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.

Articles

Wakaze, bringing Japanese sake from Paris brewery, nabs $3M for Europe, US expansion

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese sake brewing startup Wakaze announced on Wednesday that it has secured 330 million yen (about $3 million US) in a series A round. Participating investors in this round are Jafco Group (TSE:8595), Nissay Capital, Makuake (TSE:4479), and Makoto Capital. This follows a pre-series A round in June 2019 (which we reported as a series A round at the time). For Makuake, one of Japan’s leading crowdfunding platform, this follows their second investment followed by their previous investment in Tokyo-based chocolate direct-to-consumer startup Bace earlier this year. Wakaze aims to bring the wave of craft sake and D2C to the world of sake. Prior to founding the company back in 2016, CEO Takuma Inagawa studied at the École Centrale Paris as a French government scholarship student and then worked as a business strategy consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. In addition to developing new sake brewing recipes in Tokyo and Japan’s eastern prefecture of Yamagata, the company established a sake brewery called Kura Grand Paris in Suburban Paris back in November of 2019 to offer locally brewed Japanese sake for the French market. Since its launch in France back in February of 2020, the…

Wakaze sake bottles
Image credit: Wakaze

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese sake brewing startup Wakaze announced on Wednesday that it has secured 330 million yen (about $3 million US) in a series A round. Participating investors in this round are Jafco Group (TSE:8595), Nissay Capital, Makuake (TSE:4479), and Makoto Capital. This follows a pre-series A round in June 2019 (which we reported as a series A round at the time). For Makuake, one of Japan’s leading crowdfunding platform, this follows their second investment followed by their previous investment in Tokyo-based chocolate direct-to-consumer startup Bace earlier this year.

Wakaze aims to bring the wave of craft sake and D2C to the world of sake. Prior to founding the company back in 2016, CEO Takuma Inagawa studied at the École Centrale Paris as a French government scholarship student and then worked as a business strategy consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. In addition to developing new sake brewing recipes in Tokyo and Japan’s eastern prefecture of Yamagata, the company established a sake brewery called Kura Grand Paris in Suburban Paris back in November of 2019 to offer locally brewed Japanese sake for the French market.

Wakaze CEO Takuma Inagawa
Image credit: Wakaze

Since its launch in France back in February of 2020, the sake brand had been distributed to 50 restaurants in the country but demand suddenly plummeted to almost zero due to the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, sales got back to growing steadily as they could rebrand their products to fit the demand for the direct-to-consumer model rather than offering through restaurants. The company has recently partnered with Nicolas, one of the largest wine store chain with 500 locations in France and 7 countries. The funding is expected to contribute to expanding production capacity to meet the increasing demand.

In an interview with Bridge, Inagawa told us how much French people loves the locally brewed Japanese sake brand,

In view of its local production for local consumption, Wakaze has succeeded to attract eco-conscious consumers at Nicolas. To meet the demand, we’ll increase our production capacity to about three times by fall. Our marketing strategy is working well, which grabs first-time customers with a variety of popular products and increases repeat customers with rare ones.

Sake brewing at Kura Grand Paris
Image credit: Wakaze

Going forward, Wakaze hopes to expand its sales and marketing area beyond France to the UK and Germany, as well as to the US where the company hopes to target early adopters and the Asian population on the West Coast. The company also plans to use the funds to strengthen hiring its human resources in both France and Japan, including sake brewers, marketers, customer support representatives, and business managers.

Among the investors in the latest round, Makoto Capital is focused on investing in startups and entrepreneurs from Japan’s northerneastern region of Tohoku. Headquartered there, Wakaze met Makoto Capital at the Sendai for Startups (SFS) startup event, which led to the latest funding. Makuake (then known as CyberAgent Crowdfunding) participated in SFS in 2017, and it is believed that Wakaze’s encounter with Makuake’s CEO Ryotaro Nakayama led to the subsequent launch of the crowdfunding campaign and the latest investment.

Japan’s Sagri secures $1.4M to roll out satellite-based solutions for farmers

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See the original story in Japanese. Sagri, the Japanese startup behind a satellite-based agricultural analytics platform under the same name, announced on Wednesday that it has secured 155 million yen (about $1.4 million US) in its latest round. This round is led by Real Tech Fund with participatioin from Minato Capital, Senshu Ikeda Capital, Hiroshima Venture Capital, and Hyogo Kobe Startup Fund (managed by Bonds Investment Group, Hyogo Prefecture, and Kobe City). This is the first investment for Hyogo Kobe Startup Fund. For Sagri, this follows their angel round securing funds from Hiroya Hanafusa (CEO of Alan Products) plus Glocalink back in January of 2019 and another round funding based on the J-KISS scheme back in April of 2010. The gap between their current capital amount and the size of the latest round allows us to estimate how much they have secured in the past rounds. The round stage is considered to be a seed round. Sagri gets soil conditions (corrosion content) using satellite data and updates on farm products and varieties from farmers to create a blockchain-powered database. Putting these altogether, the company tells farmers how to improve soil conditions from biological, chemical and physical viewpoints in addition to…

From left: CTO Takashi Tanaka, CEO Shunsuke Tsuboi, COO Shu Masuda, Real Tech Fund CEO Yukihiro Maru
Image credit: Sagri

See the original story in Japanese.

Sagri, the Japanese startup behind a satellite-based agricultural analytics platform under the same name, announced on Wednesday that it has secured 155 million yen (about $1.4 million US) in its latest round. This round is led by Real Tech Fund with participatioin from Minato Capital, Senshu Ikeda Capital, Hiroshima Venture Capital, and Hyogo Kobe Startup Fund (managed by Bonds Investment Group, Hyogo Prefecture, and Kobe City). This is the first investment for Hyogo Kobe Startup Fund.

For Sagri, this follows their angel round securing funds from Hiroya Hanafusa (CEO of Alan Products) plus Glocalink back in January of 2019 and another round funding based on the J-KISS scheme back in April of 2010. The gap between their current capital amount and the size of the latest round allows us to estimate how much they have secured in the past rounds. The round stage is considered to be a seed round.

CEO Tsuboi delivered a pitch at Demo Day of Rock Thailand 2nd batch in Bangkok in December of 2019.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Sagri gets soil conditions (corrosion content) using satellite data and updates on farm products and varieties from farmers to create a blockchain-powered database. Putting these altogether, the company tells farmers how to improve soil conditions from biological, chemical and physical viewpoints in addition to offering them with accurate measurement to help farmers get more harvest. They have also developed a scoring scheme evaluating farmland by soil conditions data and macro data of corrosion content.

Conventional methods measuring nitrogen in soil were expensive while the company has succeeded in lowering the cost using satellite data. Focused on what, rice and sugar cane, the technology can give farmers harvest prediction and advise them how much fertilizer they should use. By sending all these insights to financial institutions, the company encourages them give loans to local farmers in India while the Japanese government leverages the technology to determine the status of fallow fields to see if then can resume cultivation.

Actaba
Image credit: Sagri

Inspired on their own service rolled out in India, the company has the Actaba platform to help detect abandoned fields. In Japan, local government officials keep visiting and checking their area to find abandoned fields. However, based on the wavelength data obtained from satellites, Sagri’s AI-based technology has improved to determine whether the land is abandoned or not with over 90 percent accuracy, leading to more efficient work. More than 10 city governments all across the country, including Tsukuba, Kobe, Nagoya, and Kaga, are planning to start demonstration tests within this year.

Another pillar of Sagri’s business is the AI polygon to curate and manage accuurate plots of farmlands. In Japan, plots are manually drawn on the lanp map provided by the Agricultural Ministry but inaccurate map data may cause danger for applications such as aerial fertilizer spraying by autonomous drone flight. The company is planning to accelerate its farming business by plotting farmland in various regions in Japan, India, and Thailand. It will use satellite data to obtain data such as carbon, nitrogen content and pH in farmlands, aiming to help improve the efficiency of fertilization process.

Sagri were qualified for the MUFG Digital Accelerator 4th Batch and the 500 Kobe 3rd Batch followed by attending the 2nd batch of Rock Thailand, a cross-border open innovation event organized by the Embassy of Japan in Thailand and CP Group, one of the largest conglomerate in Thailand.

DeepTech hub launched in Okinawa, offering over $4M to startups from around the globe

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The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) and Beyond Next Ventures announced today that they have reached a partnership aiming to strengthen investments in and building an innovation ecosystem of DeepTech startups in Okinawa. Following the partnership, the two parties are launching the OIST-BNV Innovation Hub, or OBI-Hub for short. It aims to provide DeepTech startups from around the world with investment opportunities and other services to implement their innovations into society. OIST will provide technology, a network of industry experts, and on-campus incubation facilities, while BNV will provide funding and hands-on support for startups. Applications for joining the platform will be accepted online starting on June 1. OBI-Hub plans to invest up to 500 million yen ($4.6 million US) in qualified startups over the next two years. Founded back in 2016, BNV is a Tokyo-based VC firm focused on startups on life sciences and technology seeds. The firm runs the BRAVE acceleration program as well as the Beyond BioLAB TOKYO shared lab in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. OIST operates an on-campus accelerator and incubator called iSquare, also collaborating with the Okinawa Startup Program, a startup support program run by local enterprises in Okinawa. BNV joined the seed round of an…

The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST)
Image credit: OIST

The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) and Beyond Next Ventures announced today that they have reached a partnership aiming to strengthen investments in and building an innovation ecosystem of DeepTech startups in Okinawa. Following the partnership, the two parties are launching the OIST-BNV Innovation Hub, or OBI-Hub for short. It aims to provide DeepTech startups from around the world with investment opportunities and other services to implement their innovations into society.

OIST will provide technology, a network of industry experts, and on-campus incubation facilities, while BNV will provide funding and hands-on support for startups. Applications for joining the platform will be accepted online starting on June 1. OBI-Hub plans to invest up to 500 million yen ($4.6 million US) in qualified startups over the next two years.

Founded back in 2016, BNV is a Tokyo-based VC firm focused on startups on life sciences and technology seeds. The firm runs the BRAVE acceleration program as well as the Beyond BioLAB TOKYO shared lab in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. OIST operates an on-campus accelerator and incubator called iSquare, also collaborating with the Okinawa Startup Program, a startup support program run by local enterprises in Okinawa. BNV joined the seed round of an OIST startup EF Polymer last month.

HRTech startup SmartHR becomes Japan’s 6th unicorn after raising $110M+: Nikkei

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Nikkei reported on Friday Japanese HRTech startup SmartHR has secured about 12.5 billion yen (about $115 million US) in the latest series D round, which brought their valuation up to 170 billion yen ($1.6 billion US) and let them join the Unicorn Club. According to CB Insights, Japan has now five unicorns including Paidy joining the club earlier this year, and SmartHR will be the 6th unicorn for the country. Founded back in 2013 as Kufu, SmartHR automates procedures related to social insurance and unemployment insurance. It was developed to free up managers or human resources representatives from tiresome and time-consuming personnel management. According to the figures as far as we could add up the amounts of funding in the past, the company has apparently secured over $185 million US to date. See also: Japanese HRTech startup SmartHR secures $13M series B from Tokio Marine, Nissen Japan’s cloud-based personnel management tool SmartHR secures $5M from WiL, others Japan’s SmartHR, cloud-based personnel management platform, secures seed round

SmartHR Founder and CEO Shoji Miyata

Nikkei reported on Friday Japanese HRTech startup SmartHR has secured about 12.5 billion yen (about $115 million US) in the latest series D round, which brought their valuation up to 170 billion yen ($1.6 billion US) and let them join the Unicorn Club. According to CB Insights, Japan has now five unicorns including Paidy joining the club earlier this year, and SmartHR will be the 6th unicorn for the country.

Founded back in 2013 as Kufu, SmartHR automates procedures related to social insurance and unemployment insurance. It was developed to free up managers or human resources representatives from tiresome and time-consuming personnel management. According to the figures as far as we could add up the amounts of funding in the past, the company has apparently secured over $185 million US to date.

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One Capital’s first fund holds final close at $145M, invests in 8 startups

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Tokyo-based VC firm One Capital announced on Tuesday that it has reached the final close of its first fund at 16 billion yen (about $145 million US), more than three times oversubscribed from its original target 5 billion yen ($45.8 million US). According to Preqin, data resource for the alternative asset industry, the fund is the largest-ever single one managed by an independent firm in Japan. One Capital was established in April last year by Shinji Asada, the former head of Salesforce Ventures Japan, and Wataru Sakakura, former managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group. Asada and Sasakura serves the firm as CEO and COO, respectively. The firm says 70% of the fund’s amount would be targeted to enterprise software startups that can help realize the Future of Work”. In addition to the investors joining the fund by the time of the first close last year, the firm introducecd medical kit maker Hogi Medical, a medical kit maker, the Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, Japan (SME), En Japan (TSE:4849), Z venture capital (foremerly known as YJ Capital), and gas and power distribution company Saisan as new limited partners. Given that overseas individual and corporate investors…

Image credit: One Capital

Tokyo-based VC firm One Capital announced on Tuesday that it has reached the final close of its first fund at 16 billion yen (about $145 million US), more than three times oversubscribed from its original target 5 billion yen ($45.8 million US). According to Preqin, data resource for the alternative asset industry, the fund is the largest-ever single one managed by an independent firm in Japan.

One Capital was established in April last year by Shinji Asada, the former head of Salesforce Ventures Japan, and Wataru Sakakura, former managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group. Asada and Sasakura serves the firm as CEO and COO, respectively. The firm says 70% of the fund’s amount would be targeted to enterprise software startups that can help realize the Future of Work”.

In addition to the investors joining the fund by the time of the first close last year, the firm introducecd medical kit maker Hogi Medical, a medical kit maker, the Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, Japan (SME), En Japan (TSE:4849), Z venture capital (foremerly known as YJ Capital), and gas and power distribution company Saisan as new limited partners. Given that overseas individual and corporate investors account for over 40% of the fund’s investors, Asada told Bridge that it indicates overseas investors’ unparalleled expectations for the Japanese market.

Image credit: One Capital

One of One Capital’s symbolic investment policies is to focus on the SaaS vertical. Bessember Venture Partners, a long-established VC firm in the US known for having helped over 120 companies IPO, create an index from the stock prices of NASDAQ-listed SaaS companies and publishes it as EMCLOUD. Inspired by this, One Capital also started sharing an index based on the stock prices of listed SaaS companies in Japan, which clearly shows them growing more steadily than other stocks categorized in Nikkei 225 or Mothers.

Of the $10 billion enterprise software market in Japan (according to IDC Japan’s “Domestic Enterprise IT Market Forecast”, May 2020), SaaS businesses account for only 6%, at $5.5 billion (according to Fuji Chimera Research Institute’s “Software Business New Market 2020 Edition”). Rather than conventional packaged software, more and more companies prefer to use SaaS platforms where functions are constantly improved even after installation, and the Japanese market, with its large growth potential, is attractive to foreign investors, Asada says.

One Capital has has invested in the following eight companies from the first fund so far:

  • Beatrust (Employee Search Engine)
  • Boulder (Employee Success Tool)
  • Tonari (life-size video conferencing system)
  • ROXX (Reference Checking Tool)
  • oVice (Virtual Office)
  • Nota (FAQ system)
  • Spir(Calendly-like appointment scheduling tool)
  • Oura (ring-shaped IoT healthcare device)

The last of these, Oura, is unique in the list because it is a Finnish and also IoT startup. It can be also seen as a SaaS startup in terms of offering a dashboard to collect and analyze data from IoT devices. Furethermore, since it allocates a certain percentage of its first fund to investing in overseas startups aiming to enter the Japanese market, which encouraged the firm to join the Series C round of Oura.

Japan’s Brazil Venture Capital announces first close of $9M second fund

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In 2020, startup investment in Brazil reached US$3.5 billion, up 30% from the previous year, while the number of unicorns in 2020 increased by 3 to 14. Meanwhile, that in Japan reached US$4.32 billion, and the number of unicorns increased by Spider alone to 7 during the same period. This indicates that Brazil has produced unicorns at about twice the rate of Japan so far and last year despite having experienced one of the worst pandemic situation in the world. Mitsuru Nakayama, founder and CEO of Brazil Venture Capital (BVC) has been forced to stay inside Japan due to the pandemic but been busy to remotely support startups which are typically located on the other sdide of the planet. Thanks to the efforts of newly joined partners and associates in Brazil and Peru, the firm’s investment activities are keeping going well. BVC announced its second fund with a targeted final size of 1 billion yen in December, and has reached its first close and disclosed the names of their investors and two invested startups. Most of the fund’s investors are angels in Japan as follows (except for those who don’t want to be named): Shintaro Okuno — Managing Partner and…

BVC’s Mitsuru Nakayama
Image credit: BVC

In 2020, startup investment in Brazil reached US$3.5 billion, up 30% from the previous year, while the number of unicorns in 2020 increased by 3 to 14. Meanwhile, that in Japan reached US$4.32 billion, and the number of unicorns increased by Spider alone to 7 during the same period. This indicates that Brazil has produced unicorns at about twice the rate of Japan so far and last year despite having experienced one of the worst pandemic situation in the world.

Mitsuru Nakayama, founder and CEO of Brazil Venture Capital (BVC) has been forced to stay inside Japan due to the pandemic but been busy to remotely support startups which are typically located on the other sdide of the planet. Thanks to the efforts of newly joined partners and associates in Brazil and Peru, the firm’s investment activities are keeping going well. BVC announced its second fund with a targeted final size of 1 billion yen in December, and has reached its first close and disclosed the names of their investors and two invested startups.

Most of the fund’s investors are angels in Japan as follows (except for those who don’t want to be named):

  • Shintaro Okuno — Managing Partner and Head of Tokyo, Bain & Company
  • Haruo Amano — Executive Vice President, Hennge
  • Soki Ohmae — Co-Founder and Representative Partner, Drone Fund
  • Ken Soga — President, SGcapital
  • Shota Kawaminami — Executive Officer, HENNGE
  • Tatsuya Matsuoka — President, Japan Medical Support Institute
  • Nobuaki Takahashi — Founder, Phil Company / PHALs

Second Fund’s portfolio 1: Digital Restaurants sees a spree.

Image credit: Digital Restaurants

In late April, Europe-based Taster announced it has secured 27 million euros. The startup wants to call themselves a digital restaurant brand rather than a ghost restaurant or a cloud kitchen operator because they dare not just providing cooking resources behind third-party brands but trying to build new brands themselves. The sales in Paris of Europe’s leading food delivery operator Deliveroo recently showed a consolidation of Taster brands was ranked in third place following McDonald’s and Burger King.

Pedro Neira Ferrand, a four-time serial entrepreneur from Peru, launched Digital Restaurants. Approved to join renowned entrepreneur support networks like Endeavor and Founders Network, he had been running a Latin America-focused dating app called MiMediaManzana (already shut down) prior to the current startup.

Digital Restaurants has partnered with MCK Hospitality, an operator behind the Japanese-Peruvian restaurant chain Osaka being operated in major Latin American cities, and is now operating several digital restaurant brands like Lucky’s Crispy Chicken, Poke for the People and Black Burger. Currently, the company is only serving Peru but it may be easier for them to expand into other markets in South America where MCK has been running their operations.

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Second Fund’s portfolio 2: Mono is an Colombian answer to neobank.

Image credit: Mono

In our previous interview with Nakayama, he said that many local people are experiencing fewer access to financial services in Latin America while financial infrastructure is in place. If any startup can use the infrastructure to provide innovative services which are too cumbersome for conventional banksto provide, it could be a huge market out there. One example is ContaSimples, an investee from BVC’s first fund. The Brazilian startup currently serves 13,000 customers, planning to triple it by the end of the year. In late last year, they secured a US$2.5 million funding led by Brazil’s FinTech-focused VC firm Quartz.

We can guess that Mono is a Colombian answer to ContaSimples. It’s seeing a high growth by issuing credit cards to entrepreneurs and sole proprietors with no credit history but high demand for card payments in their business. All four of Mono’s founders have previously worked at fintech startups, including the two who has been selected in a Y Combinator-qualified startup (tpaga, selected for the YC S17 batch).

A growing number of startups from the fintech industry are joining the unicorn club in Latin America, including local neobanks like Brazil’s Nubank and Argentina’s Uala we well as payments startups like Uruguay’s dLocal and Mexico’s Clip. What is more, many of these unicorns have common in terms of having got SoftBank Vision Fund as an investor. SoftBank tends to invest in the middle or later stage, it is interesting to note that BVC is able to reach out to potential unicorns in the early stage.


BVC has also informally agreed with four Brazilian startups to invest in them from its second fund shortly. The first fund, launched in August 2016, has invested in 12 companies so far, and Nakayama told us that they would see some exits from that portfolio pretty soon. The first fund’s portfolio includes bxblue (automated payroll loans), ContaSimples, ARPAC (drone technology for efficient pesticide spraying).

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Dentsu launches second $91M startup-focused fund

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Dentsu Group (TSE:4324) has recently launched Dentsu Ventures Fund II, the second fund worth 10 billion yen (about $91 million) by its corporate venture capital arm Dentsu Ventures. Combining with the Fund I launched back in April of 2015, they now have 20 billion yen (about $184 million) cash for startup investments. According to the arm’s Managing Partner Kotaro Sasamoto, the second fund will be focused on investing in both Japanese and foreign startups with exploring potential synergy while the first fund was more focused on investing in mid- and later-stage foreign startups planning to enter the Japanese market. From its first fund, Dentsu Ventures had invested in about 40 startups, mainly in the US, and been targeting mid- and later-stage startups in the bioscience and healthcare industries which are less likely to work with Dentsu’s primary business. Their remarkable investees from the first fund include Nextbit (the developer of the Robin cloud-optimized smartphone, acquired by Razer), Cheddar (a video news service for millennials, acquired by Altice USA), and Twist Bioscience (DNA synthesis startup, IPOed). Sasamoto says, From our first fund, more than 30 out of 40 invested startups are from the overseas, with an eye on potential synergy with…

The Dentsu Ventures team
Image credit: Dentsu Ventures

Dentsu Group (TSE:4324) has recently launched Dentsu Ventures Fund II, the second fund worth 10 billion yen (about $91 million) by its corporate venture capital arm Dentsu Ventures. Combining with the Fund I launched back in April of 2015, they now have 20 billion yen (about $184 million) cash for startup investments. According to the arm’s Managing Partner Kotaro Sasamoto, the second fund will be focused on investing in both Japanese and foreign startups with exploring potential synergy while the first fund was more focused on investing in mid- and later-stage foreign startups planning to enter the Japanese market.

From its first fund, Dentsu Ventures had invested in about 40 startups, mainly in the US, and been targeting mid- and later-stage startups in the bioscience and healthcare industries which are less likely to work with Dentsu’s primary business. Their remarkable investees from the first fund include Nextbit (the developer of the Robin cloud-optimized smartphone, acquired by Razer), Cheddar (a video news service for millennials, acquired by Altice USA), and Twist Bioscience (DNA synthesis startup, IPOed).

Sasamoto says,

From our first fund, more than 30 out of 40 invested startups are from the overseas, with an eye on potential synergy with Dentsu’s future business domain in 5 to 10 years from now. We had invested in very few Japanese startups such as Alp (developing the Scalebase platform helping subscription businesses maximize revenue) and Kakehashi (SaaS for pharmacists).

From the second fund, we would like to more work with Japanese startups in collaboration with Dentsu Innovation Initiative (DII), especially focused on investing in the areas a little bit closer to our core business such as MarTech, SalesTech, retail, commerce, media, and community. We expect to co-create new business with them.

Dentsu Ventures’ portfolio
Image credit: Dentsu Ventures

DII is Dentsu’s R&D arm with the mission of “creating the future businesses that only Dentsu can create”, promoting investment in and business development with promising global startups and technology companies with an aim to create the business infrastructure for the future. It has recently been offering internships with business development in mind. Dentsu Ventures intends to strengthen its investment efforts with an eye to have startups co-create not only with the Dentsu Group and its affiliated companies but also with their clients.

Compared to the first fund, the COVID-19 pandemic has apparently influenced to changing the policy of the second fund because it is no longer possible for investors to hop around foreign destinations for sourcing startups and their due diligence. On the other hand, six years have been passed since the launch of Dentsu Ventures, they are getting better recognized in the startup landscape, which may be partly due to the fact that it is now more likely to be able to lead or co-lead investment deals in the seed stage, both in Japan and overseas.

UTokyo-backed fund sizes up to $220M+, works with other univs to help more startups

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UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC), a VC firm backed by the University of Tokyo, has agreed with the University of Tsukuba, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, and Tokyo Institute of Technology to operate together the firm-led entrepreneurship support program called 1st Round. This means four national universities in the Tokyo metropolitan area join forces in sourcing more budding startup teams to help nurture and fund. The 1st Round program was originally launched in 2017 and then rebranded as the current name in 2019. Inspired by Stanford University-backed StartX, the program helps graduates, faculty members, and students who are looking to start their own businesses, as well as university-related seed startups that have not yet raised funds, with up to 10 million yen (about $100,000 US) in funding and hands-on support for six months. Selected startups will receive a variety of resource support for PoC (proof of concept), collaboration, and commercialization from the program’s partners. Fuyo General Lease, JR East Japan Startup, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, PCA, Mitsui Fudosan, Nippon Life Insurance, Toyota Motor, Yamato Holdings, and Yaskawa Electric are joining the latest batch, the fifth of its kind, as partners. The program has turned out 34 startups to…

The UTokyo IPC team
Image credit: UTokyo IPC

UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC), a VC firm backed by the University of Tokyo, has agreed with the University of Tsukuba, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, and Tokyo Institute of Technology to operate together the firm-led entrepreneurship support program called 1st Round. This means four national universities in the Tokyo metropolitan area join forces in sourcing more budding startup teams to help nurture and fund.

The 1st Round program was originally launched in 2017 and then rebranded as the current name in 2019. Inspired by Stanford University-backed StartX, the program helps graduates, faculty members, and students who are looking to start their own businesses, as well as university-related seed startups that have not yet raised funds, with up to 10 million yen (about $100,000 US) in funding and hands-on support for six months.

Selected startups will receive a variety of resource support for PoC (proof of concept), collaboration, and commercialization from the program’s partners. Fuyo General Lease, JR East Japan Startup, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, PCA, Mitsui Fudosan, Nippon Life Insurance, Toyota Motor, Yamato Holdings, and Yaskawa Electric are joining the latest batch, the fifth of its kind, as partners.

The program has turned out 34 startups to date. Among the alumni, our readers may recall interesting startups which have secured funds from UTokyo IPC, such as HarvestX (from the 3rd round, developing automated pollination and harvesting of strawberries), ARAV (from the 3rd round), developing remote control and autonomous drive of construction machinery), as well as Sonus (from the 4th round, developing the power-saving multi-hop wireless network technology). 90% of the teams graduated from the program have successfully secured VC funding.

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UTokyo IPC revealed that it has significantly enlarge the size of the firm’s AOI Fund (named after Accelerating Open Innovation) which was introduced announced last May. Worth 2.75 billion yen (about $25 million) at the time, it has now grown up to 24 billion yen (about $219 million). In addition to conventional investors like Mitsubishi UFJ Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, SBI Group, Daikin Industries, Development Bank of Japan Group, Hakuhodo, Fuyo General Lease, and Mitsubishi Estate have newly invested in the fund as limited partners.

The disclosed six startups which have secured investments from the AOI fund are:

  • Fimecs …… research and development of novel drugs based on proteolysis induction (carve-out from Takeda Pharmaceutical)
  • Onedot …… operating the Chinese childcare media Babily and helping Japanese e-commerce companies make digital strategies and marketing efforts for the Chinese market (carve-out from Unicharm and BCG Digital Ventures)
  • Bird Initiative …… Offering consulting services for solving company issues through digital transformation as well as prototyping services for expanding R&D functions (joint venture with NEC and others)
  • UrbanX Technologies …… building a real-time Digital Twin for road inspections and urban infrastructure management
  • HarvestX …… developing automated pollination and harvesting of strawberries
  • ARAV …… developing remote control and autonomous drive of construction machinery

UTokyo IPC plans to more actively invest in startups from these universities. As the fund has become larger, it is now able to handle ticket sizes ranging from a seed investment worth tens of millions of yen to a large-scale one worth more than 2 billion yen, according to the firm.

Infinity Ventures, e.ventures, rebranded to Headline

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Three VC firms from around the globe – Asia-focused Infinity Ventures, US- and Europe-focused e.ventures, and Brazil-based Redpoint e.ventures – announced its integrated rebranding to Headline, aiming to increase their global recognition. Their offices are located in Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo, San Francisco, Berlin, Paris, and Sao Paulo. Over 10 years, the three VC firms have jointly worked together and invested in startups like Groupon Japan, Farfetch’s Japan business as well as China’s largest QR code aggregator, Yeahka (IPOed in Hong Kong in 2019). In a statement, Akio Tanaka, the founding partner of Infinity Ventures and the partner of Headline, said, The world is becoming more connected, ideas from one part of the world to another travel much, much faster today. There is no such thing as purely regional deals anymore. Every regional deal in the future will have an international angle. For VCs to find winners early, and opportunities that scale, you need international intelligence. That’s what we have had so far working with Redpoint and e.ventures, and that’s what we’re betting on further with Headline. During IVS 2021 Spring in March, a spin-off startup conference from Infinity Ventures, a video clip shown in the last moment suggested that Infinity…

Three VC firms from around the globe – Asia-focused Infinity Ventures, US- and Europe-focused e.ventures, and Brazil-based Redpoint e.ventures – announced its integrated rebranding to Headline, aiming to increase their global recognition. Their offices are located in Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo, San Francisco, Berlin, Paris, and Sao Paulo.

Over 10 years, the three VC firms have jointly worked together and invested in startups like Groupon Japan, Farfetch’s Japan business as well as China’s largest QR code aggregator, Yeahka (IPOed in Hong Kong in 2019).

In a statement, Akio Tanaka, the founding partner of Infinity Ventures and the partner of Headline, said,

The world is becoming more connected, ideas from one part of the world to another travel much, much faster today. There is no such thing as purely regional deals anymore.

Every regional deal in the future will have an international angle. For VCs to find winners early, and opportunities that scale, you need international intelligence. That’s what we have had so far working with Redpoint and e.ventures, and that’s what we’re betting on further with Headline.

During IVS 2021 Spring in March, a spin-off startup conference from Infinity Ventures, a video clip shown in the last moment suggested that Infinity Ventures would be rebranded soon. Infinity Ventures has managed US$300 million and has invested in over 100 startups, resulting in nine IPOs to date.

According to Headline’s website, Akihiko Okamoto, who has served as the executive officer in charge of R&D at Recruit Holdings as well as the executive vice president and head of strategic investment at MUFG Innovation Partners, has been appointed as a partner of Headline. Prior to it, he was appointed as the co-head of WEIN Financial Group in November.

Studist nabs $17M from Pavilion Capital and others to boost Asia expansion

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Studist, the Japanese startup behind the TeachMe Biz visual workflow management platform and the Hansoku Cloud sales promotion PDCA management platform, announced today that it has secured 1.85 billion yen (about $17.1 million US) in the latest round. In addition to existing investors such as DNX Ventures, Nippon Venture Capital, and Salesforce Ventures, participating investors in this round are 31 Ventures-Global Brain Growth I (jointly run by Mitsui Fudosan and Global Brain), Pavilion Capital (a private equity fund by Singaporean Government-backed Temasek Holdings), and Hakuhodo DY Ventures. For Studist, this round follows their series C round back in April of 2019. The company has not disclosed the round stage but this is its fifth round securing funds from external investors. It brought the total sum of funding up to about $29.6 million US. According to the Initial startup database, the company’s post series C round (previous round) valuation is estimated about $63.4 million US. TeachMe Biz is widely used in the manufacturing, retail, and restaurant industries. The platform has served more than 318,000 accounts and saved over 520,000 SOPs (standard operation procedures) as of March of this year. In November of last year,…

Studist CEO Satoshi Suzuki
Image credit: Studist

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Studist, the Japanese startup behind the TeachMe Biz visual workflow management platform and the Hansoku Cloud sales promotion PDCA management platform, announced today that it has secured 1.85 billion yen (about $17.1 million US) in the latest round.

In addition to existing investors such as DNX Ventures, Nippon Venture Capital, and Salesforce Ventures, participating investors in this round are 31 Ventures-Global Brain Growth I (jointly run by Mitsui Fudosan and Global Brain), Pavilion Capital (a private equity fund by Singaporean Government-backed Temasek Holdings), and Hakuhodo DY Ventures.

For Studist, this round follows their series C round back in April of 2019. The company has not disclosed the round stage but this is its fifth round securing funds from external investors. It brought the total sum of funding up to about $29.6 million US. According to the Initial startup database, the company’s post series C round (previous round) valuation is estimated about $63.4 million US.

TeachMe Biz is widely used in the manufacturing, retail, and restaurant industries. The platform has served more than 318,000 accounts and saved over 520,000 SOPs (standard operation procedures) as of March of this year.

In November of last year, the company launched Hansoku Cloud as a new product line. The platform enables chain retailers, such as small supermarkets and drugstores, to put all instructions from their headquarters to stores in a place. It can reduce the burden on store clerks and encourages them to display new products as the instructions are given in an easy-to-understand manner that does not rely on text alone.

Studist has been focused on the SaaS business, but will strengthen its consulting service for better introducing TeachMe Biz, which has been offered on a testing basis to a total of 12 big companies since August last year. Generally speaking, consulting business is often labor-intensive, but the Studist’s one may rather help bring more users to the SaaS platform.

With Mitsui Fudosan, one of the new investors, Studist intends to introduce the TeachMe Biz platform to Mitsui’s subsidiaries and tenants in their office buildings and shopping malls to help them improve their productivity.

Meanwhile, Studist has been expanding into Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand where about 70 companies are using the TeachMe Biz platform. Having Pavilion Capital onboard, Studist may be more likely to reach potential customers in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.

Based on the Hansoku Cloud platform, Studist plans to launch a new service for brands this summer. Details have not been disclosed but it may be something allowing brands to introduce their new products directly to retailers and use the storefront as a marketing tool. Hakuhodo, another investor in the round, has a creative department with strong ties with these brands.