See the original story in Japanese.
Tokyo-based startup incubator Open Network Lab held the demo day for the 13th batch of their Seed Accelerator Program last month. 88 teams from Japan and the rest of the world applied for this batch (22 of these from abroad), with 5 teams selected to undergo a 3-month mentoring and support program. It should be noted that, from the 5 teams, 1 team disbanded before making it to the demo day, and 1 other team failed to meet the conditions set forth internally by Open Network Labs, resulting in 3 teams making pitches on demo day.
In the previous demo day events by Open Network Lab the evaluation format was often based on a vote by key mentors as well as an audience. This time around, the winner was chosen based on examinations only by the following five judges:
- Kaoru Hayashi (President and CEO, Digital Garage)
- Tomoya Sasaki (Incubation Senior Marketing Director, DG Incubation / President & CEO, Open Network Lab)
- Masayuki Sarukawa (Managing Director, DG Incubation)
- Shonosuke Hata (President & CEO, Kakaku.com)
- Atsuhiro Murakami (Managing Director, Kakaku.com)
Best Team Award winner: Comiru by Poper
Comiru is an app that facilitates communication between cram schools and parents. Founder Shingo Kurihara, after a stint with Sumitomo 3M, went on to work as a web marketer for Opt (TSE:2389), followed in 2012 by a position as a lecturer in a cram school in Tokyo’s suburb of Saitama, all together forming a unique career. Through his 4 years of experience as a cram school teacher, information was managed using an analog system, meaning all paperwork, even progress reports that were handed to parents, were hand written onto paper. Thus, Kurihara became keenly aware of the negative effects this had on work efficiency. Cram school teachers and parents had already directed their attention to the fact that this is the digital age, so he devised a method to thoroughly digitize business processes and parent communication for cram schools. The average cram school instructor spends 70% of their working hours on tasks such as contacting parents, managing grades, class preparation, etc., but through the use of Comiru the team proposes it is possible to compress the time it takes to complete tasks outside of teaching hours to one tenth of what they have been.
During the pitch the team demo-ed that users who are cram school instructors can easily send quick emails to parents by using templates. They also gave an example using one of the most important jobs teachers must complete outside of the class: collecting the content of students’ report cards from schools, and how it could be completed within five minutes. It is also possible for parents to use their smartphones to respond to communications, and with the introduction of Comiru the recovery rate for collecting necessary data improved greatly from 40% to 90%.
Within half a year since their official release they have signed contracts with 21 one cram school companies, with the ID base responsible for managing cram school students reaching more than 2,000 users (with a price of 200 yen or about $2 US per month per student). As opposed to chain cram schools, they are targeting privately managed small-scale “strong cram schools” popular among parents and students. In the future, they will continue to not only provide communication support between cram schools and parents and operational support for teachers, but also aim to increase sales by providing information about courses to parents and teachers in the form of advertisements based on the data accumulated in accordance with the rise in users.
The judges evaluation was generally high since Comiru already has paying users and are able to validate user input, and also because of the idea that this service was born due to Kurihara having an outsider’s point of view (and would have been difficult for people who have been in the cram school world exclusively to understand). At their demo booth they introduced a feature that allows schools to use the FeliCa NFC (near field communication) technology to manage the arrivals and departures of students on a dashboard. This is useful in determining a child’s safety because notifications can be sent to a parents’ smartphones when students arrive at and depart from the school.
Foxsy by Xpresso
When talking about dating apps, Tinder is usually the first to come to mind. But, even in the US where Tinder is based, it has been reported that after using Tinder less than 0.1% of user pairs actually meet. According to Jin (Hitoshi) Tanaka of Xpresso, this low conversion rate is to due to the overwhelming low level of men taking action (amount of outgoing information) compared to the anticipated level of women seeking men (amount of information). In general women seek over 50 items of information about their potential male partners, including their profiles, personality information, and pictures, etc. A majority of men, on the other hand, do not understand what information women are looking for, or in many cases feel it is cumbersome and do not fill out their profiles.
Foxsy is a dating bot that supports encounters between men and women and is capable of cooperating with message apps such as Facebook Messenger, Kik, and Line. In the app, every user is requested to input his/her information based on questions from the bot. Using that information the bot introduces a female user to a male user. The bot asks questions about common topics, thereby activating communication between the male and female users. Thanks to this feature, from the start of the conversation until actually meeting face-to-face, the percentage of user pairs has risen to 40% with Foxsy.
Tanaka, having used Tinder more than 1,500 times, takes an interesting guerrilla-style user acquisition technique, and he declares that Foxsy has attracted users from Tinder. The number of users has reached 500 in the few months since launching, and it has led to 305 established matches. When referring to future aspirations, Tanaka said Foxsy can be used not only for dating support, but also for events, business, travel, etc. providing a variety of day-to-day opportunities by supplementing information and processes to encourage people to meet.
Senso by Appledore
Appledore was established by Tiffany Pang, previously a software engineer at the food delivery service Instacart, and Joh Cadengo, previously a software engineer for the P2P car sharing service Getaround. By making full use of image recognition technology and GIS (geographic information systems) they developed Outreach Grid as a means to assist the homeless by facilitating the sharing of information between social workers, police, public support institutions, and city hall, etc. As a means of shifting their focus, or perhaps as an additional alternative service, they pitched a separate project, Senso, during this demo day.
Senso uses emotion analysis as an advertising effectiveness measurement tool. With both Pang and Cadengo specializing in emotion recognition and computer vision, by measuring to what degree viewers felt emotion and relief they can understand whether the advertising and contents made an impression. Marketers can then analyze performance which leads to the creation of even better results. In fact, advertising campaigns are unable to meet expectations to increase performance, and the majority suspend their campaigns before making it to the end of the planned period of implementation. In using Senso, users can upload a test ad to the platform, measure the feelings of the testers who saw the ad, and marketers can choose the ad that made the largest emotional impact.
Unlike the slightly similar services, such as TVision Insights, etc. Senso does not apply only to TV audiences, but they have developed a system that through video analysis can measure how engaged viewers are. Even for ads where conversion cannot be measured, for example, CPV (cost-per-view) and CPC (cost-per-click) ads, they quantitatively analyze the extent of viewers’ levels of engagement, perhaps leading to the birth of completely performance-based billing for ads.
According to Open Network Lab’s Program Director Takayoshi Matsuda, with the completion of this 13th batch, Open Network Lab has produced 75 startups in total. In July Digital Garage (TSE:4819), along with Kakaku.com (TSE:2371) and Credit Saison (TSE:8253), began running a research organization for open innovation called DG Lab, and at this event guests from 40 VC firms and 30 companies watched on from the audience likely opening doors for follow-on investments and business collaborations.
In conjunction with the demo day for the 13th batch, they have begun accepting applications for the 14th batch. For teams participating in the 3 month batch, Open Network Lab provides up to 10 million yen (nearly $100,000 US) for running costs. In addition to providing free use of their facilities in Daikanyama, Kamakura, and San Francisco for one year, they plan to offer mentoring by the management of startups that previously graduated from Open Network Lab’s Seed Accelerator Program. The application deadline for the 14th batch is noon on November 28th.
Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda