Japanese renowned investor launches $9M fund to nurture drone startup ecosystem

Kotaro Chiba, the man behind DroneFund, which is set to take the drone world by storm

See the original story in Japanese.

Kamakura Investment Management along with Japanese renowned investor Kotaro Chiba announced DroneFund, an investment fund focused on investing in drone startups, at a press conference held in Tokyo on Tuesday. June 1st marks the date of establishment of the fund on a scale of 1 billion yen (about $9 million US).

There are six board members including Chiba and a number of drone experts; Yoshichika Sakamoto of ORSO, Motoaki Nishiwaki of Microsoft, Souki Oomae of Creative Hope, Daisuke Imai of Asratec, Shintaro Takahashi — special lecturer for Keio University’s Department of Media Studies, and Kazuhiro Obara — former executive director at Rakuten and former senior manager at Google Japan.

Board Members of DroneFund

At the time of establishment they are set to fund 11 drone startups: Drone Japan, Clue, Drone Department, iRobotics, Dron ë motion, Aerial Lab, Orone Iplab, Yodayoda.Inc, Kamomeya, FPV Robotics Inc., and Aeronext.

Drone startups funded by DroneFund

Chiba had the following to say with regards to the circumstances behind the creation of DroneFund.

I believe that from now drones will become an integral part of society. But, it will require the investment of risk money, internet based management methods, and the collaboration and production of good technology.

The plan is to clear these hurdles with the fund and disseminate Japanese drone technologies and services to the world.

In addition to investing in drone startups, the fund will also hold a drone version of a startup support community called Chiba Dojo in collaboration with Keio University SFC Institute’s Consortium for the Co-creation of Drone Collaborative Society.

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Also, through a business collaboration with R&D company Leave A Nest, of which every member has a PhD., they will utilize a network of 3,500 small factories and university researched development technology. The company has already carried out a project to research and develop a manned hover bike (think flying motorcycle).

In terms of the technology related to drones developed through research, DroneFund revealed their plan to acquire patents through cooperation with the intellectual property management institution initiative Drone IP Lab, whose investment/establishment was also announced during this press conference.

According to Chiba, we can think of the fund as a kind of “Japanese Drone Co., LTD.”

In our image it will balance investment in all four layers: the development of core technologies, service offerings, software apps, and the hardware encasement to create one large company.

In his explanation, the drone market will reach about 140 billion yen (around $1.3 billion US) by 2022, and a 900% growth is expected, but Japan is lagging. Following these market backgrounds, the fund aims to increase the number of drone startups that can compete around the world by cooperating with them in terms of both hardware and software, and by promoting alliances with enterprises in Japan.

11 funded startups are as follows:

The following are summaries of three out of the companies that struck me the most.

Drone Japan: Agricultural remote sensing for rice

Aigamo: the drone for managing water quality (under development)

Drone Japan develops agricultural remote sensing specialized in rice. They are promoting using drones to produce rice.

The company aims for an IT conversion of the agricultural field, and creates a system that uses drones to carry out agricultural production all the way through to its promotion. As opposed to on-site management, the company manages water quality and the conditions of rice growth through data collected by drones, and then implements work such as the application of fertilizer. They also record the growth of the rice and take pictures of the farmer who produced it and include this information through the QR code attached on the package to increase PR.

The founder and CEO Kiichiro Katsumata aims to use drones as the opening to deliver Japanese rice to the world.

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Aerial Lab: Developing a 1-man hover bike

Prototype of the 1-man hover bike “Shippuu”

Aerial Lab develops a flying bike. The prototype made an appearance during the press conference.

It has a length of 4.3m and a breadth of 1.5 m. It is 1m tall and has a dry weight of 55kg. It can hold a maximum weight of 100kg. It is powered by a 2-stroke gasoline engine and is propelled through the air by a fan.

Although a projected date of sale and price are undecided as the project is under development, a future where people can fly in the sky by motorcycle may be close at hand.

Kamomeya: Land, sea, and sky drones for remote islands; comprehensive control system development

Kamomeya is a drone startup hailing from Japan’s western city of Takamatsu, Kagawa. They are developing a delivery system for remote islands using drones.

The company aims to provide transport services by drone for remote islands that it takes time to deliver goods to. They are creating a system capable of transporting parcels by unmanned transport ships, unmanned aerial vehicles, and unmanned transportation vehicles which are controlled by an integrated control system called Kazamidori. After asking the company, it appears they can currently transport one package of oranges.

At the time of the demonstration in the spring of 2017, their future development is underway with the goal to deliver medicines to remote islands combined with remote medical treatment.

At the press conference Chiba remarked, “Market development is expected in the areas of agriculture, inspection, and surveying.” With the establishment of DroneFund, I look forward to seeing what services will be provided and what their impact on the market will be in the future.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda