objects in a clip with link destinations in addition to heat map tool showing them which part of the clip their viewers are tapping. The company offers a different line-up for each of six different…

Paronym CEO Michio Kobayashi presented at Rock Thailand in Bangkok in December.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Tokyo-based Paronym, the Japanese startup behind the TIG interactive video technology, announced on Monday that it has secured an undisclosed sum from Intouch Holdings (BKK:INTUCH), the parent company of Thailand’s largest telecom operator AIS (BKK:ADVANC).

Paronym has been raising a series B round since last year, and has so far secured approximately 230 million yen (about $2.1 million) from Japan Post Capital and NTT Docomo Ventures. The company says it has closed the latest round with the funding from Intouch Holdings. This entire round brought the startup’s funding sum up to date to 690 million yen ($6.4 million).

Founded back in 2016, Paronym has developed the TIG interactive video solution that allows viewers to obtain necessary information by tapping an item in a video clip. Use cases include e-commerce sites selling interiors and fashion outfits, recipe sites (linking to foods and ingredients in the recipe), and online travel guides (linking to travel destinations). The platform offers tracking editing tool that allows content owners to associate objects in a clip with link destinations in addition to heat map tool showing them which part of the clip their viewers are tapping.

Kobayashi shareed the development timeline of his company’s video technology service.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

The company offers a different line-up for each of six different verticals including movies splitting off into multiple case scenarios, magazines, digital signage, commerce, learning and live (performance). Due to its high interactivity, they claim that the platform can help e-commerce sites gain their conversion rate twice that of Instagram, three times that of YouTube.

In December, Paronym was qualified and invited to present at the second batch of Rock Thailand, a joint project by the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok and Thailand’s largest conglomerate CP Group with an aim to encourage business partnerships between the two countries, where Paronym CEO Michio Kobayashi explained his company has been seeking business alliances, series B funding, and potential sales partners in Thailand. So the latest funding means his efforts have paid off. Palonym plans to hold a joint press briefing with Intouch Holdings, and detailed plans are expected to be revealed at that time.

You can’t coach ambition

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This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. Red Auerbach — winning basketball coach of the Boston Celtics for 9 NBA championships in the 1950s and 60s, famously remarked that, “You can’t coach height.” He made the statement in response to a reporter‘s question on why he drafted somebody who turned out to be a fantastic player but didn’t possess much in the way of basketball skills other than being super tall. In other words, some favorable basketball attributes can be coached: passing, dribbling, shooting free throws, making plays, rebounding shots, etc. whereas other attributes can never be taught, namely a player’s height.  I think the equivalent of this expression for entrepreneurs would be, “You can’t coach ambition.” This expression came to mind again as I witness reverberations in the Silicon Valley echo chamber about the recent funding round of Clubhouse.  The brouhaha…

mark-bivens_portraitThis guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


Image credit: PhotoFond

Red Auerbach — winning basketball coach of the Boston Celtics for 9 NBA championships in the 1950s and 60s, famously remarked that, “You can’t coach height.” He made the statement in response to a reporter‘s question on why he drafted somebody who turned out to be a fantastic player but didn’t possess much in the way of basketball skills other than being super tall. In other words, some favorable basketball attributes can be coached: passing, dribbling, shooting free throws, making plays, rebounding shots, etc. whereas other attributes can never be taught, namely a player’s height. 
I think the equivalent of this expression for entrepreneurs would be, “You can’t coach ambition.”

This expression came to mind again as I witness reverberations in the Silicon Valley echo chamber about the recent funding round of Clubhouse. 

The brouhaha relates to Clubhouse’s Series A fundraising of $10 million from Andreessen Horowitz, which was accompanied by $2 million worth of secondary cash paid directly to the Clubhouse founders.

Perhaps it’s because I spent more of my investing career in Europe then in Silicon Valley, but for me, creative deal structures like this one — even if it looks egregious to some on the surface — do not strike me as eye-popping. 

Although I would not classify most European founders as underprivileged, very few come from positions of extreme wealth. Most of the entrepreneurs I have encountered had been toiling away for years with modest wages (especially on a net basis after significant taxes and social charges), and limited capital gains from other sources such as stock market appreciation. Functioning universal healthcare coverage provides a safety net on the downside, in contrast with the U.S., making entrepreneurship accessible to a wider range of economic classes.

For these and historically cultural reasons, the go-for-broke mentality is far less prevalent among European entrepreneurs.

So I’ve been no stranger to structuring deals with a secondary component for the founders who have been plugging away for years with relatively little concrete monetary value to show for it. No, I have not offered secondaries of $2 million — closer to an order of magnitude smaller — nor have I offered them on Series A rounds, only at later stages. However, I’ve done them on multiple occasions.

In some cases, the secondaries have worked out superbly well, removing obstacles for founders to strive for aggressive growth. On other occasions, they provided little or no improvement, and have sometimes even backfired by misaligning the interests in the cap table.

It was only after numerous experiences with these that I realized the importance of controlling for another variable: the intrinsic ambition of the founder.

If a founder’s self-imposed restraint stemmed from external factors, for instance family responsibilities, alleviating such burdens with a small secondary payout has proven wildly effective. If the risk aversion originated from within, on the other hand, the hoped-for benefits of a secondary structure never seemed to materialize.

Ambition is raw. It sits independently of the support I might provide to portfolio companies, either directly or by finding people who do. Company structuring, financial management, marketing, pitching, fundraising, negotiating, recruiting, exit positioning, etc. all of these skills can be fostered and encouraged.

Real estate in a post-coronavirus world

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This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. This article was intentionally removed because some of the data has become confidential. Thank you for understanding.

mark-bivens_portrait

This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


This article was intentionally removed because some of the data has become confidential. Thank you for understanding.

Remonade launches global edition, helps employees work from home more easily

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Tokyo-based Queue has launched the English version of Remonade, a team management platform that visualizes the performance of employees working from home. This is the third product for the company, following blueprint finder Blue Assistant and global startup database Sunryse. More people not only in startups but also in enterprises started working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new problems managers may face include helping smooth communication between members working apart each other as well as motivating them to maintain loyalty to the company. The Remonade platform is focused on the gap that tools like Slack and Torello cannot fill in addition to eliminating the stress these employees may feel from being watched by colleagues all day long through Skype or other tools. Remonade provides three key features: Today – offering easy daily task management Progress Sharing and Stats – showing shows daily to-dos for each member Dashboard – helping managers collect and analyze duties, granularity, and achievement rates that each of their team members is responsible for as well as their mental changes. For overall task management, you can use existing management tools, Gantt charts, and WBS (Work Breakdown Structure). But the Remonade platform visualizes daily tasks…

Tokyo-based Queue has launched the English version of Remonade, a team management platform that visualizes the performance of employees working from home. This is the third product for the company, following blueprint finder Blue Assistant and global startup database Sunryse.

More people not only in startups but also in enterprises started working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new problems managers may face include helping smooth communication between members working apart each other as well as motivating them to maintain loyalty to the company. The Remonade platform is focused on the gap that tools like Slack and Torello cannot fill in addition to eliminating the stress these employees may feel from being watched by colleagues all day long through Skype or other tools.

Remonade provides three key features:

  • Today – offering easy daily task management
  • Progress Sharing and Stats – showing shows daily to-dos for each member
  • Dashboard – helping managers collect and analyze duties, granularity, and achievement rates that each of their team members is responsible for as well as their mental changes.

For overall task management, you can use existing management tools, Gantt charts, and WBS (Work Breakdown Structure). But the Remonade platform visualizes daily tasks and helps managers grab what each of their members is working on at a glance. That’s why managers will not need to ask each of their members individually: “what are you working on?” or “how much did you work today?”

