THE BRIDGE

Masaru Ikeda

Masaru Ikeda

Masaru started his career as a programmer/engineer, and previously co-founded several system integration companies and consulting firms. He’s been traveling around Silicon Valley and Asia exploring the IT industry, and he also curates event updates for the Tokyo edition of Startup Digest.

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Seiko Epson launches $46.5M startup fund

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Abridged from our original post on the Japanese edition. Tokyo-based VC firm Global Brain announced today that it has launched a new fund in partnership with Epson X (pronounced ‘cross’) Investment, EXI for short, the investment arm of Japanese electronics giant Seiko Epson (TSE:6724). EXI holds a 99% stake in the fund worth 5 billion yen ($46.5 million US). Epson Group unveiled a mid-range business plan towards their long-term corporate vision called Epson 25 last year, which addresses their open innovation strategy to leverage resources centered on the company’s flagship inkjet technology. The fund is a part of such efforts. In response to our question about what’s behind establishing the fund, Global Brain told us that Seiko Epson wants to push forward and accelerate their investment flows by separating business investment and corporate venture capital functions. Our readers may recall that Global Brain recently announced a new fund in partnership with Japanese logistics giant Yamato Holdings.

Seiko Epson’s Hino Office in Tokyo
CC BY-SA 3.0

Abridged from our original post on the Japanese edition.

Tokyo-based VC firm Global Brain announced today that it has launched a new fund in partnership with Epson X (pronounced ‘cross’) Investment, EXI for short, the investment arm of Japanese electronics giant Seiko Epson (TSE:6724). EXI holds a 99% stake in the fund worth 5 billion yen ($46.5 million US).

Epson Group unveiled a mid-range business plan towards their long-term corporate vision called Epson 25 last year, which addresses their open innovation strategy to leverage resources centered on the company’s flagship inkjet technology. The fund is a part of such efforts.

Image credit: Seiko Epson

In response to our question about what’s behind establishing the fund, Global Brain told us that Seiko Epson wants to push forward and accelerate their investment flows by separating business investment and corporate venture capital functions.

Our readers may recall that Global Brain recently announced a new fund in partnership with Japanese logistics giant Yamato Holdings.

Japan logistics giant Yamato sets up $46.5M fund to work with startups

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Abridged from our original post on the Japanese edition. Tokyo-based VC firm Global Brain announced on Tuesday that it has formed a new fund together with Japanese logistics giant Yamato Holdings (TSE:9064). The fund is named Kuroneko Innovation Fund and worth 5 billion yen, or $46.5 million US. With an aim to promote digital transformation in the logistics industry, the fund is focused on investing in Japanese and foreign startups with technologies and business models evolving logistics and supply chain management. The fund’s ticket size is from 50 million yen to hundreds of million yen (from $460,000 to several million US dollars) while investees can also leverage resources owned by Yamato Holdings and its group companies. Yamato Holdings has partnered with C2C (consumer-to-comsumer) marketplace app Mercari as well as Japanese e-commerce platform Base, giving their sellers better user experience by integrating with logistics solutions. Yamato Holdings published a grand design calling for business structure reform earlier this year, suggesting that the fund is a part of such efforts.

From left: Global Brain CEO Yasuhiko Yurimoto, Yamato Holdings President Yutaka Nagao
Image credit: Yamato Holdings

Abridged from our original post on the Japanese edition.

Tokyo-based VC firm Global Brain announced on Tuesday that it has formed a new fund together with Japanese logistics giant Yamato Holdings (TSE:9064). The fund is named Kuroneko Innovation Fund and worth 5 billion yen, or $46.5 million US.

With an aim to promote digital transformation in the logistics industry, the fund is focused on investing in Japanese and foreign startups with technologies and business models evolving logistics and supply chain management.

The fund’s ticket size is from 50 million yen to hundreds of million yen (from $460,000 to several million US dollars) while investees can also leverage resources owned by Yamato Holdings and its group companies.

Yamato Holdings has partnered with C2C (consumer-to-comsumer) marketplace app Mercari as well as Japanese e-commerce platform Base, giving their sellers better user experience by integrating with logistics solutions.

Yamato Holdings published a grand design calling for business structure reform earlier this year, suggesting that the fund is a part of such efforts.

From Yamato’s grand design. (Click to enlarge.)
Image credit: Yamato Holdings

Asia-focused KK Fund helps Thai startups meet investors virtually in face of COVID-19 troubles

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Singapore-based KK Fund, the VC firm backed by many Japanese companies and focused on investing in seed stage internet and mobile startups across Southeast Asia, is launching their first Meet Your Match Thailand ​session with the aim to help match investors with Thailand-based startups in light of the uncertain situation due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In order to support the startup ecosystem, KK Fund claims it has signed up with more than 20 investors to participate in this initiative to connect Thai startups with potential investors. Participating investors include Vertex Ventures, Sumitomo Corporation, PTT, Denso, Krungsri Finnovate, Colopl Next, CyberAgent Capital, Monk’s Hill Ventures, Insignia Ventures Partners, Beacon Venture Capital, Sequoia Capital, and other outstanding Thai and Japanese firms. In the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, more than a few startup founders in the world are struggling with meeting up with potential founders because of urgent need of funding or further sustainable business development. As a reason why KK Fund decided to focus on helping Thai entrepreneurs rather than other startup ecosystem, the VC firm’s general partner Koichi Saito says he got inspired by the initiative which the Japanese trade and economy ministry recently rolled out in Bangkok….

Singapore-based KK Fund, the VC firm backed by many Japanese companies and focused on investing in seed stage internet and mobile startups across Southeast Asia, is launching their first Meet Your Match Thailand ​session with the aim to help match investors with Thailand-based startups in light of the uncertain situation due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In order to support the startup ecosystem, KK Fund claims it has signed up with more than 20 investors to participate in this initiative to connect Thai startups with potential investors. Participating investors include Vertex Ventures, Sumitomo Corporation, PTT, Denso, Krungsri Finnovate, Colopl Next, CyberAgent Capital, Monk’s Hill Ventures, Insignia Ventures Partners, Beacon Venture Capital, Sequoia Capital, and other outstanding Thai and Japanese firms.

In the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, more than a few startup founders in the world are struggling with meeting up with potential founders because of urgent need of funding or further sustainable business development. As a reason why KK Fund decided to focus on helping Thai entrepreneurs rather than other startup ecosystem, the VC firm’s general partner Koichi Saito says he got inspired by the initiative which the Japanese trade and economy ministry recently rolled out in Bangkok. Saito has participated in several summits hosted by the ministry with an aim to connect the two countries in tech and startup field.

If you run a startup in Thailand and want to grab this opportunity, simply submit you application through the Google form link by April 10 so that you can get in touch with potential investors who may be interested in your business or idea. Upon successful matching, an online session over Zoom will be arranged by the investor with the startup.

In Japan, Moneyforward Synca, the Tokyo-based consultancy focused on helping startups raise investments or sell through an IPO or M&A deal, has launched a similar scheme with more than 20 local VC firms with an aim to prevent founders from stagnating fundraising.

Japanese HR startup to hold virtual hackathon focused on combating coronavirus

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Tokyo- and Kuala Lumpur-based Grooves, the company best known for its engineer recruiting platform called Forkwell, announced today that it will hold a virtual hackathon focused on helping techpreneurs compete by using technologies in order to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic. Sponsored by Microsoft, AWS, the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation and other distinguishing tech companies, the two-week event will kick off on March 30th and allow participants to compete each other while receiving mentorship from top-level data scientists from the US, Canada, Croatia, Australia, and Malaysia. Malaysia has been experiencing the region’s first lockdown where local people are forced to find new ways of working because they have to stay and work at home. Starting his business in Tokyo, Grooves’ CEO Hiro Ikemi moved to Kuala Lumpur back in 2018 to bet on the potential of the emerging market. He says his company wants to help local community and entrepreneurs to fight off the hardship through the hackathon. Instead of other similar events, this hackathon asks participants to focus their competing ideas and projects only on two topics: Drug Discovery and Virus Combat. Thanks to Grooves’ effort and their sponsors’ contribution, top 3 places winners can receive cash prize with…

