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

Kamereo secures $4.5M in series A to expand food supply chains in Vietnam

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Ho Chi Minh City-based Kamereo, the startup behind a B2B food marketplace for restaurants in Vietnam under the same name, announced today that it has raised 500 million yen (about $4.5 million US) in a Series A round. Participating investors in this round are CPF Group (the food distribution arm of the Thai business conglomerate Charoen Pokphand), Singapore-based Quest Ventures, Tokyo-based Genesia Ventures, and several unnamed individual investors. Genesia Ventures follows Kamereo’s previous round back in January of 2019. Quest Ventures is a VC firm founded in 2010 by Singaporean entrepreneur James Tan and Chinese entrepreneur Yunming Wang, both of whom successfully launched Chinese Groupon clone Wowo a.k.a. 55Tuan and subsequently listed it on NASDAQ. The firm has so far invested in more than 60 startups including notable names in South East Asia such as automobile marketplace and subscription-based rental startup Carro (joined the Unicorn Club last month), flea market app Carousell (reportedly planning the US IPO via SPAC within this year). Kamereo was founded back in June of 2018 by HCMC-based Japanese entrepreneur Taku Tanaka. Prior to launching the startup, he previously worked at Credit Suisse followed by joining Pizza 4Ps, one of the most popular pizza chains in…

KAMEREO management: CEO Taku Tanaka stands in the third from left, CTO Hiroshi Tokaku stands in the fifth from left.
Image credit: Kamereo

Ho Chi Minh City-based Kamereo, the startup behind a B2B food marketplace for restaurants in Vietnam under the same name, announced today that it has raised 500 million yen (about $4.5 million US) in a Series A round. Participating investors in this round are CPF Group (the food distribution arm of the Thai business conglomerate Charoen Pokphand), Singapore-based Quest Ventures, Tokyo-based Genesia Ventures, and several unnamed individual investors. Genesia Ventures follows Kamereo’s previous round back in January of 2019.

Quest Ventures is a VC firm founded in 2010 by Singaporean entrepreneur James Tan and Chinese entrepreneur Yunming Wang, both of whom successfully launched Chinese Groupon clone Wowo a.k.a. 55Tuan and subsequently listed it on NASDAQ. The firm has so far invested in more than 60 startups including notable names in South East Asia such as automobile marketplace and subscription-based rental startup Carro (joined the Unicorn Club last month), flea market app Carousell (reportedly planning the US IPO via SPAC within this year).

Kamereo
Image credit: Kamereo

Kamereo was founded back in June of 2018 by HCMC-based Japanese entrepreneur Taku Tanaka. Prior to launching the startup, he previously worked at Credit Suisse followed by joining Pizza 4Ps, one of the most popular pizza chains in Vietnam, as the Chief Operating Officer. In a previous interview with Bridge, they were advocating a platform that would streamline communication, trading, and management that restaurants have with a variety of suppliers, similar to what Infomart (TSE: 2492) has been doiing in Japan, but it looks like their business has pivoted a bit since then.

Tanaka explained:

The structure of food supply chains is different in Japan and Vietnam. In Japan, there are many restaurant chains with multiple stores, and once a supplier starts selling to one store, it may be relatively easy to expand into other store in the same chain. Restaurants can also receive exactly what they have ordered to suppliers.

However, in Vietnam, both the system of restaurants and suppliers are still developing. There are many family-run restaurants which don’t usually require a huge amount of food supply so they buy directly from a nearby market. That’s why we pivoted to a food supplier in August of 2019. We are buying foods from producers and delivers to stores.

The Kamereo team
Image credit: Kamereo

If you’ve visited Ho Chi Minh City, you may know that there are still narrow alleys in the old town area while development is going on all over the city. In order to deliver food to restaurants in these places in a timely manner, motorcycles are very useful. Although motorcycles cannot carry a large amount at once, the company has set up multiple distribution centers in the city to ensure efficient deliveries to these restaurants. In addition to Cash on Delivery, the company accepts selling on credit on a semi-monthly or monthly payment basis.

On the contrary to most vegetables which can be procured from small-scale businesses such as farmers, it will be necessary to deal with majors for obtaining meats because it requires capital investment such as slaughterhouses and HACCP-certified fresh meat plants. With this background, Kamereo decided to raise funds from CPF Group.

B2B food supply platforms are showing steady growth in many countries, such as FoodMarven in the U.S., Meicai in China (Bloomberg reported in May that it’s preparing for an IPO in the U.S.), Ninjacart in India (with a market cap of US$500 million as of May), Twiga Foods in Kenya, and Supp.li in Poland and Hungary. Kamereo currently has about 100 employees, and aims to become a leading player in this sector in Vietnam by 2022 by expanding into Hanoi, the country’s capital and second most populous city.

Japanese chat fiction app Peep secures series D from Tencent for global expansion

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Tokyo-based Taskey, the Japanese startup behind chat fiction app Peep, announced last week that it has secured a series D round from Chinese tech giant Tencent. For the startup, this follows their previous funding rounds in June of 2015, July of 2018, and May of 2019. The funding amount of the latest round has not been disclosed but it is estimated seven-digit or more figures in US dollars based on the size of previous rounds. The company was founded in 2014 by Hiromu Oishi who is also known as novelist Romy Oishi for his works “Love is a Loaded Pistol” and “Escalator Boy”. In December of 2017, his startup launched the Peep app, which allows subscribers to read stories in the category of chat fiction, a format of web fiction written solely in the form of text-message or instant messaging conversations. A flock of excellent works created by novelists and editors have contributed to achieving the 3 million downloads milestone to date. Compared to comics and video clips, text may seem unremarkable but it can be a base for derivative works in other formats, which is very advantageous for creating more potential for films or TV drama series. Despite only…

Image credit: Taskey

Tokyo-based Taskey, the Japanese startup behind chat fiction app Peep, announced last week that it has secured a series D round from Chinese tech giant Tencent. For the startup, this follows their previous funding rounds in June of 2015, July of 2018, and May of 2019. The funding amount of the latest round has not been disclosed but it is estimated seven-digit or more figures in US dollars based on the size of previous rounds.

The company was founded in 2014 by Hiromu Oishi who is also known as novelist Romy Oishi for his works “Love is a Loaded Pistol” and “Escalator Boy”. In December of 2017, his startup launched the Peep app, which allows subscribers to read stories in the category of chat fiction, a format of web fiction written solely in the form of text-message or instant messaging conversations. A flock of excellent works created by novelists and editors have contributed to achieving the 3 million downloads milestone to date.

Compared to comics and video clips, text may seem unremarkable but it can be a base for derivative works in other formats, which is very advantageous for creating more potential for films or TV drama series. Despite only 2,000 titles available on the app at the moment, “let’s read” video clips featuring these titles have been viewed more than 45 million times to date. It has also succeeded in winning the hearts of the Gen Z by creating clips starring notable influencers.

The company plans to use the funds to add a new viewing experience called Illustrated Novels (literally translated) to the app. In addition, they will launch a global version app in August where users can read English translation of the works from the Peep app. By teaming up with Tencent, the Chinese tech giant renowned for its strength in promoting and developing various types of games, Taskey expects to turn their smash-hit fictions into games and expand them globally.

 

 

Webtoons have been driving force behind the creation of movies and TV drama series in Korea. Our readers may recall that Korean webtoon studio Tapas Media was acquired by portal giant Kakao for US$510 million last year, and more recently, Korean short-form drama startup WhyNot Media secured funding from Japanese telco KDDI to expand into the Japanese market.

Kakao Japan, the Japanese subsidiary of Korean platform giant known for running the Piccoma digital comics platform, secured $526.5 million in funding, which brought their market cap to $7.7 billion and is expected to soon join the so-called Decacorn Club. Rocket Staff, the Japanese startup joining the umbrella of Japanese anime conglomerate Animate back in January, is aiming to develop its webtoon business in Japan while Korean portal giant Naver has announced that it will integrate Wattpad, a Canadian novel creation social networking service acquired earlier this year, with its webtoon business to begin full-scale global expansion.

In this way, a number of platforms have been emerged to distribute content born out of the community. Although Japanese manga is highly regarded worldwide, it takes a long time to create a smash-hit due to the shortage of manga artists and their candidates.

Taking their advantage of the lower cost for finding artists and the ability to output interesting stories, Taskey will focus on developing more fictions and other intellectual properties that can be transformed into a variety of entertainment formats.

Japanese entrepreneur to launch meal replacement shakes for pre- and diabetes in US

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I think we should introduce Hiroshi Takatoh as an angel investor. He introduced Japan’s first ad fraud detection service at his own startup Momentum back in 2014, and then sold it in 2017 to Syn. Holdings (now known as Supership Holdings), a subsidiary of Japanese telco KDDI (TSE: 9433). Since then, as far as we know, he has invested in startups that contribute to improving people’s social lives, such as Triple W Japan, Legal Technology, and Holoash. Earlier this year Takatoh took became back to a serial entrepreneur by founding a new startup called to develop foods for for diabetes. It may be unusual for anyone to switch from ad to health food industry, but it seems that his feelings for his wife, who he lost to cancer, are behind his decision. Although it depends on the type of cancer and the location of the onset, there is a lot of scientific evidence that cancer cannot be completely cured by surgical treatment alone, and that it is largely due to diet. Consuming well-balanced nutritious food on a daily basis can lead to prevention, but today’s busy people do not have much time to shop and some of them may not…

Image credit: Teatis

I think we should introduce Hiroshi Takatoh as an angel investor. He introduced Japan’s first ad fraud detection service at his own startup Momentum back in 2014, and then sold it in 2017 to Syn. Holdings (now known as Supership Holdings), a subsidiary of Japanese telco KDDI (TSE: 9433). Since then, as far as we know, he has invested in startups that contribute to improving people’s social lives, such as Triple W Japan, Legal Technology, and Holoash.

Earlier this year Takatoh took became back to a serial entrepreneur by founding a new startup called to develop foods for for diabetes. It may be unusual for anyone to switch from ad to health food industry, but it seems that his feelings for his wife, who he lost to cancer, are behind his decision. Although it depends on the type of cancer and the location of the onset, there is a lot of scientific evidence that cancer cannot be completely cured by surgical treatment alone, and that it is largely due to diet. Consuming well-balanced nutritious food on a daily basis can lead to prevention, but today’s busy people do not have much time to shop and some of them may not have the cooking skills.

Hiroshi Takatoh

This is why Takatoh created meal replacements, or complete nutritious meals that can replace our usual meals. Focusing on diabetes, one of the most common lifestyle-related diseases among people today, he plans to start selling meal replacements, which contain a lot of superfood ingredients such as seaweed polyphenols, in August in the US, where about 120 million people are said to have pre- and diabetes. When dissolved in water, it can be drunk as a smoothie or latte with a focus to help curb blood sugar spikes. Many people in the US have been so far using the protein sheets to manage morning blood sugar spikes.

Dr. Yoshiro Kubota (Director Kikkoman General Hospital, preventive medicine expert Dr. Mitsuo Numata (Umikaze Clinic in Yamaguchi), and Dr. Roman Kalista (CEO, New York-based nutrition-focused AI developer RxDiet) have helped develop the Teatis meal replacement. Ahead of the official launch, about 4,000 pre-registered users have tried the Teatis product, and many of them have given positive feedback that they felt they were able to keep their blood sugar levels under control.

Before the official launch in the US, Teatis revealed that it had raised about 40 million yen ($360,000 US) in funding from several angel investors. The names disclosed include Takuya Noguchi (CEO of Japanese D2C healthcare startup), Tatsuro Shimada (former CTO, mobile Q&A app developer cConnehito), and Yuichi Uchida (Mercari). The company plans to conduct a product market fit first, and then expect to raise funds from a variety of investors around the world to expand to India, China, Japan, and other countries if the market response is good.

Japanese pre-order site Makuake to launch global edition by fall

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Tokyo-based Makuake (TSE:4479), the Japanese listed company behind a pre-order platform under the same name, announced earlier this week that it will launch the platform’s global edition some time this coming summer or fall, aiming to help project owners better reach to and raise funds from the global audience. Limited to Japan-made products, projects to be funded through the new interface will exclude electric appliances that have been used before, radio communication devices, B2B-only products, cosmetics, medical or nursing supplies, and foodstuffs. The full amount funded (excluding the platform’s commission) will be paid to the project owner even if it doesn’t reach the initial target. Makuake plans to provide a wide range of support to the project owners using the global edition, including setting up an English introduction and customer support in English, also offering support for international delivery and logistics as well as payment functions. Moving forward, the company hopes to support more languages to help project owners reach more people in more countries. Makuake has an in-house team dedicated to assisting project owners abroad and advising them on promotion and marketing tactics in the local market. They recently partnered with Indiegogo to help their project owners expand beyond…

Image credit: Makuake

Tokyo-based Makuake (TSE:4479), the Japanese listed company behind a pre-order platform under the same name, announced earlier this week that it will launch the platform’s global edition some time this coming summer or fall, aiming to help project owners better reach to and raise funds from the global audience.

Limited to Japan-made products, projects to be funded through the new interface will exclude electric appliances that have been used before, radio communication devices, B2B-only products, cosmetics, medical or nursing supplies, and foodstuffs. The full amount funded (excluding the platform’s commission) will be paid to the project owner even if it doesn’t reach the initial target.

Makuake plans to provide a wide range of support to the project owners using the global edition, including setting up an English introduction and customer support in English, also offering support for international delivery and logistics as well as payment functions. Moving forward, the company hopes to support more languages to help project owners reach more people in more countries.

Makuake has an in-house team dedicated to assisting project owners abroad and advising them on promotion and marketing tactics in the local market. They recently partnered with Indiegogo to help their project owners expand beyond their home turf mutually. Our readers may recall the Japanese platform recently a local subsidiary and an office in Seoul, Korea.

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.

See also:

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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