Queue CEO Naoto Shibata explained.

We wanted to help users share their status quo with their managers and colleagues as non-verbal as possible. While the government is promoting the work style reform in Japan, managers need to have more tasks to help their members work from home, such as asking them to submit a daily report. We wanted to solve this kind of problem.

The platform also has the feature to share snapshots of participating employees every few minutes (the frequency can be set arbitrarily by the user) using their laptop’s built-in camera. You can make your picture into mosaics, or even you can replace it with just an emoji and an icon.

In the future, some ideas include capturing seating times from camera images to help managers analyze the work performance of their members as well as analyzing their facial expressions to get mental feedback of them, Shibata says.

The company came up with Remonade because many of its employees work from home now. The platform can be used in conjunction with a variety of other tools, and a video conferencing tool integration is expected coming soon.

Japanese UX design firm Goodpatch files for IPO, pushing its valuation to $40M

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based user experience and interface (UX/UI) design agency Goodpatch announced today it has applied to be listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and was approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on June 30with plans to offer 308,900 shares for public subscription and to sell about 98,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of about 350,900 shares. The underwriting will be led by Daiwa Securities while Goodpatch’s ticker code will be 7351. Based on the estimated IPO price of 610 yen (about $5.7) a share, the company’s market valuation will be about 4.3 billion yen (about $40 million). Its share price range will be released on June 11 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on June 15 and pricing on June 19. According to the consolidated statement as of August 2019, they posted revenue of 1.41 billion yen (about $13.1 million) with an ordinary profit of 93 million yen (about $865,000). Goodpatch was founded in August of 2011. Prior to the company, CEO Naofumi Tsuchiya worked as an intern at San Francisco’s digital agency Btrax, and founded Goodpatch after returning home to Japan. The company’s name comes from the incubation…

Image credit Goodpatch

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based user experience and interface (UX/UI) design agency Goodpatch announced today it has applied to be listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and was approved.

The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on June 30with plans to offer 308,900 shares for public subscription and to sell about 98,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of about 350,900 shares. The underwriting will be led by Daiwa Securities while Goodpatch’s ticker code will be 7351.

Based on the estimated IPO price of 610 yen (about $5.7) a share, the company’s market valuation will be about 4.3 billion yen (about $40 million).

Its share price range will be released on June 11 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on June 15 and pricing on June 19. According to the consolidated statement as of August 2019, they posted revenue of 1.41 billion yen (about $13.1 million) with an ordinary profit of 93 million yen (about $865,000).

Goodpatch was founded in August of 2011. Prior to the company, CEO Naofumi Tsuchiya worked as an intern at San Francisco’s digital agency Btrax, and founded Goodpatch after returning home to Japan. The company’s name comes from the incubation space Dogpatch Labs in San Francisco. Their prototyping tool Prott, which was officially launched in October of 2014, has been introduced in major IT companies, startups, design farms, and so on.

Led by founder and CEO Naofumi Tsuchiya, the company’s major shareholders include Digital Garage Group (21.4%, DG Lab and DG Ventures), Blue Rose (8.24%), SBI Investment (7.93%), and Salesforce Ventures (3.08%).

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Daiz, Japan’s answer to Impossible Foods, secures $6M series A round

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Kumamoto-based Daiz, the Japanese startup developing plant-based substitutes for meat products, announced today that it has secured about 650 million yen (about $6 million) in a series A round. Investors participating in this round are: A-FIVE: Agriculture, forestry and fisheries Fund corporation for Innovation, Value-chain and Expansion Japan (Japan’s state-backed fund) Mitsubishi UFJ Capital Okasan Capital Partners Nichirei Foods (One of major brands of pre-cooked frozen foods in Japan) Kajitsudo (former parent company and current major share holder of Daiz, supplying organically-grown salad greens and leafy vegetables) Details of Daiz’s fundraising so far are unclear, but this follows the company’s previous three funding announcements: 100 million yen from Nishi-Nippon City Bank and QB Capital in September of 2018, 100 million yen from Kagoshima Bank in December of 2018, and 50 million yen from Nichirei Foods in February this year. The latest round brought their total funding sum up to about $11.2 million. The company says it will use the funds to expand its production capacity for soybean-based plant meat raw material called Miracle Chip up to 3,000 tons per year in addition to strengthen R&D efforts to get the taste of plant meat much closer to the real one. The…

Image credit: Daiz

Kumamoto-based Daiz, the Japanese startup developing plant-based substitutes for meat products, announced today that it has secured about 650 million yen (about $6 million) in a series A round.

Investors participating in this round are:

  • A-FIVE: Agriculture, forestry and fisheries Fund corporation for Innovation, Value-chain and Expansion Japan (Japan’s state-backed fund)
  • Mitsubishi UFJ Capital
  • Okasan Capital Partners
  • Nichirei Foods (One of major brands of pre-cooked frozen foods in Japan)
  • Kajitsudo (former parent company and current major share holder of Daiz, supplying organically-grown salad greens and leafy vegetables)

Details of Daiz’s fundraising so far are unclear, but this follows the company’s previous three funding announcements: 100 million yen from Nishi-Nippon City Bank and QB Capital in September of 2018, 100 million yen from Kagoshima Bank in December of 2018, and 50 million yen from Nichirei Foods in February this year.

The latest round brought their total funding sum up to about $11.2 million. The company says it will use the funds to expand its production capacity for soybean-based plant meat raw material called Miracle Chip up to 3,000 tons per year in addition to strengthen R&D efforts to get the taste of plant meat much closer to the real one.

Miracle Chip, Daiz’s soybean-based material for meat substitutes
Image credit: Daiz

The company adopts the patented Ochiai method in germinating soybeans, which activates enzymes and increases the amount of free amino acid contained by imparting stress such as lower oxygen level and higher temperature at the right timing of germination. This eventually contributes to bringing out the flavor of the raw ingredients and reproducing the meat-like texture without adding any additives.

In this space, we’ve recently seen updates like Impossible Foods raising $500 million to launch the sales of plant-based meat at 1,700 Kroger Co stores across the US in addition to Canada’s Livekindly (previously known as FoodsUnited) raising $200 million to invest in plant-based chicken substitutes. In April, Singapore-based Growthwell raised $8 million while Beyond Meat started offering food items using meat substitutes at over 3,300 Starbucks stores all across Mainland China.

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One Visa, Wovn join forces to keep foreign workers updated with relief efforts over COVID-19

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Two Tokyo startups – One Visa and Wovn Technologies – announced today that they are joining forces to help foreign workers in Japan keep updated with relief efforts and support measures over COVID-19. The will translate and organize notices and advisories from the government and private sectors into English, Chinese, Korean, and “Easy Japanese” so that non-native Japanese speakers can learn the latest developments. Translated updates are expected to reach more than hundreds of thousand foreign workers in Japan through the partnership with Tokyo-based foreign workers-focused recruiting agency Global Power in addition to 150 member companies belonging to Japan Shopping Tourism Organizatioin (JSTO). According to Japan’s Immigration Services Agency, over 2.8 million foreign passport holders are residing in Japan as of June 2019. One Visa has developed an online visa applications management platform, allowing Japanese companies to submit visa applications for their employees and manage when their visas will become expired and must apply for a new one. Wovn has developed an SDK (software developer kit) that allows mobile developers to easily multilingulize their websites and apps.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #4814.

Two Tokyo startups – One Visa and Wovn Technologies – announced today that they are joining forces to help foreign workers in Japan keep updated with relief efforts and support measures over COVID-19. The will translate and organize notices and advisories from the government and private sectors into English, Chinese, Korean, and “Easy Japanese” so that non-native Japanese speakers can learn the latest developments.

