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Japanese sneaker marketplace reaches $340M valuation after raising funds from SoftBank

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This is the abridged version of our original article in Japanese. Tokyo-based Soda, the Japanese startup behind a marketplace specializing in sneakers and streetwear called SNKRDUNK (pronounced as Sneaker Dunk), announced today that it has secured an undisclosed sum in a series D round from SoftBank Vision Fund 2 (SBVF2), which brought the company’s valuation up to 38 billion yen or $340 million US. This follows the company’s series C round back in July where it secured 6.2 billion yen (about $54 million US), meaning that their valuation became 1.6 times in just 4 months. The previous round was led by Korean tech giant Naver’s Kream with participation from Altos, SoftBank Ventures Asia, JAFCO Group, and existing investors including basepartners, Coloplast Next, and The Guild. The funds raised in the latest round will be used for expanding into the Asian markets such as Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong in addition to strengthening business expansion effort in Japan, AI-based logistics, authenticity assessment, and customer support. This is SBVF2’s second investment in a Japanese startup following cash injection into biotech startup Aculys Pharma. SoftBank Vision Fund 1 (SBVF1) had been investing 100 billion yen in each startup on average, mainly focused on…

This is the abridged version of our original article in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Soda, the Japanese startup behind a marketplace specializing in sneakers and streetwear called SNKRDUNK (pronounced as Sneaker Dunk), announced today that it has secured an undisclosed sum in a series D round from SoftBank Vision Fund 2 (SBVF2), which brought the company’s valuation up to 38 billion yen or $340 million US.

This follows the company’s series C round back in July where it secured 6.2 billion yen (about $54 million US), meaning that their valuation became 1.6 times in just 4 months. The previous round was led by Korean tech giant Naver’s Kream with participation from Altos, SoftBank Ventures Asia, JAFCO Group, and existing investors including basepartners, Coloplast Next, and The Guild.

The funds raised in the latest round will be used for expanding into the Asian markets such as Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong in addition to strengthening business expansion effort in Japan, AI-based logistics, authenticity assessment, and customer support. This is SBVF2’s second investment in a Japanese startup following cash injection into biotech startup Aculys Pharma.

SoftBank Vision Fund 1 (SBVF1) had been investing 100 billion yen in each startup on average, mainly focused on US-based unicorns which are valued over $1 billion. However, the average ticket size of the second fund (SBVF2) has been reduced to 20 billion yen ($177 million), and some of Japanese startups have been gradually becoming the fund’s potential investees.

In an interview with Forbes Japan, SBVF2’s managing partner Kentaro Matsui shared his fund’s five investment principles: 1. market size, 2. innovativeness of services, products, and technologies, 3. accelerating growth through AI (artificial intelligence) and data utilization, 4. entrepreneurs and management team with a clear vision, and 5. sustainability of the business and a clear path to profitability.

In the statement, Soda claims AI-based logistics as one of what the fund is used for. By optimizing the logistics process leveraging cutting-edge technologies, the company expects to allow customers to experience the new standard of trading – sell today, receive tomorrow. It’s unnecessary to say technology is the key to breakthroughs here.

According to the SoftBank Group’s financial results for the second quarter ending March 31, 2022, SVF1 and SFVF2 have 81 and 157 portfolio companies respectively.

Japan’s Citadel AI secures seed round to automatically detect errors in predictions

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Citadel AI, the Japanese startup developing automated AI quality maintenance tools, announced on Monday that it has secured 100 million yen (about $900,000 US) in a seed round from UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC) and Anri. For the startup, this is the first funding from external investors. They launched Citadel Rader in beta in May, aiming to help companies protect themselves from AI-specific risks by automatically monitoring their AI systems, detecting, blocking, and visualizing anomalies. Citadel AI was launched in December by CEO Hironori “Rick” Kobayashi and CTO Kenny Song. Prior to Citadel AI, Kobayashi served Loyalty Marketing as president, Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas) as SVP, and US-based meat processing firm Indiana Packers Corporation as CEO. Meanwhile, Song led the development of TensorFlow and AutoML as a product manager at Google Brain, the tech giant’s AI research and development unit. Unlike traditional hardware-based software, AI systems are exposed to an ever-changing real-world environment that degrades their accuracy and quality day by day. It is important for businesses to maintain the quality of AI functions by automatically detecting anomalies before they are misrecognized and misjudged, resulting in business losses and compliance issues. Citadel Rader has an XAI (eXplainable Artificial Intelligence) function that…

Image credit: Citadel AI

Citadel AI, the Japanese startup developing automated AI quality maintenance tools, announced on Monday that it has secured 100 million yen (about $900,000 US) in a seed round from UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC) and Anri. For the startup, this is the first funding from external investors. They launched Citadel Rader in beta in May, aiming to help companies protect themselves from AI-specific risks by automatically monitoring their AI systems, detecting, blocking, and visualizing anomalies.

Citadel AI was launched in December by CEO Hironori “Rick” Kobayashi and CTO Kenny Song. Prior to Citadel AI, Kobayashi served Loyalty Marketing as president, Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas) as SVP, and US-based meat processing firm Indiana Packers Corporation as CEO. Meanwhile, Song led the development of TensorFlow and AutoML as a product manager at Google Brain, the tech giant’s AI research and development unit.