Tokyo- and Kuala Lumpur-based Grooves, the company best known for its engineer recruiting platform called Forkwell, announced today that it will hold a virtual hackathon focused on helping techpreneurs compete by using technologies in order to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Sponsored by Microsoft, AWS, the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation and other distinguishing tech companies, the two-week event will kick off on March 30th and allow participants to compete each other while receiving mentorship from top-level data scientists from the US, Canada, Croatia, Australia, and Malaysia.

Malaysia has been experiencing the region’s first lockdown where local people are forced to find new ways of working because they have to stay and work at home. Starting his business in Tokyo, Grooves’ CEO Hiro Ikemi moved to Kuala Lumpur back in 2018 to bet on the potential of the emerging market. He says his company wants to help local community and entrepreneurs to fight off the hardship through the hackathon.

Instead of other similar events, this hackathon asks participants to focus their competing ideas and projects only on two topics: Drug Discovery and Virus Combat. Thanks to Grooves’ effort and their sponsors’ contribution, top 3 places winners can receive cash prize with complimentary credits for cloud services.

In 2019, Grooves announced $920,000 funding from Inspire PNB Partners, the joint venture between Japanese investment firm Inspire and Malaysia’s state-run firm Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), managing a Sharia-compliant private equity fund called PNB-INSPiRE Ethical Fund 1. The firm got approval from Tokyo Labor Bureau to launch a recruiting agency business for so-called “highly-skilled professionals” from Korea and Taiwan.

Bangkok-based mobility data startup Flare raises $1.4M series A from Japanese investors

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Bangkok-based Flare, offering an ad-wrapping service for car owners as well as mobility data management and analytics services, announced today that it has raised 150 million yen (about $1.4 million) in a series A round from Spiral Ventures Asia, Chiba Dojo, Sun Asterisk, and Voyage Ventures. Sun Asterisk (previously called Framgia at the time) follows their participation in a seed round funding back in 2018 while Voyage Ventures follows a series A round back in 2019. Flare was launched back in August of 2017 by Japanese serial entrepreneur Kazuki Kamiya who moved to Thailand in November of 2013. Prior to Flare, he established a Skype-based Thai language school in May of 2014 and subsequently engaged in managing crowdsourced translation / interpretation and business portal website. Following the Flare ad-wrapping service, his company launched Flare Analytics and Flare Dash last year. Flare Analytics is a device-free cloud based platform analyzing driving data which can be applied for fleet management and telematics insurance while Flash Dash visualizes driver behavior so that their operation management can easily understand where their employee drivers are running and working. Flare says the new fund will be used to invest in further developing the aforementioned three services…

The Flare team. CEO Kazuki Kamiya stands second from the left.
Image credit: Flare

Bangkok-based Flare, offering an ad-wrapping service for car owners as well as mobility data management and analytics services, announced today that it has raised 150 million yen (about $1.4 million) in a series A round from Spiral Ventures Asia, Chiba Dojo, Sun Asterisk, and Voyage Ventures.

Sun Asterisk (previously called Framgia at the time) follows their participation in a seed round funding back in 2018 while Voyage Ventures follows a series A round back in 2019.

Flare was launched back in August of 2017 by Japanese serial entrepreneur Kazuki Kamiya who moved to Thailand in November of 2013. Prior to Flare, he established a Skype-based Thai language school in May of 2014 and subsequently engaged in managing crowdsourced translation / interpretation and business portal website.

Flare Analytics
Image credit: Flare

Following the Flare ad-wrapping service, his company launched Flare Analytics and Flare Dash last year. Flare Analytics is a device-free cloud based platform analyzing driving data which can be applied for fleet management and telematics insurance while Flash Dash visualizes driver behavior so that their operation management can easily understand where their employee drivers are running and working.

Flare says the new fund will be used to invest in further developing the aforementioned three services by strengthening hiring sales and engineering positions. Flare Ad serves 15,000 registered users as of April last year, is aimed to hit 100,000 user milestone in the future. The company recently partnered with Renet Japan Group (TSE:3556), microfinance and other solution provider serving Cambodia, to launch the Flare ad-wrapping service in the Indochina market earlier this year. Flare Dash was also recently launched in Myanmar after Thailand.

As part of Open Innovation Columbus (OIC) through which the Japanese government and Thai conglomerates encourage strategic alliances between innovative Japanese startups and the Thai conglomerates, Flare partnered with Toyota Tsusho (Thailand) to jointly conduct a proof-of-concept and develop a safety driving-focused product using Fire Analytics last year. Since the platform can also be provided in the form of an SDK (software development kit), it can be more easily integrated with other software so that it can target corporate users who are running their existing systems.

Meet 4real, Japan’s anime figure marketplace making sure you don’t get scammed

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Uridoki, an online shopping mall comprising of shops buying unused goods from owners, announced a cross-border character figure trading platform called 4real today. For individuals, it allows you to sell and buy character figures, principally unused ones only. The startup authenticates every item prior to listing it for sale and issues a certificate so that buyers don’t need to worry about being scammed with fake or pirate products. Product authenticity is a serious problem in the trading market of character figures. In Akihabara, the Tokyo district known for high-tech electronics and Japanese anime / manga culture, 8 out of 15 shops dedicated in buying figures said they have seen more than a few counterfeit items in response to Uridoki’s recent survey. In addition, some respondents said more people come sell fake or pirate ones while others say counterfeit items are distinguishable for professionals only but not for amateurs because of high reproducibility. Uridoki has been brokering deals of character figures with resale shops on the existing platform. Leveraging partnership with them, the company decided to launch the marketplace giving buyers authenticity guarantee as making themselves different from others. Authenticity judgements are primarily based…

From left: Nana Suzuki (4real dept., Uridoki), Yasuo Kogure (CEO, Uridoki), Kota Nojiri (4real dept.)
Image credit: Uridoki

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Uridoki, an online shopping mall comprising of shops buying unused goods from owners, announced a cross-border character figure trading platform called 4real today. For individuals, it allows you to sell and buy character figures, principally unused ones only. The startup authenticates every item prior to listing it for sale and issues a certificate so that buyers don’t need to worry about being scammed with fake or pirate products.

Product authenticity is a serious problem in the trading market of character figures. In Akihabara, the Tokyo district known for high-tech electronics and Japanese anime / manga culture, 8 out of 15 shops dedicated in buying figures said they have seen more than a few counterfeit items in response to Uridoki’s recent survey. In addition, some respondents said more people come sell fake or pirate ones while others say counterfeit items are distinguishable for professionals only but not for amateurs because of high reproducibility.

The 4real marketplace
Image credit: Uridoki

Uridoki has been brokering deals of character figures with resale shops on the existing platform. Leveraging partnership with them, the company decided to launch the marketplace giving buyers authenticity guarantee as making themselves different from others. Authenticity judgements are primarily based on copyright seal, facial expression of figure, color irregularity, what’s printed on a package, smell and elasticity. While Japan-made character figures are earning good reputation at home and abroad, the spillover impact of such popularity induces more piracy cases as we saw a large pirate factory in Shanghai exposed by the local police. In response to the potential global remand, the marketplace is available in multiple languages and can be checked out with PayPal (Users outside Japan can purchase listed items but are not yet allowed to submit their items for sale at the time of launch).

US-based StockX is best known as one of the startups giving an authenticity guarantee for secondhand purchasers. Their greatest strength is dealing with sneakers while they list many character figures in the Collectibles category. In addition, we’ve seen other startups like Goat (US), Monokabu (Japan), Kckc (pronounced as ‘kikcy’, Japan), Novelship (Southeast Asia) and Poizon (China) are being emerged but all of these mainly deal with sneakers. Focused on character figures, 4real can better promote themselves to the global market while emphasizing their competitiveness in the Cool Japan concept.

Image credit: Uridoki

Launched as a price comparison site allowing users to see how much they can sell their unused items to a series of reuse shops, Uridoki later pivoted to a shopping mall of reuse shops. In 2018, the company launched a mobile app called Picol, whiich allows users to sell their unused item just by scanning its barcode (the app already shut down). The company has raised 330 million yen to date, recently partnered with the Japanese subsidiary of eBay.com to share actual market prices of secondhand items in the overseas with reuse shops in Japan.

Berlin-based urban farming startup Infarm announces Japan expansion

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In Tokyo today, Japanese digital agency Infobahn is holding the TOA World Tour Tokyo meet-up as one of the stops introducing Berlin-based outstanding startup conference Tech Open Air to local communities. In the meet-up, Erez Galonska, fonuder and CEO of Berlin-based urban farming startup Infarm, was invited onstage to announced that his company has raised funding from JR East (TSE:9020), one of key local railway operators, to expand into the Japanese market. The Berlin startup is expected to launch the service this summer in the Kinokuniya premium supermarket, a subsidiary of JR East. Some of our readers may recall that Indoor Urban Farming, the German business entity behind Infarm, secured a total of $100 million dollars in a series B round led by London-based VC firm Atomico last year, which brought their total sum of funding to date up to $134 million US. The stage of the latest round is not defined because it’s specifically set up for partnering with JR East and its retailing arm Kinokuniya. In a response to Bridge’s asking, Infarm declined to disclose how much they have raised at this time. Infarm was founded in 2013 by Osnat Michaeli and the Israeli-born brothers Erez and Guy…

From left: Erez Galonska (CEO, Infarm), Takako Tsutsumiguchi (President, Kinokuniya Supermarket Chain), Shun-ichiro Yamashita (President, Muroo), Teruyuki Omote (Executive Officer, Deputy Director General of Life-style Business, JR East), Ikuo Hiraishi (Managing Director, Infarm Japan)
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

In Tokyo today, Japanese digital agency Infobahn is holding the TOA World Tour Tokyo meet-up as one of the stops introducing Berlin-based outstanding startup conference Tech Open Air to local communities. In the meet-up, Erez Galonska, fonuder and CEO of Berlin-based urban farming startup Infarm, was invited onstage to announced that his company has raised funding from JR East (TSE:9020), one of key local railway operators, to expand into the Japanese market. The Berlin startup is expected to launch the service this summer in the Kinokuniya premium supermarket, a subsidiary of JR East.

Some of our readers may recall that Indoor Urban Farming, the German business entity behind Infarm, secured a total of $100 million dollars in a series B round led by London-based VC firm Atomico last year, which brought their total sum of funding to date up to $134 million US. The stage of the latest round is not defined because it’s specifically set up for partnering with JR East and its retailing arm Kinokuniya. In a response to Bridge’s asking, Infarm declined to disclose how much they have raised at this time.

Infarm was founded in 2013 by Osnat Michaeli and the Israeli-born brothers Erez and Guy Galonska to cultivate greens in the dead of the German winter. We covered them for the first time when their team won the Innovation Weekend Grand Finale pitch competition, the startup showcase event hosted by Tokyo-based VC firm Sunbridge Global Ventures back in 2015.

Infarm founders: CMO Osnat Michaeli, CEO Erez Galonska, CTO Guy Galonska
Image credit: Robert Rieger, FvF Productions UG

With Infarm’s solution, its cloud constantly optimizes temperature, humidity, lighting, pH and other environmental factors so that leaf vegetables such as herbs and lettuce can be stably grown in it regardless of the climate. Just requiring power, water and WiFi to work, it is so flexible to fit any type of location. For the current model, seeding is performed at the Infarm hub facility while each plant piece will be semi-automatically exported out of the farming unit when it’s ready for shipping. The market-ready pieces are sent into the facility at a supermarket so that consumers can purchase them fresh while they are still growing and being stocked in the storefront.

Infarm has expanded into France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Great Britain, Denmark, Canada and the United States, as well as its home turf of Germany, partnering with local supermarkets such as Irma (Denmark), Kroger / QFC (US), Marks and Spencer (UK), Metro (Europe) and Edeka (Germany) to sell locally-grown vegetable products. With more than 600 Farming Units in stores and distribution centers around the world, they are shipping more than 250,000 plants a month. For Infarm, their sales at the Kinokuniya supermarket will be the first not only in Japan but also in the entire Asia region.

Infarm is establishing a local subsidiary called Infarm Japan in Tokyo to enable the expansion into the Japanese market. As Managing Director of the Japanese entity, Infarm appoints Ikuo Hiraishi, the organizer of the aforementioned startup pitch competition as well as CEO of DreamVision. DreamVision has taken over the fund management of Sunbridge Global Ventures which participated in the seed round of Infarm.

Inhub, Infarm’s farming solution
Image credit: Infarm

In addition, Japanese cold supply chain company Muroo, which boasts one of the largest chilled logistics networks in Japan, will partner with Infarm to help the latter roll out their facilities all across Japan. Muroo’s President Shun-ichiro Yamashita was a student of the MBA class that Hiraishi was teaching as a visiting professor at Hosei University Graduate School of Business in Tokyo.

Erez Galonska told Bridge in an interview:

We are excited about the expansion. Japan has unique problems to tackle, such as a large amount of food loss, challenging sustainable agriculture in hash natural environments including frequent typhoon attacks, and also aging farmers…So I believe our capability that requires less human operation to deliver fresh vegetables is significant. […]

Since JR East and Kinokuniya were looking for innovation, we thought synergies could be found by partnering with them. As expanding into Japan, we will adjust our product lineup to fit local consumer’s preference by adding Asian leaf vegetables.

Curama, Japan’s answer to Thumbtack, secures $36M from Nissay Capital, others

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Minma (derived from ‘Minna no Market’ meaning ‘the market for everyone’ in Japanese), the Japanese startup behind an online service that matches customers with local professionals, announced today that it has raised 4 billion yen (about $36 million US) in the latest round. This comes from Nissay Capital, Globis Capital Partners, Innovation Growth Ventures (managed by Sony and Daiwa Capital Holdings), and Zenrin Datacom (a subsidiary of Japan’s largest map publisher) in funding as well as Japan Finance Corporation in loans. The startup has been matching customers with local professionals since its launch back in 2011, currently lists over 200 types of services in categories like house cleaning, housekeeping, on-location photo shooting, home appliance installation, and renovation. As of December end, over 33,000 stores are live on the Curama marketplace where users can compare these providers by user reviews and pricing to make a choice and book it online. The company disclosed Nissay Capital, one of the investors participating in the latest round, has poured funds in both series A and B (in 2017) rounds. The sum of funding in past rounds are undisclosed but the company shows 909.48 million yen (about $8.3…

Yusuke Hamano, CEO of Minma
Image credit: Takeshi Hirano, Bridge

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Minma (derived from ‘Minna no Market’ meaning ‘the market for everyone’ in Japanese), the Japanese startup behind an online service that matches customers with local professionals, announced today that it has raised 4 billion yen (about $36 million US) in the latest round. This comes from Nissay Capital, Globis Capital Partners, Innovation Growth Ventures (managed by Sony and Daiwa Capital Holdings), and Zenrin Datacom (a subsidiary of Japan’s largest map publisher) in funding as well as Japan Finance Corporation in loans.

The startup has been matching customers with local professionals since its launch back in 2011, currently lists over 200 types of services in categories like house cleaning, housekeeping, on-location photo shooting, home appliance installation, and renovation. As of December end, over 33,000 stores are live on the Curama marketplace where users can compare these providers by user reviews and pricing to make a choice and book it online.

Curama
Image credit: Minma

The company disclosed Nissay Capital, one of the investors participating in the latest round, has poured funds in both series A and B (in 2017) rounds. The sum of funding in past rounds are undisclosed but the company shows 909.48 million yen (about $8.3 million US) as capital stock and legal capital surplus in their corporate website as of this writing.

Minma uses the funds to increase brand awareness, develop new products, invest in relevant startups, as well as hiring and educating talents globally. The company says they have completed investing in an unnamed startup developing a chat service. Partnering with this round’s investor Zenrin Datacom, Minma plans to create a new category on the marketplace, improve functionality and user experience for store owners, and bring themselves to a higher level of marketing sophistication.

In an interview with Bridge back in 2018, Minma CEO Yusuke Hamano said he could see no noticeable competitor at that time. Looking at each of verticals close to what the marketplace lists in categories, we can find several potential competitors in a broad sense, such as Reform Guide graduating from Asahi Shimbun Media Lab’s accelerator, photographer client matchmaking startup aMi, P2P sharing economy startup Anytimes, memento disposer/pest-control firm matchmaking platform Ocomari, and recently-IPO’d Jimoty. US-based unicorn Thumbtack raised $120 million in a series H round last year.

Barkation, startup conference by ex-Slush Tokyo team, cancels 1st edition this year

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See the original story in Japanese. As previously reported, a brand new startup conference called Barkation was announced to take place on February 19 and 20 this year, primarily organized by the former Slush Tokyo team, but we learned today that it will be canceled this year. The main reason behind the cancellation is the team couldn’t spend enough time preparing for the conference, such as training volunteers, and they will focus on building the Bark community this year. Thanks to their concept that the conference shouldn’t come first but is just as part of the Bark community, the cancellation will give no significant impact on their ongoing activities. In an interview with Bridge, Bark CEO Haruka Furukawa said her team decided to cancel because they don’t want participants from Japan and the rest of the world to get disappointed. Over the past few years, there has been a series of announcements of cancellations and suspensions of global startup conferences. Austria’s flagship conference Pioneers, which has been running for eight years since 2011, announced a break last year. Tech in Asia has shut down their conferences in Singapore and Tokyo and currently runs it only in Jakarta. RISE, hosted in…

The Bark Launch Party took place in October in Harajuku, Tokyo.
Image credit: Bark

See the original story in Japanese.

As previously reported, a brand new startup conference called Barkation was announced to take place on February 19 and 20 this year, primarily organized by the former Slush Tokyo team, but we learned today that it will be canceled this year. The main reason behind the cancellation is the team couldn’t spend enough time preparing for the conference, such as training volunteers, and they will focus on building the Bark community this year.

Thanks to their concept that the conference shouldn’t come first but is just as part of the Bark community, the cancellation will give no significant impact on their ongoing activities. In an interview with Bridge, Bark CEO Haruka Furukawa said her team decided to cancel because they don’t want participants from Japan and the rest of the world to get disappointed.

Over the past few years, there has been a series of announcements of cancellations and suspensions of global startup conferences. Austria’s flagship conference Pioneers, which has been running for eight years since 2011, announced a break last year. Tech in Asia has shut down their conferences in Singapore and Tokyo and currently runs it only in Jakarta. RISE, hosted in Asia by the WebSummit organizer, has also announced that it will cancel the 2020 edition over the recent tension in Hong Kong.

Japan’s Samurai Incubate launches new $18M fund for African startups

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Thursday, 6pm JST – Update: Minor correction applied into Yoneyama’s previous position, Samurai Africa Fund II’s targeted geographical markets, and my misunderstanding that the first fund’s investment capacity is still remaining. Tokyo-based VC firm Samurai Incubate announced on Thursday that it has launched a new fund focused on starups in Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria. The fund is titled Samurai Africa Fund II, aiming to acquire 2 billion yen (about $18.3 million US) for investments. As for the ticket sizes, the fund invests a minimum cheque size of 5 million to 50 million yen (about $46,000 to $460,000 US) for startups in the seed to series A stage while targeted verticals are FinTech / InsureTech, logistics, MedTech / healthcare, retail and e-commerce, AgriTech, transport and mobility, and entertainment. Since the fund is called in that way, some of our readers may be wondering when its first fund was formed, but it seems to refer to Leapfrog Ventures, a seed-stage fund jointly launched in May of 2018 by Samurai Incubate and its former employee Takuma Terakubo. According to their corporate history, the firm rebranded Leapfrog Ventures into Samurai Incubate Africa back in June of 2019. As of June last year when…

From left: Hironari Kubo (Senior Manager / Fund Controller, Samurai Incubate), Rena Yoneyama (Senior Manager, Samurai Incubate / Managing Partner, Samurari Incubate Africa), Kentaro Sakakibara (CEO, Samurai Incubate / CEO, Samurai Incubate Africa), Nao Koike (Manager, Samurai Incubate), Yoshihiro Honma (Executive Officer, Corporate Group, Samurai Incubate)
Image credit: Samurai Incubate

Thursday, 6pm JST – Update: Minor correction applied into Yoneyama’s previous position, Samurai Africa Fund II’s targeted geographical markets, and my misunderstanding that the first fund’s investment capacity is still remaining.

Tokyo-based VC firm Samurai Incubate announced on Thursday that it has launched a new fund focused on starups in Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria. The fund is titled Samurai Africa Fund II, aiming to acquire 2 billion yen (about $18.3 million US) for investments. As for the ticket sizes, the fund invests a minimum cheque size of 5 million to 50 million yen (about $46,000 to $460,000 US) for startups in the seed to series A stage while targeted verticals are FinTech / InsureTech, logistics, MedTech / healthcare, retail and e-commerce, AgriTech, transport and mobility, and entertainment.

Since the fund is called in that way, some of our readers may be wondering when its first fund was formed, but it seems to refer to Leapfrog Ventures, a seed-stage fund jointly launched in May of 2018 by Samurai Incubate and its former employee Takuma Terakubo. According to their corporate history, the firm rebranded Leapfrog Ventures into Samurai Incubate Africa back in June of 2019.

As of June last year when the African investment vehicle was rebranded, we can confirm Terakubo was still serving the company as CEO at that time but Samurai Incubate CEO Kentaro Sakakibara has taken over the position by now. With all these facts, we can understand that the vehicle has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Samurai Incubate for their startup investments in Africa. According to reliable sources, Terakubo is currently preparing for his own new fund for African startups. We’ll keep you updated about his progress when it becomes available.

Rena Yoneyama, Managing Partner of Samurai Incubate Africa, will play a management role for the second fund. Prior to Samurai Incubate, she previously worked with the Development Bank of Japan and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation followed by serving Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Moroccan office as an assistant Project Formulation Manager and Tokyo-based Techfund as a director. Samurai Incubate Africa is commissioned by JICA to conduct research on promoting entrepreneurship and finding out the local startup ecosystem in Africa. The firm says the work doesn’t in any way imply in evaluating the fund.

The first fund has chosen Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa as the geographical region as their focus while Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania are removed and Nigeria is added for that of the second fund.

(The firm told Bridge that they are NOT intended to remove Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania from their targeted geographical markets.)

Seeing a remarkable growth, Nigeria boasts the largest market in the Sub-Saharan region. With this in mind, it seems that Samurai Incubate Africa has re-shuffled their targeting markets to put the limited resources into places with the potential largest output. At the time of launching the first fund, they said they were aiming to invest in about 80 startups. It has now become clear that they have invested in 18 companies in Africa, which is equivalent to about a quarter of the initial target.

The first fund was so far invested in the Senri sales optimization platform for manufacturing and distribution businesses in Africa, Kenya-based sales bot and SaaS startup Biashara, and Rwandan regional FinTech startup Exuus. The first fund appears to have investment capacity remaining, but it is still unclear whether the fund’s focused investment region will remain the same or will follow the second one.

(In addition to 500 million yen as the initial target size of Leapfrog Ventures, Samurai Africa Fund I incorporated 10% of Samurai Incubate Fund VI (3.45 billion yen) which was launched back in February last year. The first Africa fund has no further investment capacity remaining since it has completed investing. We can assume the ticket size per startup was larger than initially expected while the number of investees is less than a quarter of their initial target.)

In this area, there are some companies in Japan offering corporate advisory and startup support initiatives in Africa, such as Tokyo-based Double Feather Partners.

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