Translated updates are expected to reach more than hundreds of thousand foreign workers in Japan through the partnership with Tokyo-based foreign workers-focused recruiting agency Global Power in addition to 150 member companies belonging to Japan Shopping Tourism Organizatioin (JSTO). According to Japan’s Immigration Services Agency, over 2.8 million foreign passport holders are residing in Japan as of June 2019.

One Visa has developed an online visa applications management platform, allowing Japanese companies to submit visa applications for their employees and manage when their visas will become expired and must apply for a new one. Wovn has developed an SDK (software developer kit) that allows mobile developers to easily multilingulize their websites and apps.

Japan virtual YouTuber management agency raises $6.6 million to expand globally

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Cover, the startup offering management production services of VTubers (short for “virtual YouTubers”), announced on Thursday that it has raised 700 million yen (about $6.6 million US) in the latest round. The series of the round has not been specified yet. The funding comes from Hakuhodo DY Ventures, i-nest capital, Chiba Dojo, Dimension, SMBC Venture Capital, angel investors in addition to existing investors including Strive (previously known as GREE Ventures). The amount also includes loans from Mizuho Bank. For the startup, this follows their seed round funding back in August of 2017 (approx. 30 million yen from Mizuho Capital, TLM, and angel investors) and their series A round back in June of 2018 (approx. 200 million yen from GREE Ventures, OLM Ventures, and Mizuho Capital). The latest rounds brought their total funding sum up to about 1 billion yen (about $940 million). The company runs a VTuber agency business called Hololive Production which allows entertainers to perform a fictitious character using VR-based 3D avatars. In the agency, nearly 50 VTubers in Japan and overseas are attrarcting a total of more than 15 million fans through these performers’ livestreaming channels on YouTube and China’s…

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Cover, the startup offering management production services of VTubers (short for “virtual YouTubers”), announced on Thursday that it has raised 700 million yen (about $6.6 million US) in the latest round. The series of the round has not been specified yet.

The funding comes from Hakuhodo DY Ventures, i-nest capital, Chiba Dojo, Dimension, SMBC Venture Capital, angel investors in addition to existing investors including Strive (previously known as GREE Ventures). The amount also includes loans from Mizuho Bank.

For the startup, this follows their seed round funding back in August of 2017 (approx. 30 million yen from Mizuho Capital, TLM, and angel investors) and their series A round back in June of 2018 (approx. 200 million yen from GREE Ventures, OLM Ventures, and Mizuho Capital). The latest rounds brought their total funding sum up to about 1 billion yen (about $940 million).

The company runs a VTuber agency business called Hololive Production which allows entertainers to perform a fictitious character using VR-based 3D avatars. In the agency, nearly 50 VTubers in Japan and overseas are attrarcting a total of more than 15 million fans through these performers’ livestreaming channels on YouTube and China’s Bilibili.

In recent years, the company has been helping the VTubers expand their activities beyond streaming channels. Vtuber Tokino Sora successfully debuted with a Japanese major label last year while another Vtubers, such as Hoshimachi Suisei, Shirakami Fubuki, and Houshou Marine, started their radio shows earlier this year.

The company says it will use the funds to strengthen VTuber management business in Japan and overseas, promote virtual live performances, and develop other Extended Reality-based services. The company has already started offering VTuber management production services in China and Indonesia as well as rolling out auditions in several English-speaking countries.

Founded back in 2016 by Motoaki Tanigo who previously ran the restaurant curation app 30min. (pronounced ‘sun zero minute’), the company was graduated from notable startup accelerators like Incubate Camp 8th, TECH LAB PAAK’s 7th batch, and Tokyo VR Startups’ 2nd batch.

Japan’s Smartround raises from Peter Thiel-led fund to help startups manage equity

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Tokyo-based Smartround, a Japanese startup helping startups and investors manage their funding and investments respectively, announced today that it has secured 100 million yen (about $933,000) in a pre-series A round based on J-KISS, a simple term sheet framework for a convertible instrument for early startups to obtain initial financing. Participating investors in this round include FF APAC Scout, Justin Waldron, and Matias de Tezanos. FF APAC Scout is Peter Thiel-led Founders Fund’s APAC region-focused scout fund, which allows serial entrepreneurs / angel investors to back new entrepreneurs, similarly to Japan Angel Fund and Sequoia Capital’s scout fund in terms of the scheme. Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron is well known in Japan for having invested in language learning startup Lang-8 while Matias de Tezanos is a serial entrepreneur and has experienced seven exits as an investor. Since the company secured over $513,000 from more than 20 Japanese angel investors in a seed round back in March last year, the latest round suggests another massive backing from angel investors but is centered on the Inner Circle in Silicon Valley this time around. Jeff Lonsdale, who’s in charge of the investment at FF APAC Scout, said in a statement: Japan is one…

Image credit: Smartround

Tokyo-based Smartround, a Japanese startup helping startups and investors manage their funding and investments respectively, announced today that it has secured 100 million yen (about $933,000) in a pre-series A round based on J-KISS, a simple term sheet framework for a convertible instrument for early startups to obtain initial financing. Participating investors in this round include FF APAC Scout, Justin Waldron, and Matias de Tezanos.

FF APAC Scout is Peter Thiel-led Founders Fund’s APAC region-focused scout fund, which allows serial entrepreneurs / angel investors to back new entrepreneurs, similarly to Japan Angel Fund and Sequoia Capital’s scout fund in terms of the scheme. Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron is well known in Japan for having invested in language learning startup Lang-8 while Matias de Tezanos is a serial entrepreneur and has experienced seven exits as an investor.

Since the company secured over $513,000 from more than 20 Japanese angel investors in a seed round back in March last year, the latest round suggests another massive backing from angel investors but is centered on the Inner Circle in Silicon Valley this time around.

Jeff Lonsdale, who’s in charge of the investment at FF APAC Scout, said in a statement:

Japan is one of the largest economies in the world with some of the most productive and innovative workers. We should expect many more strong companies to emerge from this ecosystem and Smartround is well positioned to help create this future.

Some of our readers may recall that Lonsdale expressed his extraordinary expectations for the globalization of Japanese startups in the future at Tech in Asia Tokyo 2018.

Smartround is a cloud-based platform serving startups and their backer VCs. It offers entrepreneurs with comprehensive resources for managing their businesses such as capital policy, business management, company introduction, library, and other functions while it enables investors to track their portfolio performance online. The Smartround team appears to consider US startups like Carta and Pully as the benchmark in their growth strategy.

Smartround was founded back in May of 2018. Prior to Smartround, Masaru Sunny Sunagawa, the startup’s founder and CEO, previously worked at a trading company and a VC firm followed by launching Location Value which was later acquired by NTT Docomo back in 2014.

Regarding what the latest funds is used for, Sunagawa said in a statement:

In the midst of the ongoing turmoil caused by COVID-19, Japanese startups leading the next generation are forced to navigate a difficult path. […]

We are grateful to all of our investors who share our philosophy and ideals and are willing to back us under this circumstance, and we will continue to improve our services and expand our business globally. In particular, we would like to take advantage of this funding experience to evolve our service so that Japanese startups can raise funds from overseas investors.