Unlike traditional hardware-based software, AI systems are exposed to an ever-changing real-world environment that degrades their accuracy and quality day by day. It is important for businesses to maintain the quality of AI functions by automatically detecting anomalies before they are misrecognized and misjudged, resulting in business losses and compliance issues. Citadel Rader has an XAI (eXplainable Artificial Intelligence) function that automatically detects and blocks AI input and output anomalies and visualizes them in a form that humans can understand.

Kobayashi says,

In the development stage, AI reads only clean data, but when it moves to actual operation, it receives a variety of data, including those with input errors. Basically, people think that computers will give correct answers, and even if they give wrong answers, it is difficult to point them out.

Since it is difficult for companies to allocate human resources to monitor the output of AI, our tool may help AI engineers who are usually busy with their daily work find the time to concentrate on their original work.

Image credit: Citadel AI

When a system integrator receives an order for an AI system, they will typically implement the system but not provide services to automate the operation and maintenance afterwards.

Kobayashi continued,

If the accuracy and quality of the data deteriorates, in the worst case scenario, it could lead to errors in sales forecasting, or in credit approval. For example, think FATF (Financial Action Task Force, the global organization working with money laundering regulators in various countries). A single node with poor security in determining a money laundering case could lead to the vulnerability of the entire global network, which could lead to the node not being allowed to join the organization.

He added that Citadel Rader is currently used by more than 10 companies on a trial basis and is in talks with more than 100 companies as potential users. The company plans to use the funds to expand its engineering team for the product’s official launch which is scheduled next spring.

Japanese robotics startup Telexistence closes series A round with $40M+

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Tokyo-based Telexistence, the Japanese startup developing remote-controlled robots, announced today that it has secured about 2.2 billion yen (about $20 million US) in a series A2 round. Participating investors include Airbus Ventures, KDDI Open Innovation Fund (KOIF), Deepcore, UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC), and several unnamed investors, in addition to Monoful, a digital transformation-focused subsidiary of global logistics giant GLP. This follows a previous round (estimated to be series A1) in December of 2018 when some of the investors participating in the latest round such as KOIF, UTokyo IPC, Deepcore, and Monoful also participated. With the Series A1 (previous round) and A2 (the latest round) rounds combined, the company has secured about 4.5 billion yen (over $40 million US) in a series A round. Telexistence has been developing tele-controlled robots using a variety of technologies including tele-presence, robotics, communications, virtual reality (VR), haptics, and artificial intelligence (AI). They plan to use the funds to expand its product development team as well as accelerating product development and implementation to the expanding customer base in the retail and logistics sectors. The company has partnered with Monoful to develop the Augmented Workforce Platform (AWP) for logistics facility operations. AWP allows operators to control…

The Model-T robot
Image credit: Telexistence

Tokyo-based Telexistence, the Japanese startup developing remote-controlled robots, announced today that it has secured about 2.2 billion yen (about $20 million US) in a series A2 round. Participating investors include Airbus Ventures, KDDI Open Innovation Fund (KOIF), Deepcore, UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC), and several unnamed investors, in addition to Monoful, a digital transformation-focused subsidiary of global logistics giant GLP.

This follows a previous round (estimated to be series A1) in December of 2018 when some of the investors participating in the latest round such as KOIF, UTokyo IPC, Deepcore, and Monoful also participated. With the Series A1 (previous round) and A2 (the latest round) rounds combined, the company has secured about 4.5 billion yen (over $40 million US) in a series A round.

Telexistence has been developing tele-controlled robots using a variety of technologies including tele-presence, robotics, communications, virtual reality (VR), haptics, and artificial intelligence (AI). They plan to use the funds to expand its product development team as well as accelerating product development and implementation to the expanding customer base in the retail and logistics sectors.

The company has partnered with Monoful to develop the Augmented Workforce Platform (AWP) for logistics facility operations. AWP allows operators to control robots installed in warehouses via the Internet and participate in tasks such as loading and unloading pallets while operators are working from home.

The company also announced that it has tied up with Japanese office furniture giant Okamura Corporation (TSE:7984) for joint research and development of fixture products optimized for carrying and displaying by robots.

Japan’s X-ray image sensing startup ANSeeN secures over $10M in series B round

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ANSeeN is a startup spun out of Shizuoka University and has been developing x-ray image sensors and color cameras. The company announced on Monday that it has secured 1.08 billion yen (about $10.1 million US) in a series B round. Participating investors in this round are Cyberdyne (TSE: 7779) and its subsidiary CEJ Capital, Environmental Energy Investment, Drone Fund, Shinkin Capital inn addition to Shizuoka Capital. The amount raised includes debt financing from the Shoko Chukin Bank and Hamamatsu Iwata Shinkin Bank, as well as a grant from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). This follows the startup’s series A round in November 2018 when they secured about 300 million yen (about $2.8 million US). Shizuoka Capital and Shinkin Capital participated in the previous series A round as well. ANSeeN’s X-ray camera has a higher resolution than conventional ones, which makes it easier to identify the shape of the content in a an inspection object. The company aims to develop a system that can be used for automated and unattended baggage inspection in conjunction with artificial intelligence. The company claims that this system can make it possible to visualize cast metal parts, such as automobiles and trains,…

Image credit: ANSeeN

ANSeeN is a startup spun out of Shizuoka University and has been developing x-ray image sensors and color cameras. The company announced on Monday that it has secured 1.08 billion yen (about $10.1 million US) in a series B round. Participating investors in this round are Cyberdyne (TSE: 7779) and its subsidiary CEJ Capital, Environmental Energy Investment, Drone Fund, Shinkin Capital inn addition to Shizuoka Capital.

The amount raised includes debt financing from the Shoko Chukin Bank and Hamamatsu Iwata Shinkin Bank, as well as a grant from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). This follows the startup’s series A round in November 2018 when they secured about 300 million yen (about $2.8 million US). Shizuoka Capital and Shinkin Capital participated in the previous series A round as well.

ANSeeN’s X-ray camera has a higher resolution than conventional ones, which makes it easier to identify the shape of the content in a an inspection object. The company aims to develop a system that can be used for automated and unattended baggage inspection in conjunction with artificial intelligence. The company claims that this system can make it possible to visualize cast metal parts, such as automobiles and trains, which have been difficult to visualize in the past.

AnSeeN will use the funds to install a facility to mass-produce X-ray image sensors and X-ray color cameras, aiming to establish a mass-production system by the end of 2021 to use them for non-destructive testing and dental inspection equipment. The company partnered with Cyberdyne to promote the application and commercialization of the camera in the cybernics industry.

AnSeeN was selected for the second phase of Tokyo-based railway company JR East’s incubation/acceleration program in November 2018 and then won the top prize for the team eligible for the program’s incubation course at the Demo Day event.

Japan’s Medmain nabs over $10M to expand AI-powered telepathology diagnostic system

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See the original story in Japanese. Fukuoka-based Medmain, the Japanese MedTech startup behind the PidPort telepathology solutions and the Medteria cloud for medical students, announced on Monday that it has secured 1.1 billion yen (about $10 million US) through the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that Hike Ventures has set up for this round. The company has not mentioned the stage of the rounud but it’s believed as a series A round. The latest round follows the 100 million yen funding back in August 2018, and brought the total sum of funding to date up to 1.2 billion yen (about 11.3 million US). Participating investors in this round are Fukuoka Wajiro Hospital Group, IHW Group from International University of Health and Welfare (IUHW), QTnet, Hike Ventures, Innovations and Future Creation, Deepcore, Dogan Beta as well as unnamed angel investors. Deepcore and Dogan Beta participated in the previous round. SPVs have advantages for startups, including lowering the time and effort required to raise funds, and some of our readers may recall that Japanese HRTech startup SmartHR used this scheme for their Series B round. Medmain said it adopted the scheme this time to streamline raising a large sum of funding from multiple…

The Medmain team, CEO Osamu Iizuka stands on the center.
Image credit: Medmain

See the original story in Japanese.

Fukuoka-based Medmain, the Japanese MedTech startup behind the PidPort telepathology solutions and the Medteria cloud for medical students, announced on Monday that it has secured 1.1 billion yen (about $10 million US) through the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that Hike Ventures has set up for this round. The company has not mentioned the stage of the rounud but it’s believed as a series A round. The latest round follows the 100 million yen funding back in August 2018, and brought the total sum of funding to date up to 1.2 billion yen (about 11.3 million US).

Participating investors in this round are Fukuoka Wajiro Hospital Group, IHW Group from International University of Health and Welfare (IUHW), QTnet, Hike Ventures, Innovations and Future Creation, Deepcore, Dogan Beta as well as unnamed angel investors. Deepcore and Dogan Beta participated in the previous round.

SPVs have advantages for startups, including lowering the time and effort required to raise funds, and some of our readers may recall that Japanese HRTech startup SmartHR used this scheme for their Series B round. Medmain said it adopted the scheme this time to streamline raising a large sum of funding from multiple investors including hospital managements.

The Fukuoka Wajiro Hospital Group has 24 medical institutions and seven medical education institutions in Japan, while the IHW Group from IUHW is made of medical, educational, and welfare groups with about 60 facilities nationwide. With the participation of these groups, the company intends to accelerate product development involving the clinical environment.

The PidPort functions.
Image credit: Medmain

Medmain is the first startup born out of Kyushu University’s officially approved club activity for encouraging entrepreneurship. PidPort, one of the startup’s flagship products, leverages deep learning and proprietary computer vision technology to enable quick and accurate pathology diagnosis.

In partnership with the Kyushu University School of Medicine and Kyushu University Hospital, the company has been using supercomputers to conduct high-speed learning for artificial intelligence (AI). Launching the alpha version back in winter in 2018 followed by the official version in February this year, it is conducting joint research with over 50 medical institutions in Japan.

Medical care and computer vision are considered to be a good match. Among many medical applications (e.g., radiological and endoscopic images), the company has chosen pathology as a focus because it believed this area was particularly behind in digitalization. In pathology, a doctor takes tissue samples from a patient’s body and a pathologist uses a microscope to check them. Medmain provides pathologists with an environment so that they can remotely complete this process by checking scanned images. In addition, the more images and learning data are collected, the more precise diagnosis the platform can provide. This may contribute to solving the delay in diagnosis due to the shortage of pathologists.

PidPort viewer’s image
Image credit: Medmain

Because of the restrictions of medical-related laws, PidPort is used only on a research basis at this point in Japan, but it is used for actual medical diagnosis in other countries. In countries and regions where pathologists are scarce, pathologists in Japan have provided consultation and advice to a local doctor based on images of the latter’s patient’s tissue using the platform.

In addition, the spread of the novel coronavirus has restricted the movement people including even pathologists, but the platform allows pathologists to make diagnoses online without traveling multiple hospitals, which becomes a good opportunity to advance digital pathology.

Medmain plans to use the funds to enhance its AI algorithms, investing in image scanning equipment in addition to hiring talents for global business expansion effort. In Japan, the AI-powered diagnostic function is currently limited to research use due to legal restrictions, so the company will highlight the potential of remote pathological diagnosis leveraged by digital scanning and cloud storage functions for domestic sales.

Japan’s Ground, developing AI and robotics for intelligent logistics, secures $16.2M

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Ground, the Japanese startup developing artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics solutions specifically focused on offering intelligent logistics, announced on Friday that it has secured up to 1.71 billion yen (about $16.2 million US) in the latest round. This round was led by Japanese state-owned investment company INCJ with participation from Sony (Sony Innovation Fund), Saphire Capital, JA Mitsui Leasing, IMM Investment (Korea), and IMM INvestment Group Japan. Of these, INCJ has agreed to invest up to 1 billion yen (about $9.5 million US) in the logistics startup. Ground was founded in April of 2015 by Hiratomo Miyata who previously led the respective logistics arms of Japanese e-commerce giants Askul and Rakuten. The startup has formed a capital and business tie-up with Japanese office furniture maker Okamura (TSE:7944) in addition to Frameworx, the logistics-focused subsidiary of Japanese largest homebuilder Daiwa House Industry (TSE:1925). The funding at this time follows 1 billion yen (about $9.5 million US) funding from Daiwa House Industry back in June of 2017. The company has developed a platform that combines robots and AI software to optimize logistics operations including picking in warehouse. Leveraging a customer database to help understand consumer…

ground-amr-robot
AMR, Ground’s autonomous collaborative robot for the logistics industry
Image credit: Ground

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Ground, the Japanese startup developing artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics solutions specifically focused on offering intelligent logistics, announced on Friday that it has secured up to 1.71 billion yen (about $16.2 million US) in the latest round. This round was led by Japanese state-owned investment company INCJ with participation from Sony (Sony Innovation Fund), Saphire Capital, JA Mitsui Leasing, IMM Investment (Korea), and IMM INvestment Group Japan. Of these, INCJ has agreed to invest up to 1 billion yen (about $9.5 million US) in the logistics startup.

Ground was founded in April of 2015 by Hiratomo Miyata who previously led the respective logistics arms of Japanese e-commerce giants Askul and Rakuten. The startup has formed a capital and business tie-up with Japanese office furniture maker Okamura (TSE:7944) in addition to Frameworx, the logistics-focused subsidiary of Japanese largest homebuilder Daiwa House Industry (TSE:1925). The funding at this time follows 1 billion yen (about $9.5 million US) funding from Daiwa House Industry back in June of 2017.

rock-thailand-vol1-ground-2
Image credit: Ground

The company has developed a platform that combines robots and AI software to optimize logistics operations including picking in warehouse. Leveraging a customer database to help understand consumer behavior, the platform adopts machine learning to allow users to predict how many products should be manufactured and will be sold, thereby improving the overall efficiency of their logistics operations. The platform is unique in terms of offering all at once: both hardware-powered (robotics) and software-driven (AI) approaches.

Ground participated in Rock Thailand, the cross-market open innovation initiative co-hosted by the Japanese Embassy to Thailand and Thailand’s major conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group (CP) earlier this year, where the startup suggested the possibility of overseas business expansion. They will use the funds to strengthen hiring talents for business expansion as well as research and development of new technologies in the logistics sector.

Japan’s Wovn announces Dropbox-like online storage for document translation

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Tokyo-based Wovn Technologies, the Japanese startup offering a multilingual support platform for websites and other digital resources, announced today that they will launch a new service called Wovn Workbox at their business conference held in Tokyo today. Similar to Dropbox, Box, and other cloud-based storage services, Wovn Workbox allows you to share documents but also translate them into other languages automatically so that your colleagues can understand your document written in their unfamiliar language. When an original file is revised, that change will be made to its translation result immediately. Planned to be launched in August, the cloud service can support several file formats: Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Text files (PDF file support follows later). The software for synchronizing files in a user’s local storage with the cloud will be available on Mac OS X 10.10 and its later as well as Windows 10 and its later. Pricing details have not been published yet but it appears to be charged on a monthly subscription basis. Translation results will be reviewed by artificial intelligence and then checked by native speakers. Wovn expects the new service to be adopted by companies where multinational talents are using cloud services on a daily basis….

wovn-globalized
Globalized 2019
Image credit: Wovn Technologies

Tokyo-based Wovn Technologies, the Japanese startup offering a multilingual support platform for websites and other digital resources, announced today that they will launch a new service called Wovn Workbox at their business conference held in Tokyo today.

Similar to Dropbox, Box, and other cloud-based storage services, Wovn Workbox allows you to share documents but also translate them into other languages automatically so that your colleagues can understand your document written in their unfamiliar language. When an original file is revised, that change will be made to its translation result immediately.

Planned to be launched in August, the cloud service can support several file formats: Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Text files (PDF file support follows later). The software for synchronizing files in a user’s local storage with the cloud will be available on Mac OS X 10.10 and its later as well as Windows 10 and its later. Pricing details have not been published yet but it appears to be charged on a monthly subscription basis. Translation results will be reviewed by artificial intelligence and then checked by native speakers.

wovn-workbox-1
Image credit: Wovn Technologies

Wovn expects the new service to be adopted by companies where multinational talents are using cloud services on a daily basis. By allowing them to translate their documents and decks into many languages and keep results update, Wovn wants to eliminate language barriers among diverse employees. In Japan, the decline of workforce and the rise of international businesses may cause definitely increasing the number of immigrant workers in offices. With the new service, Wovn wants to help internationalization efforts of companies in their internal operations as well as their marketing activities to potential customers.

Wovn has partnered with SBI Group and integrated with the latter’s electronic approval workflow system so that SBI employees can communicate each other regardless of which language they speak. Wovn is also expected to integrate their platform with third-party’s various cloud-based services in addition to Workbox-like online storage services. 

Japanese user location analytics startup Rei Frontier raises $2.7M from Mitsui & Co.

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Rei Frontier, the Japanese startup behind AI-powered user location analytics platform called SilentLog Analytics/SDK, announced today it has raised 300 million yen (about $2.7 million US) from Mitsui & Co. The investment includes a strategic partnership, which lets the startup collaborate with the trading giant to offer various mobility services according to the user’s behavioral characteristics, create new means of mobility to alleviate traffic congestion by changing people’s behavior, and design an integrated system so that people can move seamlessly between multiple ways of transportation. The company provides a marketing service called Silent Log Analytics enabling a new type of activity analysis by analyzing customers’ location information with artificial intelligence (AI). Companies want to know about customers and customers want companies to make optimized proposal for each, but in reality, sometimes the problem occurs where products that were purchased offline are recommended online. To solve this, Silent Log Analytics acquires 40,000 users’ activity data per day, obtaining their consent. Using smartphone-mounted GPS and sensors, it determines users’ condition or social attribute. Rei Frontier gathers information and owns the accumulated knowledge that only requires 3% power consumption. The team aims to optimize recommendation or…

L to R: Kenshi Tamura (CEO, Rei Frontier), Michihiro Nose (Mobility Business Unit I, Mitsui & Co.)
Image credit: Rei Frontier

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Rei Frontier, the Japanese startup behind AI-powered user location analytics platform called SilentLog Analytics/SDK, announced today it has raised 300 million yen (about $2.7 million US) from Mitsui & Co.

The investment includes a strategic partnership, which lets the startup collaborate with the trading giant to offer various mobility services according to the user’s behavioral characteristics, create new means of mobility to alleviate traffic congestion by changing people’s behavior, and design an integrated system so that people can move seamlessly between multiple ways of transportation.

The company provides a marketing service called Silent Log Analytics enabling a new type of activity analysis by analyzing customers’ location information with artificial intelligence (AI). Companies want to know about customers and customers want companies to make optimized proposal for each, but in reality, sometimes the problem occurs where products that were purchased offline are recommended online.

To solve this, Silent Log Analytics acquires 40,000 users’ activity data per day, obtaining their consent. Using smartphone-mounted GPS and sensors, it determines users’ condition or social attribute. Rei Frontier gathers information and owns the accumulated knowledge that only requires 3% power consumption. The team aims to optimize recommendation or customer notification by not sending entertainment information during work or not sending business information after work.

This Rei Frontier’s app allows users to monitor the fuel efficiency of their car on mobile.
Image credit: Rei Frontier

SilentLog Analytics has two types of use cases: One is the public type offering an SDK (software developer kit) to mobile apps for consumers, and the other one is the private type for corporate users for their internal business use. Diversified in many fields, examples include integration with a health promotion app, a fleet management app as well as predicting how people move in town especially in the event of a disaster.

Since Mobility Business Unit I of Mitsui & Co. has railway companies, transport functions at mines and other assets in the overseas, Rei Frontier says they can expect to achieve a good result of the collaboration in the mobility sector.

SilentLog Analytics has expanded into the European Union and UK markets where GDPR has been effective and requires businesses strictly comply with local regulations on information handling. Rei Frontier CEO Kenshi Tamura told The Bridge that facility investment in such overseas markets is one of the reasons why they have decided to raise funds at this time.

Rei Frontier was chosen for the third batch of Tokyo Railway’s accelerator program back in 2017, won the Spring Up! sports-focused accelerator program by Japanese system integration company TIS back in 2018. The company raised an undisclosed sum from Adways and Inclusion Japan back in April of 2015, subsequently an undisclosed sum from Mizuho Capital and IID (TSE:6038) back in August of 2016, and also 140 million yen ($1.2 million US) from Iwagin Jigyo Sozo Capital and Energy & Environment Investment.

Their potential competitors include Sentinance (Belgium), Anagog (Israel), SafeGraph (US) and Factual (US), but there is no dominant player yet from the technology and data volume perspective. Our readers may recall that Tokyo-based VC Global Brain-backed startup Near, previously called AdNear and originated from India, has expanded into the Japanese market.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Crowdsourced manga translation app wins entertainment firm’s incubator Demo Day

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See the original story in Japanese. Earlier this month, Culture Convenience Club (CCC for short, TSE:4756), the Japanese company well known for its CD/video rental and bookstore chain called Tsutaya, held the final public screening event for the fifth batch of its startup incubation program called T-Venture Program. The program accepted entries for this batch from August 1st through September 14th, and the teams that proceeded on to the next round of judging spent a little over one month from November 1st to December 4th brushing up their plans for collaboration. Seven teams passed the second round to become finalists in the last examination round. The judges selected three winning startups after scoring them on four points including value creation, growth, and branding. The program recruited startups specializing in database marketing that uses the Tsutaya video rental and bookstores, T-Site, and other platforms. Through the platforms the companies should  propose lifestyle content, and then use the data obtained from the platforms and lifestyle content. Startups were recruited regardless of the type of business or industry, whether it is a corporation or individual, age, nationality, or whether the projects were in the beginning stages without any minimal viable product (MVP). Unlike other…

See the original story in Japanese.

Earlier this month, Culture Convenience Club (CCC for short, TSE:4756), the Japanese company well known for its CD/video rental and bookstore chain called Tsutaya, held the final public screening event for the fifth batch of its startup incubation program called T-Venture Program.

The program accepted entries for this batch from August 1st through September 14th, and the teams that proceeded on to the next round of judging spent a little over one month from November 1st to December 4th brushing up their plans for collaboration. Seven teams passed the second round to become finalists in the last examination round. The judges selected three winning startups after scoring them on four points including value creation, growth, and branding.

The program recruited startups specializing in database marketing that uses the Tsutaya video rental and bookstores, T-Site, and other platforms. Through the platforms the companies should  propose lifestyle content, and then use the data obtained from the platforms and lifestyle content. Startups were recruited regardless of the type of business or industry, whether it is a corporation or individual, age, nationality, or whether the projects were in the beginning stages without any minimal viable product (MVP).

Unlike other typical incubation programs, with the T-Venture program the teams are evaluated on other important points: whether they can find their synergy with CCC, the managing organization, or whether they can come up with valuable collaborative content.

The judges were as follows:

  • Muneaki Masuda – Founder and CEO, Culture Convenience Club
  • Noboru Takeda – President and CEO, CCC Design
  • Kazuo Nakanishi – President and COO, CCC Entertainment
  • Kazuhiko Kitamura – President, CCC Marketing
  • Junji Tanigawa – President and CEO, CCC Creative
  • Shihoko Urushi – Principal, Shinagawa Joshi Gakuin, Principal
  • Akira Shiramasa – President and CEO, CCC PhotoLife Lab
  • Takeshi Yoshimura – President and CEO, Digital Hollywood

CCC Award: ToryComics by ToryWorks

Prize: 1 million T-Point points

ToryWorks has developed ToryComics, a mobile app that allows users to translate manga using crowdsourcing. It is difficult to publish many manga titles in many different languages due to the high cost of translation. With ToryComics, users can translate the dialogue in a  manga episode into their mother tongue on their smartphone while viewing it, and then publish it to the global market after completing the translation. The app allows the translator to receive part of the revenue while paying copyright fee to the original author.

It is currently available for use in 13 languages in 142 countries, and a year of test marketing in Indonesia resulted in acquiring 500,000 users. One year later, by November 2019, the company plans to make it available in 18 languages in 200 countries, with a target of 3 million users. In terms or collaboration with CCC, ToryWorks proposed a plan to allow users to exchange T-Points for virtual coins that can be used on ToryComics, and a plan to allow Tsutaya Premium members all-you-can-read access to ToryComics. In the future, the company would like to distribute works from CCC affiliates and produce Japanese-Korean collaborative comics.

Outstanding Performance Award: Wall Share by 180

Prize: 500,000 T-Point points

Wall graffiti is illegal, and can make passers-by and residents feel uncomfortable, but if it is possible to obtain permission from owners and post something highly artistic, then value as a business can be created. 180 took inspiration from cities like Paris, where so-called graffiti forms an important part of the atmosphere, and Hong Kong, where it actually attracts visitors. The company matches wall owners, artists, and advertisers with the goal of developing an advertising business targeting tourists.

The company aims to produce a mobile app for graffiti stories and to show the place where users can see the art, along with a matching app that allows users to plan advertisements by matching vacant walls with artists. It is looking to monetize through the collaboration of vacant wall owners and artists, ads, paid apps, and merchandising. The company would like to collaborate with CCC on ad sales for their art specialty magazine. The company would also like to collaborate with CCC Marketing to build a marketing database by holding a stamp rally, and to host an art award at the Tsutaya bookstore in Ginza. 180 has already recruited the help of Kobe City in securing vacant walls.

TVP Award: Cametis by Kaisei Academy

Prize: 60,000 T-Point points

Cametis is a mobile app to help familiarize elementary and junior high students with musical education by first helping them practice piano exercises. Piano continues to be ranked high among extracurricular activities for elementary and junior high students, but students must practice without a teacher present which creates problems like being unable to fully grasp details. With Cametis, users can record their performance and discover their mistakes allowing them to concentrate on these areas while they practice. Additionally, there is a function that allows teachers to share their advice via the digitally displayed sheet music instead of writing it directly on the sheet music.

In order to prevent from violating copyright laws, the app specializes in classical music scores. Free users can practice the chorus of said scores. If the user likes it and wants to practice the entire song, they can purchase a package, which forms the basis of Cametis’ business model. As the number of children in Japan continues to decrease, the company is also targeting elementary and junior high school students in China, as well as the elderly. In partnership with CCC, they expect CCC to adopt Cametis as a next-generation musical education model for the “T-Kids Share Program” developed with the Mistletoe startup studio.

The following startups participated in this batch and pitched their ideas, but were not awarded a prize.

Learning Platform on Manga Technique by Hirohisa Tanaka

Hirohisa Tanaka has for many years been in a position to teach aspiring manga artists from Japan and China. According to him, when teaching manga to Chinese students their drawing level rises sufficiently, but their level of story-telling and planning does not. The reason being the absence of professional manga editors in China, unlike in Japan where manga artists and editors meet repeatedly and create the manga after hitting on a story. In addition, there are other problems such as the lack of opportunities to train manga artists, and no chance for manga artists and editors to meet each other in the first place.

Tanaka opened an online manga school for students in China with the hope of discovering and nurturing aspiring and current manga artists. At the same time, it is necessary to have professional editors who can evaluate manuscripts and submissions, so he would like to export editor training manuals. He hopes for collaborative projects with CCC’s manga submission service “Manga Hack”, Tsutaya Creator’s Program, Digital Hollywood, T-Kids Share School, and Tsutaya stores in China.

Cozre by Cozre

Cozre is a lifestyle suggestion platform for the parenting generation. The platform collects over 2.5 million answers a year from 600 genres, starting with parent’s names, children’s names, pregnancy due dates, birthdates, and other personal profiles. It then uses these profiles to develop qualitative and quantitative databases, and based on the age of the children provides recommendations for what kind of useful tips/what kind of goods the user will need and when.

In cooperation with CCC, the company proposed giving TIDs (T-point IDs) based on children’s information, so once a child is born it can become a T-card member at the age of 0. Moreover, by crossing Cozre user’s age data with CCC’s lifestyle database, it becomes possible to recommend goods for raising children according to the couple’s lifestyle. When a parent user provides information useful for other parents on Cozre, the companies could also consider plans to give points on children’s T-cards.

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Self by Self

Self uses conversational AI (artificial intelligence) to allow companies and consumers to engage with each other in conversation. With the state of excessive information in recent years, Self can set up bots on websites and apps to understand the user’s values, living environment, hobbies, and emotional changes through conversation with the user. It not only collects and presents information side by side, but also “serves it” in a way the user wants, which makes it easier for users to accept.

The company explained that by teaming up with CCC it is possible to combine CCC Marketing’s purchase data and the conversational AI technology of Self to more effectively induce purchases and conduct marketing. If it is used in conjunction with the T-Point app it can calculate behavior patterns and user attributes from purchasing data and makes research possible. For example, if a married man in his 30’s makes a purchase at the nearest convenience store to his home earlier than usual, the bot answers that the man is not enjoying time with his family and recommends a DVD that can be enjoyed together.

teplo by Load & Road

Load & Road developed an IoT smart teapot called Teplo, which cooperates with smartphones to make the optimal tea according to the type of tea. Also, by analyzing the user’s pulse rate, their body temperature from their finger, the temperature outside, the room temperature, and the level of noise, it will make tea in the optimum condition for the user in that environment. They will monetize by selling pots and tea leaves. Japan and the United States are positioned as the target markets.

In collaboration with CCC, the company would like to sell hardware at pop-up stores, to sell it at Tsutaya Electrics after mass production starts, and to sell tea using the company’s teapot at T-site cafes. Based on purchasing data according to consumer attributes from the T-Point database the recommendation accuracy of Teplo improves, and additionally, based on consumption data, T-Point member companies can apply for product development too.

Stock Point by Stock Point

Stock Point is developing a point system linked with stock prices based on blockchain. When the user accumulates points on Stock Point by shopping, Stock Point cooperates as stock prices (of the manufacturer of the purchased product, etc.) rise to increase the amount of points on Stock Point. If the amount of Stock Point points becomes equal to or more than one share of the stock, the user can exchange it for stock and become a shareholder with the company.  By buying the products and services of companies that the user supports, they can eventually become shareholders of the company, and companies can increase their number of fans.

