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

Asia-focused fintech startup Opn becomes Japan’s 5th unicorn after $120M funding

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Tokyo- and Bangkok-based fintech startup Opn (formerly Omise, formerly Synqa) announced on Monday that it has secured $120 million US in a Series C+ round. Reuters reported that this round made the company become Japan’s 5th unicorn. A unicorn refers to a startup with a value of over $1 billion. Investors in the latest round are JIC Venture Growth Investments, Mitsubishi UFJ Bank, and Mars Growth Capital (jointly operated by Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Israel-based fintech company Liquidity Capital). The startup was founded in 2013 by CEO Jun Hasegawa and COO Ezra Don Harinsut. Among disclosed funding updates, their previous round was made in June 2020 and secured $80 million from several Toyota Motor-affiliated companies and SCB 1OX, the startup investment arm of Siam Commercial Bank in Thailand. Opn’s clients include Toyota Motor and Thai duty-free giant King Power. The company claims that it serves more than 7,000 merchants, mainly in Japan and Southeast Asia, including McDonald’s and Toyota Motor. See also: Omise secures series B++ round funding from Global Brain, Mitsui Fudosan, SMDV Omise, Global Brain to build global network of co-working spaces for blockchain startups Japan’s Global Brain establishing fund to invest in blockchain tech, jointly with…

Opn founders: CEO Jun Hasegawa on right, COO Ezra Don Harinsut on left
Image credit: Opn

Tokyo- and Bangkok-based fintech startup Opn (formerly Omise, formerly Synqa) announced on Monday that it has secured $120 million US in a Series C+ round. Reuters reported that this round made the company become Japan’s 5th unicorn. A unicorn refers to a startup with a value of over $1 billion.

Investors in the latest round are JIC Venture Growth Investments, Mitsubishi UFJ Bank, and Mars Growth Capital (jointly operated by Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Israel-based fintech company Liquidity Capital).

The startup was founded in 2013 by CEO Jun Hasegawa and COO Ezra Don Harinsut. Among disclosed funding updates, their previous round was made in June 2020 and secured $80 million from several Toyota Motor-affiliated companies and SCB 1OX, the startup investment arm of Siam Commercial Bank in Thailand.

Opn’s clients include Toyota Motor and Thai duty-free giant King Power. The company claims that it serves more than 7,000 merchants, mainly in Japan and Southeast Asia, including McDonald’s and Toyota Motor.

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Japanese startup studio and consulting firm Ignition Point acquired by Dentsu

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-headquartered Ignition Point, offering digital transformation support for enterprises as well as startup studio functions, has been acquired by Dentsu Group (TSE: 4324). The firm will become a consolidated subsidiary of the ad giant. Financial terms for the acquisition has not yet been disclosed. Upon the acquisition, Ignition Point will soon begin collaborating with Dentsu Japan Network, the Japanese business operating company of the ad conglomerate, strengthening its business in the areas of business transformation (BX) and digital transformation (DX). Ignition Point was established in 2014 by Kazuhiro Aoyagi, a former Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting employee. After the acquisition, Aoyagi stepped down as president while Takafumi Suemune, former executive vice president and COO, became the new president. See also: DANX wants to roll out ‘pop-up’ and on-demand diners across Japan using food trucks Japan’s Pontely gives free DNA test for pet shop dogs, prevents future abandons, culls

Photograph by Dick Thomas Johnson
Used under the CC BY 2.0 license.

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-headquartered Ignition Point, offering digital transformation support for enterprises as well as startup studio functions, has been acquired by Dentsu Group (TSE: 4324). The firm will become a consolidated subsidiary of the ad giant. Financial terms for the acquisition has not yet been disclosed.

Upon the acquisition, Ignition Point will soon begin collaborating with Dentsu Japan Network, the Japanese business operating company of the ad conglomerate, strengthening its business in the areas of business transformation (BX) and digital transformation (DX).

Ignition Point was established in 2014 by Kazuhiro Aoyagi, a former Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting employee. After the acquisition, Aoyagi stepped down as president while Takafumi Suemune, former executive vice president and COO, became the new president.

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Minto secures $5M+; partners with Kakao Piccoma to boost web3, webtoon businesses

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Our readers may recall that Japanese sticker character production Quan has merged with cartoonist agency Wwwaap to launch a new company called Minto. We reported that this merger will allow Quan to distribute Wwwaap’s creators’ works and third-party content through Quan’s vast region-wide network in Asia while Wwwaap will be able to expand its sales channels. In addition to their own characters, Quon will be able to play a trader role in the distribution of third-party content. We wrote that the wave of webtoons originating in Korea had spread to the Japanese market, and that Kakao Japan (rebranded into Kakao Piccoma in November of 2021), the company behind the Piccoma digital comics platform, has surpassed 800 billion yen valuation (over $6 billion US) based on the success seizing that trend. It wasn’t clear whether Kakao Piccoma was a competitor or a friend for Minto as of that writing, but now it appears that the two companies have decided to join forces. Minto annoounced today that it has raised secured 660 million yen (over $500 million US) from Kakao Piccoma in addition to existing investors like Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Capital, Mizuho Capital, and OLM Ventures (the investment arm of Imagica Group)….

Piccoma mobile comic app, Minto Characters
Image credit: Kakao Piccoma, Minto

Our readers may recall that Japanese sticker character production Quan has merged with cartoonist agency Wwwaap to launch a new company called Minto. We reported that this merger will allow Quan to distribute Wwwaap’s creators’ works and third-party content through Quan’s vast region-wide network in Asia while Wwwaap will be able to expand its sales channels. In addition to their own characters, Quon will be able to play a trader role in the distribution of third-party content.

We wrote that the wave of webtoons originating in Korea had spread to the Japanese market, and that Kakao Japan (rebranded into Kakao Piccoma in November of 2021), the company behind the Piccoma digital comics platform, has surpassed 800 billion yen valuation (over $6 billion US) based on the success seizing that trend. It wasn’t clear whether Kakao Piccoma was a competitor or a friend for Minto as of that writing, but now it appears that the two companies have decided to join forces.

Minto annoounced today that it has raised secured 660 million yen (over $500 million US) from Kakao Piccoma in addition to existing investors like Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Capital, Mizuho Capital, and OLM Ventures (the investment arm of Imagica Group). This follows Minto’s previous round (probably a Series B round) back in February of 2010, and brought their funding sum up to date to 1.46 billion yen ($11.2 million US).

When Minto was born after the acquisition, some readers may have sensed the possibility that the company would expand into the Web3 business from their new brand. In February, the company appointed Minoru Yanai, who has been involved in several Web3 businesses, as a business development manager. For Minto, the funding will allow them to more closely work with Kakao Piccoma not only in webtoon but also many Web3 business development because the latter’s parent company has more than a few web3 subsidiaries in Korea such as Meta Bora (developing Web3 protocol Bora) and Ground X (developing the Klaytn blockchain).

Minto started collaborating with Kakao Piccoma five years ago to distribute Minto’s stickers on the KakaoTalk messaging app, which later led to the great success of Minto’s characters in Korea. Minto has also begun co-producing webtoons with Kakao Piccoma. Also, in advertising and marketing using webtoons, Minto’s former wwwaap team’s ability to use comics for social networking marketing will be well served.

Minto has been selling original NFTs, collaborating with the company’s CryptoCrystal NFT project, and exhibiting NFTs created from the company’s creator network on the Sandbox metaverse platform since last year. In April, the company also started selling NFTs featuring their original characters as well as other content from popular creators on the LINE NFT marketplace.

In this particular space, some of our readers may recall Tokyo-based Rocket Staff, acquired by anime retail giant Animate last year, has been developing webtoon businesses in the Japanese market.

Japan’s virtual YouTuber management agency Anycolor files for IPO

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Tokyo-based Anycolor, the Japanese startup behind the VTubers (short for “Virtual YouTubers”) group Nijisanji, announced on Thursday that its IPO application to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange had been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Growth Market on June 8 with plans to offer 30,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 174,600 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 1,114,000 shares. The underwriting will be led by Daiwa Securities and Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities while Anycolor’s ticker code will be 5032. Based on the company’s estimated issue price is 1,490 yen (about $11.5) per share, its market cap is approximately 44.6 billion yen (about $344 million). Its share price range will be released on May 23 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on May 24 and pricing on May 30. The final public offering price will be determined on May 31. According to its consolidated statement as of April of 2021, the company posted revenue of 7.63 billion yen ($58.5 million) with an ordinary profit of 1.45 billion yen ($11.2 million). Anycolor was founded in 2017 by CEO Riku Tazumi under its previous name of Ichikara. After participating in a long-term internship at Tokyo-based…

Image credit: Anycolor

Tokyo-based Anycolor, the Japanese startup behind the VTubers (short for “Virtual YouTubers”) group Nijisanji, announced on Thursday that its IPO application to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange had been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Growth Market on June 8 with plans to offer 30,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 174,600 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 1,114,000 shares. The underwriting will be led by Daiwa Securities and Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities while Anycolor’s ticker code will be 5032.

Based on the company’s estimated issue price is 1,490 yen (about $11.5) per share, its market cap is approximately 44.6 billion yen (about $344 million). Its share price range will be released on May 23 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on May 24 and pricing on May 30. The final public offering price will be determined on May 31. According to its consolidated statement as of April of 2021, the company posted revenue of 7.63 billion yen ($58.5 million) with an ordinary profit of 1.45 billion yen ($11.2 million).

Anycolor was founded in 2017 by CEO Riku Tazumi under its previous name of Ichikara. After participating in a long-term internship at Tokyo-based web solution provider GaiaX, he took a leave of absence of Waseda University to launch the company. Subsequently he launched Nijisanji in 2018 followed by rebranding the company into Anycolor in May of 2021.

According to Japanese web access analysis startup UserLocal, the Nijisanji group is comprised of over 110 VTubers who are followed by 39 million subscribing viewers on their YouTube channels. Anycolor’s expanded support for the VTubers has improved the quality of their video clips, which contributed to increasing viewing time and subscribing viewers on YouTube, eventually the revenue from live streaming. The company is also focused on merchandising fan goods as well as receiving orders for influencer marketing campaigns from companies.

Led by CEO Tazumi (43.11%), the company’s major shareholders include LC Fund (a fund of China’s Legend Capital, 10.29%), HODE HK (Hong Kong-based subsidiary of Chinese video giant Bilibili, 7.34%), Skyland Ventures (6.91%), Sony Music Entertainment (5.14%), Ken Honda (Founder of Freakout Holdings, 4.61%), Shinya Tsurui (Anycolor’s CFO, 3.00%), and Influencer Investment Holdings (subsidiary of Adways, 3.50%).

Japan’s Manabie raises $12M in series A round to build “ERP for schools”

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Japanese startup Manabie has been developing a digital transformation platform for teaching and administration tasks at educational institutions. The company announced on Wednesday that it has secured about 1.5 billion yen (about $12 million US) from Globis Capital Partners (GCP), Chiba Dojo Fund, and Genesia Ventures in a Series A round. This follows angel and seed rounds (raising $4.8 million in total) announced in April of 2020 and an extended seed round ($3 million) in March of 2021. The latest round brought the company’s funding sum up to date to about 2.2 billion yen (about $17 million). Manabie was founded in January 2020 by Takuya Homma (now CEO of Manabie), who previously founded UK startup Quipper, which was acquired by Recruit for 4.8 billion yen (about $39 million) in 2015, and had been involved in operating Recruit’s “Study Suppli” app in Japan through the PMI (Post-merger Integration) process. Manabie is focused on digitalizing educational institutions in contrast to Quipper which had been helping people gain access to education. Honma told us that there’s no major differences in teaching and school operations between countries or regions. While Quipper had been operating in Asian countries, Manabie is currently being used predominantly in…

Image credit: Manabie

Japanese startup Manabie has been developing a digital transformation platform for teaching and administration tasks at educational institutions. The company announced on Wednesday that it has secured about 1.5 billion yen (about $12 million US) from Globis Capital Partners (GCP), Chiba Dojo Fund, and Genesia Ventures in a Series A round.

This follows angel and seed rounds (raising $4.8 million in total) announced in April of 2020 and an extended seed round ($3 million) in March of 2021. The latest round brought the company’s funding sum up to date to about 2.2 billion yen (about $17 million).

Manabie was founded in January 2020 by Takuya Homma (now CEO of Manabie), who previously founded UK startup Quipper, which was acquired by Recruit for 4.8 billion yen (about $39 million) in 2015, and had been involved in operating Recruit’s “Study Suppli” app in Japan through the PMI (Post-merger Integration) process. Manabie is focused on digitalizing educational institutions in contrast to Quipper which had been helping people gain access to education.

Image credit: Manabie

Honma told us that there’s no major differences in teaching and school operations between countries or regions. While Quipper had been operating in Asian countries, Manabie is currently being used predominantly in Japan, in addition to Asia. In Japan, the government’s GIGA School Initiative has helped bring the digitalization to compulsory education schools to some extent, but there are still challenges for higher education and private cram schools, according to the company.

The Manabie system can be called ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system for educational institutions. More than 100 engineers in eight countries are engaged in the development. Honma expects to use the funds from the latest round to expand the engineering team to about twice as many. The COVID-19 pandemic pushes forward SaaS adoption in the education space, and the company intends to leverage this momentum for further growth.

AI Communis closes angel round, helps YouTubers reach different language audience

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Singapore-based AI Communis, the startup behind the platform integrating speech recognition and natural language processing technologies, announced on Monday that it has raised $300,000 US in an extended angel round. Participating investors are Tokyo-based VC The Seed, Chinese and Taiwanese multi-channel networks (agents managing influencers), Japanese angel investors who are familiar with YouTube-related businesses in addition to existing investors. This follows the 1st close of the company’s angel round back in September of 2021 when they secured $500,000 US. Keep raising funds, they expect to secure a seed round by the end of 2022. AI Communis was founded in April of 2020 by Nobuhiko Suzuki, who has been dealing with the business of translating, adding subtitles, and editing video clips. These multilingulization processes, especially needed for global marketing, had been handled manually for a long time, but the significantly improved accuracy of automation tools such as Amazon Transcribe, DeepL, Google Translate has recently made it possible to be mostly automated. The company launched a web app called Auris last year, which allows users to handle a series of tasks such as translation, subtitling, and video editing in a cloud environment. Leveraging the app, the company plans to launch a new…

Auris
Image credit: AI Communis

Singapore-based AI Communis, the startup behind the platform integrating speech recognition and natural language processing technologies, announced on Monday that it has raised $300,000 US in an extended angel round. Participating investors are Tokyo-based VC The Seed, Chinese and Taiwanese multi-channel networks (agents managing influencers), Japanese angel investors who are familiar with YouTube-related businesses in addition to existing investors.

This follows the 1st close of the company’s angel round back in September of 2021 when they secured $500,000 US. Keep raising funds, they expect to secure a seed round by the end of 2022.

AI Communis was founded in April of 2020 by Nobuhiko Suzuki, who has been dealing with the business of translating, adding subtitles, and editing video clips. These multilingulization processes, especially needed for global marketing, had been handled manually for a long time, but the significantly improved accuracy of automation tools such as Amazon Transcribe, DeepL, Google Translate has recently made it possible to be mostly automated.

The company launched a web app called Auris last year, which allows users to handle a series of tasks such as translation, subtitling, and video editing in a cloud environment. Leveraging the app, the company plans to launch a new business where crowdsourced gig workers help influencers and company marketers turn their video clips into any of 10 Asian languages.

Such video multilingualization is in great demand among YouTubers and companies who want to expand themselves and their products globally. The service is not yet fully operational and the demand is greater than the company originally expected, but it will take only about a week to deliver an output with adding translated subtitles after receiving the material source.

AI Communis has a wide range of delivery formats. Some YouTubers have asked the company to not only turn their clips into foreign languages, but also to manage different language channels under their YouTube account and to make efforts to increase viewership. The company raised investments from MCN and YouTuber businesses in the latest round to learn from them more about how to increase viewer engagement on social media.

The Auris platform currently supports 10 languages: English, Chinese (Mandarin), Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Tagalog, Indonesian, Hindu, and Malay. This means that in terms of population alone, Auris can streamline the development of content that can help YouTubers and marketers reach more than one-third of the world’s total population.

The platform had about 100 users in November, two months after the beta launch, but since then it has rapidly grown to 1,000 users in January 2022, 3,000 users in March, 8,000 users by the end of March, and now about 10,000 users. Perhaps it’s because of the demand from influencers, KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders), or even attracted potential gig workers using the tool.

AI Communis is based at BLOCK 71, a Singaporean startup hub where NUS (National University of Singapore), Singtel, and other organizations are running their accelerators respectively. The location attracts prospective entrepreneurs and interns from all over Southeast Asia, which is conducive to startups developing multilingual services. They will also perhaps contribute greatly to the development of AI Communis’ business.

Central prefecture of Aichi kicks off prep for Japan’s entrepreneurial superhub

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See the original story in Japanese. Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, located in the very center of the archipelago, held a kick-off event for PRE-STATION Ai, the preparation initiative for their startup hub and community STATION-Ai which will be totally rolled out in 2024 in Nagoya. Nagoya is the prefecture’s capital and most populous neighborhood, and also known as the country’s third largest city. This is based on the strategy which the prefecture formulated in 2018 to help bring more startups from the central Chubu Region. With a total floor area of approximately 23,000 square meters, the 7-story hub is scheduled to be completed in 2024 in south of Tsurumai Park of Nagoya. In reponse to the prefecture decision to entrust SoftBank for managing the facility and community, the telco and investment giant established a special-purpose subsidiary called STATION Ai last year. Until the official launch of the hub, the prefecture will have been conducting PRE-Station Ai, the preparation initiative, at WeWork Global Gate Nagoya for the next two years. Launched last year, it selected 85 startups (43 in-person and 42 work-from-home participating teams) its FY22 batch this year followed by letting 34 startups graduate from its previous FY21 batch last year….

Teams selected for PRE-STATION Ai’s FY22 batch with Hideaki Omura (Governor of Aichi Prefecture) on center right and Hirotaka Sahashi (CEO of STATION Ai) on center left). They took mask off for photo.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

See the original story in Japanese.

Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, located in the very center of the archipelago, held a kick-off event for PRE-STATION Ai, the preparation initiative for their startup hub and community STATION-Ai which will be totally rolled out in 2024 in Nagoya. Nagoya is the prefecture’s capital and most populous neighborhood, and also known as the country’s third largest city.

This is based on the strategy which the prefecture formulated in 2018 to help bring more startups from the central Chubu Region. With a total floor area of approximately 23,000 square meters, the 7-story hub is scheduled to be completed in 2024 in south of Tsurumai Park of Nagoya. In reponse to the prefecture decision to entrust SoftBank for managing the facility and community, the telco and investment giant established a special-purpose subsidiary called STATION Ai last year.

Until the official launch of the hub, the prefecture will have been conducting PRE-Station Ai, the preparation initiative, at WeWork Global Gate Nagoya for the next two years. Launched last year, it selected 85 startups (43 in-person and 42 work-from-home participating teams) its FY22 batch this year followed by letting 34 startups graduate from its previous FY21 batch last year. They expect to qualify 140 startups by the end of this year, aiming to have 1,000 startups be based in the hub by 2029, five years after its official launch.

(As a side note, Station F, the Paris-based entrepreneurial hub which STATION Ai is modeled after, has revealed that 1,034 startups consisting of 4,882 people had been resided there during its first year of 2017.)

This is an area reserved for selected teams for this year’s PRE-STATION Ai batch in WeWork Global Gate Nagoya. You can see Nagoya station skyscrapers through the windows.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

The prefecture says it’s offering over 200 startup support program centering on the aforementioned strategy, having partnered with Station F, the University of Texas at Austin, Tsinghua University-affiliated Tus Holdings for supporting global expansion, building cross-border community as well as sharing practices for better incubation. The initiative has appointed experienced entrepreneurs as supervisors / community managers to support budding startups and entrepreneurs.

The Japanese government has selected several cities in the central Chubu region as as “Global Hub Cities, including Aichi Prefecture, Nagoya City, and Hamamatsu City. The prefecture launched a local VC firm network to help investors and entrepreneurs better connect each others. Startup Guide, the global brand of startup local ecosystem guides, published its Nagoya edition last year in association with Nagoya City and the Chubu Region Innovation Promotion Organization, which made Nagoya become the second Japanese city covered by the publication after Tokyo. In the region, local universities has been jointly organizing an entrepreneurship program called Tongali to encourage their students to launch startups.

Conceptual drawing at completion of STATION-ai.
Image credit: Startup Promotion Section, Bureau of Economy and Industry, Aichi Prefectural Office

LA-based Tippsy raises $1.6M, operating subscription-based tasting club of Japanese sake

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Los Angeles-based startup Tippsy operates Tippsy Sake Club, offering a subscription-based tasting kit to Japanese sake fans in the US. The company announced on Thursday that it has secured about 200 million yen (about $1.6 million US) in a pre-series A round. This round was led by W ventures with participation from Deepcore, KSK Angel Fund (the investment vehicle of Japanese football player Keisuke Honda), Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron, and several unnamed Japanese angel investors. This follows their seed funding last year when the company secured $500,000 from DG Ventures, Silicon Valley-based deeptech-focused TSVC, San Francisco-based StratMinds, and others. DG Ventures operates Open Network Lab’s Seed Accelerator Program in Tokyo where Tippsy was selected and participated in the program’s 20th batch last year. The latest round brought the company’s funding sum up to date to 260 million yen (about $2.1 million). Tippsy was founded in 2018 by Genki Ito who has a 10-year experience of marketing Japanese sake products at a Japanese food importer in the US. Tippsy brings its members tasting kits of mini bottles from a selection of 400 varieties of sake for $99 for three months on a subscription basis. Japanese sake has been recently gaining popularity…

Tippsy’s tasting kit of mini bottles
Image credit: Tippsy

Los Angeles-based startup Tippsy operates Tippsy Sake Club, offering a subscription-based tasting kit to Japanese sake fans in the US. The company announced on Thursday that it has secured about 200 million yen (about $1.6 million US) in a pre-series A round. This round was led by W ventures with participation from Deepcore, KSK Angel Fund (the investment vehicle of Japanese football player Keisuke Honda), Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron, and several unnamed Japanese angel investors.

This follows their seed funding last year when the company secured $500,000 from DG Ventures, Silicon Valley-based deeptech-focused TSVC, San Francisco-based StratMinds, and others. DG Ventures operates Open Network Lab’s Seed Accelerator Program in Tokyo where Tippsy was selected and participated in the program’s 20th batch last year. The latest round brought the company’s funding sum up to date to 260 million yen (about $2.1 million).

Genki Ito
Image credit: Tippsy

Tippsy was founded in 2018 by Genki Ito who has a 10-year experience of marketing Japanese sake products at a Japanese food importer in the US. Tippsy brings its members tasting kits of mini bottles from a selection of 400 varieties of sake for $99 for three months on a subscription basis. Japanese sake has been recently gaining popularity in the US, especially among millennials, and 99% of the club’s members are Americans.

Despite the boom in sake, it has some challenges in sales and marketing. First, even if you find good sake at a restaurant, it’s hard to find the place to buy it in the US for drinking at home. Detailed descriptions on sake bottles and on the brewer’s website are written in Japanese, which the average Americans cannot read. Furthermore, there are also restrictions to sell sake products based on the direct-to-consumer model due to laws created during the Prohibition Era. In addition, because the supply chain of alcohol drinks is fragmented, there is no culture for sake brewers or manufacturers to educate their brands to retailers.

Tippsy’s website showcases a number of Japanese sake products with characteristics.
Image credit: Tippsy

Tippsy has been focusing on brand communication, including storytelling for each brewery, to introduce the differences in taste to American consumers who are less familiar with Japanese sake. It now introduces over 400 sake brands and has received over 5,000 product reviews from members and others. By sending a mini-bottle of different sake brands each time, the club allows members to discover new brands as well as a direct marketing channel for brewers allowing them to reach their potential fans.

Tippsy works with a logistics partner with a license to distribute alcohol drinks directly to consumers throughout the US, building close relationships with members consuming sake products. Having been collecting details from breweries and providing them to users, the company plans to provide feedback on members’ preferences to breweries for better marketing and product development in the future. The Tippsy team includes a graduate of Sake School of America, the largest sake tasting school in the US, aiming to strengthen its effort to help consumers more learn about Japanese sake.

In the space close to Tippsy’s business, our readers may recall Cool Japan has invested $10 million in Winc, a US-based e-retailer and wholesaler of wine products, aiming to help cultivate the demand of Japanese sake in North America. The company achieved a postponed IPO on the New York Stock Exchange last year, with a current market cap of just under $43 million.

Evolving wheelchairs, LifeHub’s next-gen mobility can move even over bumps or stairs

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based LifeHub, the Japanese startup developing a chair-type mobility that can stretch its legs to move in bipedal motion like human, announced on Tuesday that it has secured 100 million yen (about $870,000) from CyberAgent Capital and Incubate Fund in a seed round. This follows their previous pre-seed round securing 30 million yen (about $260,000) from Incubate Fund. LifeHub was launched back in 2021 by three founders. Having been fascinated with building robots since he was a child, CEO Hiroshi Nakano studied robotics and drones at university, and later worked at one of the world’s largestcomputer-aided engineering vendor where he was involved in mobility development and research. CTO Kazuhiro Nomiya designs and develops biomechanics and artificial muscles while CSO Yasuhiro Arakawa specializes in control systems and autonomous driving. The company advocates human augmentation. Unlike conventional wheelchairs, Transella, their flagship product, is able to crouch, stand up, climb over steps, and ride escalators. The mobility is mainly comprised of parts made in Japan which excels in miniaturization technology. It can solve the problems of conventional wheelchairs because of its extended mobility of not only horizontal but also vertical range of movement. Toru Akaura, one of…

From left: Toru Akaura (Incubate Fund), Hiroshi Nakano (LifeHub), Hirofumi Kondo (CyberAgent Capital)

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based LifeHub, the Japanese startup developing a chair-type mobility that can stretch its legs to move in bipedal motion like human, announced on Tuesday that it has secured 100 million yen (about $870,000) from CyberAgent Capital and Incubate Fund in a seed round. This follows their previous pre-seed round securing 30 million yen (about $260,000) from Incubate Fund.

LifeHub was launched back in 2021 by three founders. Having been fascinated with building robots since he was a child, CEO Hiroshi Nakano studied robotics and drones at university, and later worked at one of the world’s largestcomputer-aided engineering vendor where he was involved in mobility development and research. CTO Kazuhiro Nomiya designs and develops biomechanics and artificial muscles while CSO Yasuhiro Arakawa specializes in control systems and autonomous driving.

The company advocates human augmentation. Unlike conventional wheelchairs, Transella, their flagship product, is able to crouch, stand up, climb over steps, and ride escalators. The mobility is mainly comprised of parts made in Japan which excels in miniaturization technology. It can solve the problems of conventional wheelchairs because of its extended mobility of not only horizontal but also vertical range of movement.

The conceptual image of Transella
Image credit: LifeHub

Toru Akaura, one of the representative partner at Incubate Fund, decided to invest in the mobility startup’s first funding round (pre-seed round). He says,

I couldn’t believe it when I heard a lot of ideas from Nakano-san for the first time. But he passionately said “We can do it,” so I bet 30 million yen on them. And his team created the half-size prototype. I’m very much in love with their ability to make things happen.

Hirofumi Kondo, President and CEO of CyberAgent Capital participating in the latest round, first met LifeHub’s Nakano last year at Incubate Camp, an annual entrepreneurship bootcamp program organized by Incubate Fund. In the event, Kondo mentored Nakano and then won the third place of the Capitalist Award which lets entrepreneurs evaluate capitalists as mentors. Kondo says,

Still in a seed round, so we decided our investment based on not only technical or business advantage but also on his personal character. We can help make their business global.

Kondo introducing LifeHub’s Nakano as mentors at Incubate Camp 14th.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

LifeHub is not the first robotics startup aiming to assist people’s movements, but many of conventional solutions are not suitable for daily use due to cumbersome wearing or installation process. Because of its shape, the mobility device can be used by anyone by simply sitting down to move even on stairs, steep slopes, and rough roads, so it must have a huge need all over the world. The company plans to use the funds to develop a full-scale model of the product by this spring but the global semiconductor shortage may impact their schedule or force them to push it back.

The company is about to set its business model, likely starting with a high-function wheelchair for the elderly and physically challenged. In the future, they are aiming to make it used for climbing stairs, autonomous driving, sharing mobility services for business-to-business use as well as global business expansion. For now, the company plans to offer a unit of the wheelchair for 1.5 million yen (about $13,000) for purchase, or 10,000 yen (about $86) per month on a subscription basis for nursing care, but the price may vary greatly as they have completed no full-scale prototype yet.

Nakano delivers his pitch at Incubate Camp 14th.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

We’ve seen more than a few startups developing smart wheelchairs, mobility devices, and robots for transportation, but LifeHub’s mobility clearly takes a different approach in terms of moving like a vehicle as well as human bipedal movement. Based on the potential of the technology and the business, Akaura and Kondo praised Nakano, saying that he might be “Elon Mask from Japan”.

Akaura concluded our conversation with saying,

This will be a world-class product. I believe that Nakano has the potential to lead the world from Japan.

Japan’s free insurance startup Warrantee files for IPO on NASDAQ

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Osaka-headquartered Warrantee, the Japanese startup offering free insurance services in the US and Singapore, has publicly filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for its initial public offering (IPO), according to a source close to the company. We were told that the company plans to trade under the symbol WRNT on the NASDAQ. Warrantee declined to further comment when contacted by Bridge despite admitting the news is true. Generally speaking, profiles of companies are available on the SEC website just after their IPO application is accepted, but Warrantee’s one does not appear there as of this writing. According to a person familiar with IPO applications  in the U.S., the SEC search and retrieval function is not applied for foreign companies until the listing is approved. If the schedule follows SEC’s convention, financial terms are expected to become clear in April followed by the IPO in May as long as everything goes well. Founded back in October of 2013 by CEO Yusuke Shono, Warrantee started its business with helping consumers turn product warranties into digital followed by foraying into the on-demand insurance market in 2017 in collaboration with insurance companies. Subsequently the company started offering free or low-cost on-demand…

Yusuke Shono
Image credit: Warrantee

Osaka-headquartered Warrantee, the Japanese startup offering free insurance services in the US and Singapore, has publicly filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for its initial public offering (IPO), according to a source close to the company. We were told that the company plans to trade under the symbol WRNT on the NASDAQ. Warrantee declined to further comment when contacted by Bridge despite admitting the news is true.

Generally speaking, profiles of companies are available on the SEC website just after their IPO application is accepted, but Warrantee’s one does not appear there as of this writing. According to a person familiar with IPO applications  in the U.S., the SEC search and retrieval function is not applied for foreign companies until the listing is approved. If the schedule follows SEC’s convention, financial terms are expected to become clear in April followed by the IPO in May as long as everything goes well.

Founded back in October of 2013 by CEO Yusuke Shono, Warrantee started its business with helping consumers turn product warranties into digital followed by foraying into the on-demand insurance market in 2017 in collaboration with insurance companies. Subsequently the company started offering free or low-cost on-demand insurance services in the US and Singapore where state-run affordable and universal health insurance systems are less common unlike Japan.

Warrantee’s core team is located in Tokyo and Osaka, but they also have offices in Singapore, New York City, and Silicon Valley. In our coverage last year, someone anonymous involved in the company suggested the possibility of an IPO in the US via a SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company). However, the effort is not via a SPAC but a direct one.

Regarding recent NASDAQ listings by Japanese firms, our readers may recall Medirom, the operator of the Re.Ra.Ku massage chain, went public in December of 2020. The youngest Japanese entrepreneur having succeeded in IPO on NASDAQ was Yo Matsushima, who listed his company Crayfish (now known as e-Machi Town) on both the U.S. market and the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Mothers market in 2000 at his age of 26. 36-year-old Warrantee’s Shono appears to be the youngest Japanese entrepreneur ever to go public his company on NASDAQ only.

This is a developing story and may be updated for further details.