Plimes secures $1.4M seed round, helps hospitals monitor swallowing ability of elderly patients

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See the original story in Japanese. Plimes, a healthcare startup spun-off from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, announced in late March that it has raised nearly $1.4 million US in a seed round from robotics venture Cyberdyne (TSE: 7779), a fellow University of Tsukuba native for the startup. Plimes is also allying with Cyberdyne to accelerate the development and market expansion of their product. In general, people’s swallowing ability decreases with age, which puts the elderly at risk of aspiration and in turn increases the chance of pneumonia and/or death. Physicians may choose to alter the diet of patients with the decreased ability to swallow by switching them from solid food to mashed pastes, or in some cases patients may require gastrostomy for direct nutrients. Gokuri, the startup’s product, is a medical support device designed to improve the quality of life (QoL) for such eldery people. The device routinely measures whether or not swallowing is normal from the sound picked up using a microphone attached to a user’s neck, and it aims to improve the efficiency of user rehabilitation. The ability to accuratly monitor swallowing increases the possibility that the user can regain the power to eat and enjoy…

Plimes founders – From left: CCO Atsushi Nitasaka, COO Tomoya Shimokakimoto, CEO Kenji Suzuki, CTO Dushyantha Jayatilake
Image credit: Plimes

See the original story in Japanese.

Plimes, a healthcare startup spun-off from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, announced in late March that it has raised nearly $1.4 million US in a seed round from robotics venture Cyberdyne (TSE: 7779), a fellow University of Tsukuba native for the startup. Plimes is also allying with Cyberdyne to accelerate the development and market expansion of their product.

In general, people’s swallowing ability decreases with age, which puts the elderly at risk of aspiration and in turn increases the chance of pneumonia and/or death. Physicians may choose to alter the diet of patients with the decreased ability to swallow by switching them from solid food to mashed pastes, or in some cases patients may require gastrostomy for direct nutrients.

Gokuri, the startup’s product, is a medical support device designed to improve the quality of life (QoL) for such eldery people. The device routinely measures whether or not swallowing is normal from the sound picked up using a microphone attached to a user’s neck, and it aims to improve the efficiency of user rehabilitation. The ability to accuratly monitor swallowing increases the possibility that the user can regain the power to eat and enjoy tasty solid foods.

The Gokuri swallowing monitoring device
Image credit: Plimes

This is seed funding for the Plimes team after 10 years since they started basic research at the University of Tsukuba and the University Hospital of Tsukuba back in 2010 (not yet incorporated at that time). Funding was made possible by Gokuri’s high level of accuracy, 97.3% or more, with regards to measuring normal and abnormal swallowing conditions, and the establishment of a business model using hospitals as sales channels. The current business model assumes that hospitals will adopt the solution to improve medical services for patients.

Plimes COO/Co-founder Atsushi Nitasaka says,

For example, hospitals don’t want to see any patient with a brain tumor is cured by surgery but goes on to die of aspiration pneumonia the first time he ate. […]

During the process of starting development and advancing the product market fit, we realized that there is a need for doctors to monitor the patients’ diet. However, doctors cannot be continuously looking after them. This is where our solution can help. Our business model supports hospitals with their goal of discharging patients quickly.

In collaboration with Kyotango City in Kyoto, Tarumizu City in Kagoshima, and Fukuoka Prefecture, and other local governments, the company has been conducting practical tests with elderly participants at local medical facilities. Plimes feels that Japanese startups are uniquely skilled at developing solutions for aging societies, and since aging is a social issue common to developed countries, they have started global business expansion. Plimes is currently conducting demo tests in the US, Germany, and Denmark.

The Gokuri swallowing monitoring device
Image credit: Plimes

In line with the latest funding, Plimes will begin recruitment of skilled team members for each speciality: testing for swallowing, monitoring studies, medical device development, business development, speech therapy, cloud application development, and AI technology. Cyberdene, one of the investors in thiis round, has its hands in health and medical related business, so we can expect to see emerging synergy. Plimes will receive widespread support from Cyberdyne for engineering, back office functions, and the development of sales channels.

Plimes was adopted into the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s startup business “JST Start” initiative back in 2015 followed by being incorporated in 2018. Additionally, the company has had excellent results at numerous startup events and initiatives, including receiving the IP Bridge Award at the Asian Entrepreneurship Award 2018 and winning the 2nd “Startup Accelerator Tsukuba” Demo Day.

Translated by Amanda Lynn
Edited by Masaru Ikeda