In the future, Stock Point is also considering the formation of a community economy using cryptos as opposed to cooperating with the stock exchange. The existing Stock Point service only covers listed stocks, but with this new concept, the company will construct a C2C (consumer-to-consumer) investment platform that allows each community of users sharing the same interest to issue its own token. As each of these economic communities grows, holders of each crypto can make a profit. The C2C investment platform also has community activation tools, customer promotion functions, tools gathering project ideas, and the company hopes to collaborate with CCC in this area.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

AI startup accelerator Zeroth partners with Softbank-backed Deepcore, shares deal flow

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See the original story in Japanese. Hong Kong-based Zeroth, an AI-focused startup accelerator, announced on Monday it has entered into a strategic partnership with Tokyo-based Deepcore, a Softbank-backed VC firm and incubator focused on AI startups. Through this alliance, the two companies will share their deal flow and information regarding investment in Japan and Asia. They will also cooperate with the entrepreneurial communities of each market. Zeroth Partner and CEO Tak Lo, whose previous work includes Director of TechStars in both New York and London, launched the accelerator in Hong Kong in 2016. Until now, three batches have turned out 33 companies, and AI startups from Japan such as Foxsy and Laboratik have participated. As of June 2018, the cumulative amount procured by the graduates is over 300 million yen (about $2.7M US). Lo said in an interview with The Bridge that Zeroth received physical and resource support from Deepcore due to this alliance, but did not disclose whether Deepcore had invested in Zeroth. Zeroth is currently accepting applications for its fourth batch, and from now is starting programs in Tokyo and Bangalore, India, in addition to Hong Kong. Deepcore’s incubation facility Kernel Hongo looks to be a promising space…

Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

See the original story in Japanese.

Hong Kong-based Zeroth, an AI-focused startup accelerator, announced on Monday it has entered into a strategic partnership with Tokyo-based Deepcore, a Softbank-backed VC firm and incubator focused on AI startups. Through this alliance, the two companies will share their deal flow and information regarding investment in Japan and Asia. They will also cooperate with the entrepreneurial communities of each market.

Zeroth Partner and CEO Tak Lo, whose previous work includes Director of TechStars in both New York and London, launched the accelerator in Hong Kong in 2016. Until now, three batches have turned out 33 companies, and AI startups from Japan such as Foxsy and Laboratik have participated. As of June 2018, the cumulative amount procured by the graduates is over 300 million yen (about $2.7M US).

Lo said in an interview with The Bridge that Zeroth received physical and resource support from Deepcore due to this alliance, but did not disclose whether Deepcore had invested in Zeroth.

Zeroth is currently accepting applications for its fourth batch, and from now is starting programs in Tokyo and Bangalore, India, in addition to Hong Kong. Deepcore’s incubation facility Kernel Hongo looks to be a promising space for use during the expansion and Demoday of Zeroth’s program in Tokyo.

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Zeroth Partner and CEO Tak Lo
Image credit: Zeroth

Prior to this tie-up, Hajime Hotta, CTO of Cinnamon, an AI startup from Japan, recently became a Zeroth Partner. Although he has been a mentor since its establishment, it appears he is involved in the overall operation of Zeroth, making full use of his knowledge and networks throughout Southeast Asia.

Hotta said in an interview with The Bridge that because of the alliance between Zeroth and Deepcore it will be easier for startups outside of Japan to reach the Japanese market in terms of business development and opportunities created, and likewise for Japanese startups it will become easier to enter overseas markets.

In addition to Hotta, Zeroth announced that Paul Pheby, who has been involved in numerous famous banks and mainly invests in Seoul and Hong Kong, also joined as a new Partner.

Kernel Hongo, operated by Deepcore in collaboration with WeWork
Image credit: Deepcore

Deepcore CEO Katsumasa Niki said the following in a statement to the press.

We regard this partnership with Zeroth as an important step to expand the boundary of our capability. Zeroth’s international perspective will provide us with a significant advantage to inspire entrepreneurs in Japan to address globally momentous issues with the power of AI. We are excited to pursue a shared vision with Zeroth.

Zeroth CEO Tak Lo had the following comments to share.

We are humbled to work with DEEPCORE, with whom we share a vision of the future of AI, its impact on technology businesses, and its opportunity to solve humanity’s great problems. Together we will work closely to realize that vision, and support AI founders across the world and specifically in Japan.

In December of last year, Zeroth raised $766,000 US in its first round from Animoca Brands (Australia Stock Exchange: AB1), which is a Hong Kong-based company that provides mobile games and subscription products. This year, Animoca Brands acquired 67% of the shares (a de facto merger) of Venture Classic Limited managed by Zeroth, and at the same time promised a capital contribution of $2 million US to Zeroth’s investment corporation Zeroth SPC, which became separate. Hong Kong’s financial conglomerate Sun Hung Kai also has a memorandum of understanding to make a direct investment in Zeroth SPC or startups it has invested in.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda