THE BRIDGE

Masaru Ikeda

Masaru Ikeda

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

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TalentEx offers online course for Russian developers to work with Japanese IT firms

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Bangkok-based TalentEx, offering recruitment-focused online media and SaaS (software as a service) for human resource affairs, unveiled on Sunday that its Russian subsidiary has launched an online school business called CyberSamurai (КиберСамурае in Russian). The monthly subscription-based class is intended for Russian-speaking IT developers and engineers, helping them keep updated with IT industry and technology updates as well as business practices from Japan. It may also aim to allow them to enjoy commentary on Japanese anime and subculture in addition to giving them opportunities to e-meet up with CTOs from Japanese companies. TalentEx was launched back in 2013 by Yojiro Koshi who previously worked for Japanese ad network startup Nobot (Nobot was acquired by Japanese telco giant KDDI’s subsdiary Mediba in 2011). The company has several core businesses: the Wakuwaku online and offline recruiting service to find Japanese-speaking talents in Thailand, community management at the Monstar Hub Bangkok co-working space, and sales and marketing of the Michiru RPA software for Japanese companies in Thailand. See also: Meet Japanese entrepreneur trying to disrupt Thai recruitment market In July of 2018, the company founded a local subsidiary in Russia for a new project supplying Russian IT engineers to Japanese companies. After a…

Anatoli Kolbinov (left up), Dasha An (right up), and Ryosei Suginaka (left down) speak during the opening event on Sunday. All these TalentEx members can speak more than two languages including Japanese and Russian.

Bangkok-based TalentEx, offering recruitment-focused online media and SaaS (software as a service) for human resource affairs, unveiled on Sunday that its Russian subsidiary has launched an online school business called CyberSamurai (КиберСамурае in Russian). The monthly subscription-based class is intended for Russian-speaking IT developers and engineers, helping them keep updated with IT industry and technology updates as well as business practices from Japan. It may also aim to allow them to enjoy commentary on Japanese anime and subculture in addition to giving them opportunities to e-meet up with CTOs from Japanese companies.

TalentEx was launched back in 2013 by Yojiro Koshi who previously worked for Japanese ad network startup Nobot (Nobot was acquired by Japanese telco giant KDDI’s subsdiary Mediba in 2011). The company has several core businesses: the Wakuwaku online and offline recruiting service to find Japanese-speaking talents in Thailand, community management at the Monstar Hub Bangkok co-working space, and sales and marketing of the Michiru RPA software for Japanese companies in Thailand.

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In July of 2018, the company founded a local subsidiary in Russia for a new project supplying Russian IT engineers to Japanese companies. After a little more than a year after its launch, the Russian business had been outpacing other businesses in Thailand in terms of revenue, but the recent coronavirus pandemic has halted it. After several months of their efforts to keep the Russian operation alive leveraging the sales from their Thai business, their Russian team of young members decided to launch a new business called CyberSamurai at this time.

The service’s mascot looks like a fox but they told us it is modeled after Masaru, renowned Russian figure skater Alina Zagitova’s Japanese dog.
Image credit: TalentEx

Many startup businesses use a model that makes money by bridging the gap between the two sides of the transaction, such as information asymmetry and arbitrage. That’s something TalentEx is good at because of having presence in four markets – Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Russia. Coming up with moving talent from market to market, we may think the biggest challenge is language gap. According to Koshi, however, he turned to recognize that’s not true while work from home is more common in a huge country like Russia in addition to the fact that such a working style is becoming the global norm due to the pandemic.

When a Japanese company hires a Russian engineer, language gap is certainly a concern at first. Recently, however, these companies have been forced to shift to work from home, job instructions and other communication among colleagues are now often done through Slack and other online tools.

Koshi continued.

With more communication using tools than face-to-face meetings, the language barrier has been lowered for foreigners than in the past. In fact, we need to more focus on the cultural gap that cannot be fully verbalized but is often seen in business practices and work processes, which is more important when working with a Japanese company.

CyberSamurai’s Telegram group

Many of my foreign friends have learned the Japanese language as a result of watching Japanese TV drama series and anime titles in their country. Japanese anime was also a source of inspiration for Hong Kong Democracy Movement stalwart Agnes Chow to learn Japanese. Perhaps what makes her so popular in Japan may be our perception that she deeply understands Japanese culture and social customs rather than just her ability speaking the language.

That’s why the service is not just about language learning but rather giving opportunities to learn industry trends and subculture commentary which are not directly related to business operations or professional activities. The company charges membership fee but it may be hard for them to see significant revenue with the new business alone compared to their past human resources business in Russia. Perhaps the company sees the member base as kinda talent pool for the time when the demand of Japanese companies hiring Russian engineers recovers after the pandemic settle down.

Run by TalentEx’s team of a few young Japanese and Russian members in Russia, the service is wow focused on community building using Telegram which is one of the most popular messaging apps in the country. Going forward, they are expanding into other Russian-speaking markets including former CIS countries.

Japan startup Styler partners with Tencent to help fashion retailers adapt to pandemic changes

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Styler, the Japanese startup offering an O2O (offline to online) support service for fashion and apparel stores called Facy, announced in late July that it has partnered with Tencent Cloud, the cloud service division of Chinese tech giant Tencent. Styler had been running the Facy app as a way to drive potential customers from online to offline fashion retailers. However, the company recognized that the expanding pandemic will significantly influence consumer purchasing behavior and decided to evolve the business into supporting Online merges with Offline (OMO) effort where retailers can seemly integrate user experience at their e-commerce site and brick-and-mortar stores. Pandemic accelerates fashion retailers’ shift to digital operations While fashion e-commerce represents a large proportion of the overall e-commerce market (around 20% of the total in terms of market size), it is yet difficult to completely take over all real store sales. Similar to what tech conferences and events are challenging amid the pandemic, one of the problems here is how to give consumers serendipity on online shopping. Unlike giving users recommendations using a collaborative filtering-based engine, it may be difficult for online platforms to give users a chance meeting with the…

Image credit: Tencent Cloud / Styler

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Styler, the Japanese startup offering an O2O (offline to online) support service for fashion and apparel stores called Facy, announced in late July that it has partnered with Tencent Cloud, the cloud service division of Chinese tech giant Tencent.

Styler had been running the Facy app as a way to drive potential customers from online to offline fashion retailers. However, the company recognized that the expanding pandemic will significantly influence consumer purchasing behavior and decided to evolve the business into supporting Online merges with Offline (OMO) effort where retailers can seemly integrate user experience at their e-commerce site and brick-and-mortar stores.

Pandemic accelerates fashion retailers’ shift to digital operations

While fashion e-commerce represents a large proportion of the overall e-commerce market (around 20% of the total in terms of market size), it is yet difficult to completely take over all real store sales. Similar to what tech conferences and events are challenging amid the pandemic, one of the problems here is how to give consumers serendipity on online shopping.

Unlike giving users recommendations using a collaborative filtering-based engine, it may be difficult for online platforms to give users a chance meeting with the brands they have never met before while sales associates at real stores can do it.

Image credit: Alibaba

In China in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, we saw many sales associates at fashion stores setting up lights and tripods to to introduce and sell their products via live video streaming. For fashion brands, it would be difficult to integrate a typical live commerce app with their own customer-facing app while Tencent Cloud’s solutions apparently makes it easier.

Tencent Cloud’s solutions allow stores and customers to interact with each other while seeing each other’s faces through mobiles. The same technology has been adopted to Telelive, CyberAgent subsidiary Cyber Pal’s platform for holding fan meetings online, as well as Ignis’s dating service’s video call app.

Styler plans to introduce Tencent Cloud’s solutions to fashion brands, aiming to help them better implement the OMO into their environment. These solutions allow brands not only offer seamlessly their front-end customer experience online and offline but also to support back-end operations such as integrated inventory management of online and offline sales as well as optimized inventory operations across multiple real stores.

Image credit: Tencent Cloud

In the ever-changing fashion industry, fashion stores often come and go at shopping malls thanks to the growing prominence of direct-to-consumer(D2C) brands. Tencent Cloud’s solutions allow shopping malls to keep their store directory signage updated at all times simply by importing CAD data indicating tenant locations within the mall building. To ensure the practicality of the solution, Styler plans to conduct Proof of Concept trials with Tokyu Land Corporation (TSE:3289) which is known for operating a number of shopping malls in Tokyo.

More D2C brands focusing on online sales are expected to enter the market in the future. In view of having a lot of ups and downs, their real stores’ character don’t fit a typical long-term lease contract for shopping malls. Even in such a tough environment, keeping offering retention opportunities at real stores to brands is a big challenge for shopping malls.

Styler CEO Tsubasa Koseki explained in a recent interview with Bridge.

Leveraging Tencent Cloud’s solution, Styler is being focused on helping brands make their communication and inventory management available in a digital manner. As there is no significant player in Japan with knowledge that straddles between online and offline sales, I think Styler can take an overwhelming lead in this area.

Facy wants to be lifestyle-focused super app

Image credit: Styler
Image credit: Styler

In addition to offering the OMO solutions to fashion brands, Styler is working on upgrading their own flagship Facy app so that brands can easily catch up with the OMO trend. The completely newer version is expected to be out this fall.

We are currently benchmarking super apps like Southeast Asia’s Grab (turned from a ride-hailing app), China’s Meituan (previously known as a restaurant discovery/group buying site), and Columbia-born Rapii

Koseki continued:

Unlike these apps targeted at commodity consumers, Facy wants to be a lifesytle-focused OMO app serving those looking at mid-range priced products. We’re moving forward under the strategy symbolized by two keywords: New Retail and Luxury. Going forward, we’ll be also expanding into other categories like cosmetics and furniture.

In Japan, I think that tech giants like Line and Rakuten as well as other payments apps are probably trying to be a super app, but they have yet less variety in service offerings like what Grab, Meituan, and Rappi are doing. Hence, the Facy app has the potential to dominate this market in Japan if they can succeed in expanding their service offerings.

Japanese serial entrepreneur taking on post-pandemic rise of audio social media

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Since Taka Iguchi has developed so many products and services if you include those that already shut down, I don’t want to mention all of them in this story. But for the past four years he has focused on audio social services, starting with the Baby app in 2016 followed by its enhanced app Ball in 2017. After another pivot, his new app Dabel was launched in the US in January of last year under the previous name of Ear.ly. Iguchi has been based in San Francisco and Kyoto for some time now, but since the global pandemic of COVID-19, he has been unable to travel abroad and has been forced to stay mostly in Kyoto. I thought this may have been a headwind for him, but the app is apparently growing well. What is it about Dabel that attracts so many people? Last week I could have a chance to meet Iguchi in Kyoto to find out. Using audio social app to discover new friends It’s hard to find the best word to describe Dabel. Needless to say, the app’s name comes from the Japanese word meaning chatting but Iguchi himself describes it as “an app for well-side gossip…

Taka Iguchi stands in a temple in his neighborhood in Kyoto.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Since Taka Iguchi has developed so many products and services if you include those that already shut down, I don’t want to mention all of them in this story. But for the past four years he has focused on audio social services, starting with the Baby app in 2016 followed by its enhanced app Ball in 2017. After another pivot, his new app Dabel was launched in the US in January of last year under the previous name of Ear.ly.

Iguchi has been based in San Francisco and Kyoto for some time now, but since the global pandemic of COVID-19, he has been unable to travel abroad and has been forced to stay mostly in Kyoto. I thought this may have been a headwind for him, but the app is apparently growing well. What is it about Dabel that attracts so many people? Last week I could have a chance to meet Iguchi in Kyoto to find out.

Using audio social app to discover new friends

The Dabel app
Image credit: Doki Doki

It’s hard to find the best word to describe Dabel. Needless to say, the app’s name comes from the Japanese word meaning chatting but Iguchi himself describes it as “an app for well-side gossip meeting,” which gives me the impression that it allows you to be a radio anchor. Looking similar to other Japanese audio social apps like Voicy, Radiotalk and Stand.fm at first glance, what makes Dabel unique is that listeners can join the show and talk to each other upon the host’s approval.

It was only in May of last year that the app began to gain popularity in the US since AppleVis, a community website for the visually impaired, featured us. So, in June, we focused on the the Voiceover screen-reading function in the app (in aim to assist the visually impaired), and then more of them started actively using the app as a tool to find their new friends.

Iguchi continued.

In March this year, Mikke CEO Takumi Inoue (arranging an online meetup series called O-Cha) and apparel maker All Yours’ CEO Masashi Kimura started using the app, which triggered a boom in Japan. These users are often hyperactive and full of energy, having been looking for a place to release it. That’s why their content is interesting. You can listen to recording later on but 90% of listeners join their favorite shows live.

That’s probably the biggest advantage of audio social apps, although Dabel recommends that both the talking host and the listening listener use AirPods, so that you can deliver and listen to the show almost regardless of no matter where both of they are. There’s no need to set up your phone on a tripod or use a selfie stick like what YouTubers usually do. In fact, my friend Dabel host brought an afternoon talk show with three of her friends physically located apart each other while she broadcasted the show from the standing bar at a sushi bar on another occasion.

In my opinion, good sound quality and a sense of realism is one of Dabel’s hallmarks. When I heard the aforementioned talk show, I felt as if I, as a listener, were just standing before the sushi bar. There’s no need to shout so loudly, which doesn’t bother people around, and the minimal audio delay makes it easy to enjoy the interaction when the host allows the listener to join in.

Coronavirus pandemic reveals brutal truth

One of the things I like to talk about these days is the “what’s lost in looking for ways to coexist with the novel coronavirus may be serendipity”. With so many tech conferences going online, it’s hard to replicate online the “chance encounter” that might lead to an intimate relationship with someone you happen to meet at a party, as opposed to identifying and communicating with the person you want to talk to. Many of our current relationships are totally based on the result of these chances. Paul Graham explains that such uncertainty is essential to the fostering of the tech community.

But here a new insight: Dabel may bring a bright future to our world. Iguchi explains:

There’s a brutal truth that attracted our attention after the pandemic occurred.

Before the pandemic, we used to chat with acquaintances, family, friends and partners. But the pandemic prevented us from seeing each other. People started using Dabel to find new friends. And then, we found out that it doesn’t eventually matter whomever you chat with.

Originally, communities were often dependent on the physical environment where people found themselves. With the advent of the Internet and mobile, this physical constraint was removed to some extent, but the spread of the novel coronavirus spurred the loss of freedom of movement and caused people to start talking to the people they really wanted to talk to regardless of location.That person you are talking to might be someone you’ve never met, or it might be someone who lives on the other side of the planet. Dabel’s user experience, which relies on common interests to talk to each other but not on the physical environment or existing relationships, is also similar to that of Talkstand, another Japanese mobile app launched in beta back in May.

The world is catching up with the trends

Iguchi speaks at the 10841 launch event in Kyoto in February.
Image credit: Masahiro Noguchi

In May, Clubhouse, the US startup behind an audio social app under the same name, secured $10 million US from Andreesen Horowitz in a series A round, which raised their valuation to $100 million in just a couple of months after the launch. Clubhouse is recognized as one of the fastest growing startups in the region right now. In addition to an accomplishment for audio social networks to get some recognition from the market, it is perhaps a tailwind for Doki Doki, Iguchi’s startup behind the Dabel app, to secure the next round of funding in the not-too-distant future. Doki Doki raised 40 million from Skyland Ventures, CyberAgent Ventures, and Umeda Startup Fund in early 2016 followed by 50 million yen from Kyoto University Innovation Capital in a pre-seed round in February of 2017.

However, audio social is not all good because it’s a very new field. In the US, a recent closed discussion among venture capitalists on the Clubhouse app, in which they criticized Bay Area journalists for having too much power, has been leaked to the public and is causing a stir. There is always the risk that the whispering in the corner of the room can be exposed to the public via new technology. The future is unclear as the exchange of banter extends to issues such as gender and racial discrimination. Iguchi sees it as an object lesson to his venture.

Audio social is a highly intimate form of media. It’s easy to post emotions and passions, but it can also contain sensitive content when shared with the public. This is a double-edged sword, and the Clubhouse case was a bad pattern.

He added.

Dabel has also improved features such as the console banning users who violate the terms and conditions, but still we could experience “flaming cases” in the future. However, it’s not all bad. It’s a new medium, so there is always the risk of flamming, but Dabel is going to be on the offensive, aiming to become a safe and secure platform.

Of the 40,000 current Dabel users, about 30% are women while 67% are American and 10% are Japanese, which boasts a diversified demographic user base as a service by a Japanese startup. The total number of times people have participated in conversations on the app has reached 550,000, and the average dwell time per session on the app is around 57 minutes, which is much longer than that of Facebook.

Audio social is attracting a lot of attention because of its high level of user engagement. Pouring his energy into his enthusiasm, Iguchi wants to dominate the new field globally.

Japanese video tech startup Paronym secures funding from Thai telecom giant

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Tokyo-based Paronym, the Japanese startup behind the TIG interactive video technology, announced on Monday that it has secured an undisclosed sum from Intouch Holdings (BKK:INTUCH), the parent company of Thailand’s largest telecom operator AIS (BKK:ADVANC). Paronym has been raising a series B round since last year, and has so far secured approximately 230 million yen (about $2.1 million) from Japan Post Capital and NTT Docomo Ventures. The company says it has closed the latest round with the funding from Intouch Holdings. This entire round brought the startup’s funding sum up to date to 690 million yen ($6.4 million). Founded back in 2016, Paronym has developed the TIG interactive video solution that allows viewers to obtain necessary information by tapping an item in a video clip. Use cases include e-commerce sites selling interiors and fashion outfits, recipe sites (linking to foods and ingredients in the recipe), and online travel guides (linking to travel destinations). The platform offers tracking editing tool that allows content owners to associate objects in a clip with link destinations in addition to heat map tool showing them which part of the clip their viewers are tapping. The company offers a different line-up for each of six different…

Paronym CEO Michio Kobayashi presented at Rock Thailand in Bangkok in December.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Tokyo-based Paronym, the Japanese startup behind the TIG interactive video technology, announced on Monday that it has secured an undisclosed sum from Intouch Holdings (BKK:INTUCH), the parent company of Thailand’s largest telecom operator AIS (BKK:ADVANC).

Paronym has been raising a series B round since last year, and has so far secured approximately 230 million yen (about $2.1 million) from Japan Post Capital and NTT Docomo Ventures. The company says it has closed the latest round with the funding from Intouch Holdings. This entire round brought the startup’s funding sum up to date to 690 million yen ($6.4 million).

Founded back in 2016, Paronym has developed the TIG interactive video solution that allows viewers to obtain necessary information by tapping an item in a video clip. Use cases include e-commerce sites selling interiors and fashion outfits, recipe sites (linking to foods and ingredients in the recipe), and online travel guides (linking to travel destinations). The platform offers tracking editing tool that allows content owners to associate objects in a clip with link destinations in addition to heat map tool showing them which part of the clip their viewers are tapping.

Kobayashi shareed the development timeline of his company’s video technology service.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

The company offers a different line-up for each of six different verticals including movies splitting off into multiple case scenarios, magazines, digital signage, commerce, learning and live (performance). Due to its high interactivity, they claim that the platform can help e-commerce sites gain their conversion rate twice that of Instagram, three times that of YouTube.

In December, Paronym was qualified and invited to present at the second batch of Rock Thailand, a joint project by the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok and Thailand’s largest conglomerate CP Group with an aim to encourage business partnerships between the two countries, where Paronym CEO Michio Kobayashi explained his company has been seeking business alliances, series B funding, and potential sales partners in Thailand. So the latest funding means his efforts have paid off. Palonym plans to hold a joint press briefing with Intouch Holdings, and detailed plans are expected to be revealed at that time.

Remonade launches global edition, helps employees work from home more easily

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Tokyo-based Queue has launched the English version of Remonade, a team management platform that visualizes the performance of employees working from home. This is the third product for the company, following blueprint finder Blue Assistant and global startup database Sunryse. More people not only in startups but also in enterprises started working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new problems managers may face include helping smooth communication between members working apart each other as well as motivating them to maintain loyalty to the company. The Remonade platform is focused on the gap that tools like Slack and Torello cannot fill in addition to eliminating the stress these employees may feel from being watched by colleagues all day long through Skype or other tools. Remonade provides three key features: Today – offering easy daily task management Progress Sharing and Stats – showing shows daily to-dos for each member Dashboard – helping managers collect and analyze duties, granularity, and achievement rates that each of their team members is responsible for as well as their mental changes. For overall task management, you can use existing management tools, Gantt charts, and WBS (Work Breakdown Structure). But the Remonade platform visualizes daily tasks…

Tokyo-based Queue has launched the English version of Remonade, a team management platform that visualizes the performance of employees working from home. This is the third product for the company, following blueprint finder Blue Assistant and global startup database Sunryse.

More people not only in startups but also in enterprises started working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new problems managers may face include helping smooth communication between members working apart each other as well as motivating them to maintain loyalty to the company. The Remonade platform is focused on the gap that tools like Slack and Torello cannot fill in addition to eliminating the stress these employees may feel from being watched by colleagues all day long through Skype or other tools.

Remonade provides three key features:

  • Today – offering easy daily task management
  • Progress Sharing and Stats – showing shows daily to-dos for each member
  • Dashboard – helping managers collect and analyze duties, granularity, and achievement rates that each of their team members is responsible for as well as their mental changes.

For overall task management, you can use existing management tools, Gantt charts, and WBS (Work Breakdown Structure). But the Remonade platform visualizes daily tasks and helps managers grab what each of their members is working on at a glance. That’s why managers will not need to ask each of their members individually: “what are you working on?” or “how much did you work today?”

Queue CEO Naoto Shibata explained.

We wanted to help users share their status quo with their managers and colleagues as non-verbal as possible. While the government is promoting the work style reform in Japan, managers need to have more tasks to help their members work from home, such as asking them to submit a daily report. We wanted to solve this kind of problem.

The platform also has the feature to share snapshots of participating employees every few minutes (the frequency can be set arbitrarily by the user) using their laptop’s built-in camera. You can make your picture into mosaics, or even you can replace it with just an emoji and an icon.

In the future, some ideas include capturing seating times from camera images to help managers analyze the work performance of their members as well as analyzing their facial expressions to get mental feedback of them, Shibata says.

The company came up with Remonade because many of its employees work from home now. The platform can be used in conjunction with a variety of other tools, and a video conferencing tool integration is expected coming soon.

Daiz, Japan’s answer to Impossible Foods, secures $6M series A round

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Kumamoto-based Daiz, the Japanese startup developing plant-based substitutes for meat products, announced today that it has secured about 650 million yen (about $6 million) in a series A round. Investors participating in this round are: A-FIVE: Agriculture, forestry and fisheries Fund corporation for Innovation, Value-chain and Expansion Japan (Japan’s state-backed fund) Mitsubishi UFJ Capital Okasan Capital Partners Nichirei Foods (One of major brands of pre-cooked frozen foods in Japan) Kajitsudo (former parent company and current major share holder of Daiz, supplying organically-grown salad greens and leafy vegetables) Details of Daiz’s fundraising so far are unclear, but this follows the company’s previous three funding announcements: 100 million yen from Nishi-Nippon City Bank and QB Capital in September of 2018, 100 million yen from Kagoshima Bank in December of 2018, and 50 million yen from Nichirei Foods in February this year. The latest round brought their total funding sum up to about $11.2 million. The company says it will use the funds to expand its production capacity for soybean-based plant meat raw material called Miracle Chip up to 3,000 tons per year in addition to strengthen R&D efforts to get the taste of plant meat much closer to the real one. The…

Image credit: Daiz

Kumamoto-based Daiz, the Japanese startup developing plant-based substitutes for meat products, announced today that it has secured about 650 million yen (about $6 million) in a series A round.

Investors participating in this round are:

  • A-FIVE: Agriculture, forestry and fisheries Fund corporation for Innovation, Value-chain and Expansion Japan (Japan’s state-backed fund)
  • Mitsubishi UFJ Capital
  • Okasan Capital Partners
  • Nichirei Foods (One of major brands of pre-cooked frozen foods in Japan)
  • Kajitsudo (former parent company and current major share holder of Daiz, supplying organically-grown salad greens and leafy vegetables)

Details of Daiz’s fundraising so far are unclear, but this follows the company’s previous three funding announcements: 100 million yen from Nishi-Nippon City Bank and QB Capital in September of 2018, 100 million yen from Kagoshima Bank in December of 2018, and 50 million yen from Nichirei Foods in February this year.

The latest round brought their total funding sum up to about $11.2 million. The company says it will use the funds to expand its production capacity for soybean-based plant meat raw material called Miracle Chip up to 3,000 tons per year in addition to strengthen R&D efforts to get the taste of plant meat much closer to the real one.

Miracle Chip, Daiz’s soybean-based material for meat substitutes
Image credit: Daiz

The company adopts the patented Ochiai method in germinating soybeans, which activates enzymes and increases the amount of free amino acid contained by imparting stress such as lower oxygen level and higher temperature at the right timing of germination. This eventually contributes to bringing out the flavor of the raw ingredients and reproducing the meat-like texture without adding any additives.

In this space, we’ve recently seen updates like Impossible Foods raising $500 million to launch the sales of plant-based meat at 1,700 Kroger Co stores across the US in addition to Canada’s Livekindly (previously known as FoodsUnited) raising $200 million to invest in plant-based chicken substitutes. In April, Singapore-based Growthwell raised $8 million while Beyond Meat started offering food items using meat substitutes at over 3,300 Starbucks stores all across Mainland China.

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One Visa, Wovn join forces to keep foreign workers updated with relief efforts over COVID-19

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Two Tokyo startups – One Visa and Wovn Technologies – announced today that they are joining forces to help foreign workers in Japan keep updated with relief efforts and support measures over COVID-19. The will translate and organize notices and advisories from the government and private sectors into English, Chinese, Korean, and “Easy Japanese” so that non-native Japanese speakers can learn the latest developments. Translated updates are expected to reach more than hundreds of thousand foreign workers in Japan through the partnership with Tokyo-based foreign workers-focused recruiting agency Global Power in addition to 150 member companies belonging to Japan Shopping Tourism Organizatioin (JSTO). According to Japan’s Immigration Services Agency, over 2.8 million foreign passport holders are residing in Japan as of June 2019. One Visa has developed an online visa applications management platform, allowing Japanese companies to submit visa applications for their employees and manage when their visas will become expired and must apply for a new one. Wovn has developed an SDK (software developer kit) that allows mobile developers to easily multilingulize their websites and apps.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #4814.

Two Tokyo startups – One Visa and Wovn Technologies – announced today that they are joining forces to help foreign workers in Japan keep updated with relief efforts and support measures over COVID-19. The will translate and organize notices and advisories from the government and private sectors into English, Chinese, Korean, and “Easy Japanese” so that non-native Japanese speakers can learn the latest developments.

Translated updates are expected to reach more than hundreds of thousand foreign workers in Japan through the partnership with Tokyo-based foreign workers-focused recruiting agency Global Power in addition to 150 member companies belonging to Japan Shopping Tourism Organizatioin (JSTO). According to Japan’s Immigration Services Agency, over 2.8 million foreign passport holders are residing in Japan as of June 2019.

One Visa has developed an online visa applications management platform, allowing Japanese companies to submit visa applications for their employees and manage when their visas will become expired and must apply for a new one. Wovn has developed an SDK (software developer kit) that allows mobile developers to easily multilingulize their websites and apps.

Japan’s Smartround raises from Peter Thiel-led fund to help startups manage equity

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Tokyo-based Smartround, a Japanese startup helping startups and investors manage their funding and investments respectively, announced today that it has secured 100 million yen (about $933,000) in a pre-series A round based on J-KISS, a simple term sheet framework for a convertible instrument for early startups to obtain initial financing. Participating investors in this round include FF APAC Scout, Justin Waldron, and Matias de Tezanos. FF APAC Scout is Peter Thiel-led Founders Fund’s APAC region-focused scout fund, which allows serial entrepreneurs / angel investors to back new entrepreneurs, similarly to Japan Angel Fund and Sequoia Capital’s scout fund in terms of the scheme. Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron is well known in Japan for having invested in language learning startup Lang-8 while Matias de Tezanos is a serial entrepreneur and has experienced seven exits as an investor. Since the company secured over $513,000 from more than 20 Japanese angel investors in a seed round back in March last year, the latest round suggests another massive backing from angel investors but is centered on the Inner Circle in Silicon Valley this time around. Jeff Lonsdale, who’s in charge of the investment at FF APAC Scout, said in a statement: Japan is one…

Image credit: Smartround

Tokyo-based Smartround, a Japanese startup helping startups and investors manage their funding and investments respectively, announced today that it has secured 100 million yen (about $933,000) in a pre-series A round based on J-KISS, a simple term sheet framework for a convertible instrument for early startups to obtain initial financing. Participating investors in this round include FF APAC Scout, Justin Waldron, and Matias de Tezanos.

FF APAC Scout is Peter Thiel-led Founders Fund’s APAC region-focused scout fund, which allows serial entrepreneurs / angel investors to back new entrepreneurs, similarly to Japan Angel Fund and Sequoia Capital’s scout fund in terms of the scheme. Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron is well known in Japan for having invested in language learning startup Lang-8 while Matias de Tezanos is a serial entrepreneur and has experienced seven exits as an investor.

Since the company secured over $513,000 from more than 20 Japanese angel investors in a seed round back in March last year, the latest round suggests another massive backing from angel investors but is centered on the Inner Circle in Silicon Valley this time around.

Jeff Lonsdale, who’s in charge of the investment at FF APAC Scout, said in a statement:

Japan is one of the largest economies in the world with some of the most productive and innovative workers. We should expect many more strong companies to emerge from this ecosystem and Smartround is well positioned to help create this future.

Some of our readers may recall that Lonsdale expressed his extraordinary expectations for the globalization of Japanese startups in the future at Tech in Asia Tokyo 2018.

Smartround is a cloud-based platform serving startups and their backer VCs. It offers entrepreneurs with comprehensive resources for managing their businesses such as capital policy, business management, company introduction, library, and other functions while it enables investors to track their portfolio performance online. The Smartround team appears to consider US startups like Carta and Pully as the benchmark in their growth strategy.

Smartround was founded back in May of 2018. Prior to Smartround, Masaru Sunny Sunagawa, the startup’s founder and CEO, previously worked at a trading company and a VC firm followed by launching Location Value which was later acquired by NTT Docomo back in 2014.

Regarding what the latest funds is used for, Sunagawa said in a statement:

In the midst of the ongoing turmoil caused by COVID-19, Japanese startups leading the next generation are forced to navigate a difficult path. […]

We are grateful to all of our investors who share our philosophy and ideals and are willing to back us under this circumstance, and we will continue to improve our services and expand our business globally. In particular, we would like to take advantage of this funding experience to evolve our service so that Japanese startups can raise funds from overseas investors.

Plimes secures $1.4M seed round, helps hospitals monitor swallowing ability of elderly patients

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See the original story in Japanese. Plimes, a healthcare startup spun-off from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, announced in late March that it has raised nearly $1.4 million US in a seed round from robotics venture Cyberdyne (TSE: 7779), a fellow University of Tsukuba native for the startup. Plimes is also allying with Cyberdyne to accelerate the development and market expansion of their product. In general, people’s swallowing ability decreases with age, which puts the elderly at risk of aspiration and in turn increases the chance of pneumonia and/or death. Physicians may choose to alter the diet of patients with the decreased ability to swallow by switching them from solid food to mashed pastes, or in some cases patients may require gastrostomy for direct nutrients. Gokuri, the startup’s product, is a medical support device designed to improve the quality of life (QoL) for such eldery people. The device routinely measures whether or not swallowing is normal from the sound picked up using a microphone attached to a user’s neck, and it aims to improve the efficiency of user rehabilitation. The ability to accuratly monitor swallowing increases the possibility that the user can regain the power to eat and enjoy…

Plimes founders – From left: CCO Atsushi Nitasaka, COO Tomoya Shimokakimoto, CEO Kenji Suzuki, CTO Dushyantha Jayatilake
Image credit: Plimes

See the original story in Japanese.

Plimes, a healthcare startup spun-off from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, announced in late March that it has raised nearly $1.4 million US in a seed round from robotics venture Cyberdyne (TSE: 7779), a fellow University of Tsukuba native for the startup. Plimes is also allying with Cyberdyne to accelerate the development and market expansion of their product.

In general, people’s swallowing ability decreases with age, which puts the elderly at risk of aspiration and in turn increases the chance of pneumonia and/or death. Physicians may choose to alter the diet of patients with the decreased ability to swallow by switching them from solid food to mashed pastes, or in some cases patients may require gastrostomy for direct nutrients.

Gokuri, the startup’s product, is a medical support device designed to improve the quality of life (QoL) for such eldery people. The device routinely measures whether or not swallowing is normal from the sound picked up using a microphone attached to a user’s neck, and it aims to improve the efficiency of user rehabilitation. The ability to accuratly monitor swallowing increases the possibility that the user can regain the power to eat and enjoy tasty solid foods.

The Gokuri swallowing monitoring device
Image credit: Plimes

This is seed funding for the Plimes team after 10 years since they started basic research at the University of Tsukuba and the University Hospital of Tsukuba back in 2010 (not yet incorporated at that time). Funding was made possible by Gokuri’s high level of accuracy, 97.3% or more, with regards to measuring normal and abnormal swallowing conditions, and the establishment of a business model using hospitals as sales channels. The current business model assumes that hospitals will adopt the solution to improve medical services for patients.

Plimes COO/Co-founder Atsushi Nitasaka says,

For example, hospitals don’t want to see any patient with a brain tumor is cured by surgery but goes on to die of aspiration pneumonia the first time he ate. […]

During the process of starting development and advancing the product market fit, we realized that there is a need for doctors to monitor the patients’ diet. However, doctors cannot be continuously looking after them. This is where our solution can help. Our business model supports hospitals with their goal of discharging patients quickly.

In collaboration with Kyotango City in Kyoto, Tarumizu City in Kagoshima, and Fukuoka Prefecture, and other local governments, the company has been conducting practical tests with elderly participants at local medical facilities. Plimes feels that Japanese startups are uniquely skilled at developing solutions for aging societies, and since aging is a social issue common to developed countries, they have started global business expansion. Plimes is currently conducting demo tests in the US, Germany, and Denmark.

The Gokuri swallowing monitoring device
Image credit: Plimes

In line with the latest funding, Plimes will begin recruitment of skilled team members for each speciality: testing for swallowing, monitoring studies, medical device development, business development, speech therapy, cloud application development, and AI technology. Cyberdene, one of the investors in thiis round, has its hands in health and medical related business, so we can expect to see emerging synergy. Plimes will receive widespread support from Cyberdyne for engineering, back office functions, and the development of sales channels.

Plimes was adopted into the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s startup business “JST Start” initiative back in 2015 followed by being incorporated in 2018. Additionally, the company has had excellent results at numerous startup events and initiatives, including receiving the IP Bridge Award at the Asian Entrepreneurship Award 2018 and winning the 2nd “Startup Accelerator Tsukuba” Demo Day.

Translated by Amanda Lynn
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s Cinnamon AI secures $12M in series C round, appoints chairman

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Updated on Thursday at 9:30am: Kaji’s title was adjusted following the company’s latest announcement that he was approved as a managing director of the executive board at their shareholders meeting. Japanese startup Cinnamon AI (previously known as Cinnamon), developing a document reading engine and a voice recognition solution leveraging their proprietary AI technologies, announced today that it has secured 1.3 billion yen (about $12 million US) from D4V and Pegasus Tech Ventures in a series C round. The amount includes loans from Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, Japan Fiance Corporation, and Shoko Chukin Bank. D4V, one of the investors participating in this round, has already invested in the startup via transfer of stocks from an unnamed existing investor in an angel round back in 2018. The latest round follows the startup’s series B round closed in January of 2019 with securing $13.7 million. At this opportunity, the company announced it has changed its corporate identity into Cinnamon AI (The registered corporate name remains unchanged). The company announced yesterday that it has appointed Yoshimitsu Kaji, the former Chief Marketing Innovator (CMI) of Accenture Japan and Professor at Globis University’s Graduate School of Management, as the chairman and executive officer. The company claims that…

Image credit: Cinnamon AI

Updated on Thursday at 9:30am: Kaji’s title was adjusted following the company’s latest announcement that he was approved as a managing director of the executive board at their shareholders meeting.

Japanese startup Cinnamon AI (previously known as Cinnamon), developing a document reading engine and a voice recognition solution leveraging their proprietary AI technologies, announced today that it has secured 1.3 billion yen (about $12 million US) from D4V and Pegasus Tech Ventures in a series C round. The amount includes loans from Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, Japan Fiance Corporation, and Shoko Chukin Bank.

D4V, one of the investors participating in this round, has already invested in the startup via transfer of stocks from an unnamed existing investor in an angel round back in 2018. The latest round follows the startup’s series B round closed in January of 2019 with securing $13.7 million.

At this opportunity, the company announced it has changed its corporate identity into Cinnamon AI (The registered corporate name remains unchanged).

Cinnamon AI’s newly-appointed chairman Yoshimitsu Kaji

The company announced yesterday that it has appointed Yoshimitsu Kaji, the former Chief Marketing Innovator (CMI) of Accenture Japan and Professor at Globis University’s Graduate School of Management, as the chairman and executive officer. The company claims that this is a part of the company’s effort to enhance corporate governance.

Flax Scanner, the RPA (robotics process automation) class 2 solution using the company’s own document reading engine Cinnamon AI, is widely used for handling documents such as contracts, resumes, sales progress reports, medical charts, handwritten application forms, real estate property information, receipts, etc. Rossa Voice, another flagship product from the company, is a voice dictation solution based on an automated word correction technology used for Flax Scanner.

The company uses the funds to hire highly-skilled human resources (especially those with high expertise in AI), solidify its organizational structure in Japan, Vietnam, and Taiwan, enhance its AI core technologies and user interfaces, and strengthen R&D investments in new areas such as speech recognition and natural language processing.