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

One Visa, helping Japanese firms manage visas for foreign employees, raises $4.2M

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based One Visa, the Japanese startup that helps companies streamline visa management for their foreign employees, announced today that it has secured about 450 million yen (about $4.2 million US) in the latest round. Participating investors are Zenhoren (Japanese rental guarantee obligation company), Seven Bank (a bank by Seven-Eleven convenience store chain), Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank, Canal Ventures (investment arm of Japanese system integration company Nihon Unisys), CyberAgent, and Anri. The figures include loans from Japanese Finance Corporation. Prior to this round, One Visa has secured secured 36 million yen (about $324,000 US) from Primal Capital and Skyland Ventures back in June of 2017 followed by 50 million funding from Anri back in November of 2017. That latest funding brings their funding sum to about 540 million yen. The company says they will use the funds at this time to accelerate advertising and hiring people to strengthen sales and marketing efforts. Regarding business partnership with the companies participating in the round, One Visa will explore collaboration potential with Zenhoren through the latter’s rental guarantee business while establishing the scheme allowing foreigners to create their banking account in partnership with Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank by means of…

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One Visa Co-founder and CEO Alberto Okamura
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based One Visa, the Japanese startup that helps companies streamline visa management for their foreign employees, announced today that it has secured about 450 million yen (about $4.2 million US) in the latest round. Participating investors are Zenhoren (Japanese rental guarantee obligation company), Seven Bank (a bank by Seven-Eleven convenience store chain), Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank, Canal Ventures (investment arm of Japanese system integration company Nihon Unisys), CyberAgent, and Anri. The figures include loans from Japanese Finance Corporation.

Prior to this round, One Visa has secured secured 36 million yen (about $324,000 US) from Primal Capital and Skyland Ventures back in June of 2017 followed by 50 million funding from Anri back in November of 2017. That latest funding brings their funding sum to about 540 million yen. The company says they will use the funds at this time to accelerate advertising and hiring people to strengthen sales and marketing efforts.

Regarding business partnership with the companies participating in the round, One Visa will explore collaboration potential with Zenhoren through the latter’s rental guarantee business while establishing the scheme allowing foreigners to create their banking account in partnership with Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank by means of doing so with Seven Bank since December. Gifu Prefecture where Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank is headquartered is also known for having many foreign residents working for automobile factories located in the area.

One Visa was initially launched as a service helping companies streamline visa acquisition and management for their immigrant employees. With the expansion of its service lineup to include education (One Visa Education), employment referral (One Visa Work), One Visa (visa acquisition and management), and One Visa Connect (living support), it will become possible to provide extensive support for foreign workers, from working to living or other every aspect of their whole lives.

Okamura himself has worked for the Tokyo Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa, Tokyo and had a hand in issuing visas for some 30,000 foreigners. More than 400 companies have introduced it since the beta launch in June 2017. The company graduated from the 4th batch of Recruit’s Tech Lab Paak accelerator, and came in 4th place at IVS 2017 Spring Kobe’s LaunchPad.

Japan’s Base Food, nutrition complete food startup, raises $3.7M for US expansion

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Tokyo-based Base Food, developing nutritionally complete food products capable of becoming staple foods named Base Pasta and Base Bread, announced on Monday that it has secured 400 million yen (about $3.7 million US) in a series A round. Participating investors in this round are Rakuten Ventures, XTech Ventures, Global Brain, and several unnamed angel investors. This follows their previous seed round funding from Global Brain back in November of 2017. With this funding, the startup expects to expand their business globally in partnership with Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, the parent of Rakuten Ventures. We were told that this effort targets the US market in particular, where two-thirds of their adults and one-third of children overweight or obese and are trying to be more conscious about nutrition and health management. Base Food is the food-tech startup founded in April of 2016 by Shun Hashimoto, formerly engaged in the autonomous driving business at DeNA and other activities. The company targets those who do not know which nutrients to take, as a complete nutritious food allowing intake of 31 kinds of nutrients just in a single meal. It does not only have functional immediacy, but also provides satisfaction with its delicious taste and…

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Image credit: Base Food

Tokyo-based Base Food, developing nutritionally complete food products capable of becoming staple foods named Base Pasta and Base Bread, announced on Monday that it has secured 400 million yen (about $3.7 million US) in a series A round. Participating investors in this round are Rakuten Ventures, XTech Ventures, Global Brain, and several unnamed angel investors. This follows their previous seed round funding from Global Brain back in November of 2017.

With this funding, the startup expects to expand their business globally in partnership with Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, the parent of Rakuten Ventures. We were told that this effort targets the US market in particular, where two-thirds of their adults and one-third of children overweight or obese and are trying to be more conscious about nutrition and health management.

Base Food is the food-tech startup founded in April of 2016 by Shun Hashimoto, formerly engaged in the autonomous driving business at DeNA and other activities. The company targets those who do not know which nutrients to take, as a complete nutritious food allowing intake of 31 kinds of nutrients just in a single meal. It does not only have functional immediacy, but also provides satisfaction with its delicious taste and can become a staple food.

Japanese business card-based CRM startup Sansan files for IPO

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Tokyo-based Sansan, the company that operates the business card-based CRM (customer relationship management) solutions, announced today that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on June 19. Nomura Securities will lead the underwriting. Since its launch back in 2007, the company has been developing and offering two key products: Sansan and Eight. The Sansan platform is designed for enterprises or medium-businesses, provides a combined solution for business card scanning, data entry, and contact management, so that you can easily share the profiles of your clients with your colleagues. It serves 5,700 clients as of Q3 2019 in May. Meanwhile, the Eight platform is more optimized for individual use where our contacts will be automatically imported and connected by linking your Eight account with your social media presences like Facebook. It boasts 2.35 million users as of Q3 2019 in May. According to the consolidated statement as of May of 2018, they posted a revenue of 7.32 billion yen (about $66.8 million) with an ordinary loss of 3.08 billion yen ($28.1 million) and a net loss of 3.09 billion yen ($28.2 million). Led by Sansan CEO and…

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Sansan

Tokyo-based Sansan, the company that operates the business card-based CRM (customer relationship management) solutions, announced today that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on June 19. Nomura Securities will lead the underwriting.

Since its launch back in 2007, the company has been developing and offering two key products: Sansan and Eight.

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Sansan CEO Chika Terada

The Sansan platform is designed for enterprises or medium-businesses, provides a combined solution for business card scanning, data entry, and contact management, so that you can easily share the profiles of your clients with your colleagues. It serves 5,700 clients as of Q3 2019 in May.

Meanwhile, the Eight platform is more optimized for individual use where our contacts will be automatically imported and connected by linking your Eight account with your social media presences like Facebook. It boasts 2.35 million users as of Q3 2019 in May.

According to the consolidated statement as of May of 2018, they posted a revenue of 7.32 billion yen (about $66.8 million) with an ordinary loss of 3.08 billion yen ($28.1 million) and a net loss of 3.09 billion yen ($28.2 million).

Led by Sansan CEO and co-founder Chika Terada, its major share holders include DCM Ventures (6.90%), INCJ (5.91%), SMBC (5.81%), Sansan’s employee stock ownership (4.99%), GS Growth Investment (4.42%), A-Fund (4.35%), Sansan Director and co-founder Kei Tomioka (3.57%), Nissay Capital (3.06%), and EEI Cleantech Limited Partnership by Environmental Energy Investment (2.34%).

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Bangkok’s Flare secures early funding, boasts 15,000 drivers wrapping car in ads

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See the original story in Japanese. Bangkok-based Flare, the startup offering a car advertising network under the same name, announced today that it has secured early stage funding from Tokyo-based Voyage Ventures and unnamed angel investors. Financial terms including how much the investment was have not been disclosed. The funding round is unknown but it’s estimated as an early stage which is an equivalent to a pre-series A round given that it follows the previous seed round. Flare was launched back in August of 2017 by Japanese serial entrepreneur Kazuki Kamiya who moved to Thailand in November of 2013. Prior to Flare, he established a Skype-based Thai language school in May of 2014. Later, he engaged in managing crowdsourced translation / interpretation and business portal website, and now has newly started an on-demand real business. For Flare, he has secured funding three times since its angel and seed rounds. The Flare users owning automobiles log onto the service via a mobile app, and selects a desired one from among campaigns offered by advertisers. After applying for the campaign through uploading photos of the auto and driver license, wrapper comes and wraps the auto in the ad. Driving record while putting…

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A car wrapping in an ad by Flare
Image credit: Flare

See the original story in Japanese.

Bangkok-based Flare, the startup offering a car advertising network under the same name, announced today that it has secured early stage funding from Tokyo-based Voyage Ventures and unnamed angel investors. Financial terms including how much the investment was have not been disclosed. The funding round is unknown but it’s estimated as an early stage which is an equivalent to a pre-series A round given that it follows the previous seed round.

Flare was launched back in August of 2017 by Japanese serial entrepreneur Kazuki Kamiya who moved to Thailand in November of 2013. Prior to Flare, he established a Skype-based Thai language school in May of 2014. Later, he engaged in managing crowdsourced translation / interpretation and business portal website, and now has newly started an on-demand real business. For Flare, he has secured funding three times since its angel and seed rounds.

The Flare users owning automobiles log onto the service via a mobile app, and selects a desired one from among campaigns offered by advertisers. After applying for the campaign through uploading photos of the auto and driver license, wrapper comes and wraps the auto in the ad. Driving record while putting the ad will be sent to Flare via the app so that a user can earn money according to the distance and the route he/she has driven for.

500 autos signed up with Flare at the time of launch back in August of 2017. The startup has tentatively suspended accepting applications from drivers because of too many sign-ups. However, the number of registrants grew up to 6,000 cars in May of 2018 and then 15,000 drivers back in April this year, now aiming to serve 100,000 cars in the near future. Advertisers for Flare are tens of companies in total including cosmetics, food brands, app developers, and shopping malls from Thailand, Japan, and multinational companies.

Flare recently partnered with Toyota Tsusho (Thailand) which is getting more massive to invest in verticals like smart living, aging society, and MaaS (Mobility as a Service). Bangkok Post reported that the partnership intends to run a joint campaign promoting the Flare service leveraging Toyota Tsusho’s auto sales locations all across Thailand, resulted in that the trading giant invested 3 million baht (about $100,000 US) in the BangkoK startup in a pre-sereis A round. (The latest investment is made for the startup’s Japanese business entity).

Flare says it will use the funds to strengthen product development and team structure, aiming to expand into another business leveraging touch points with auto drivers.

A video clip below shows you Thai broadcaster Channel 5’s coverage of the partnership between Toyota Tsusho (Thailand) and Flare.

Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies makes successful space rocket launch

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Japanese space startup Intersteller Technologies announced earlier today that it has successfully launched a small rocket in Hokkaido this morning. The company is well known for having been co-founded and invested by Japanese renowned investor/entrepreneur Takafumi Horie a.k.a. Horiemon. Named Momo after a Japanese alias for 100, the rocket literally succeeded to rise to an altitude of more than 100 kilometers (the startup’s twitter says it was 113.4 kilometers). It is 10 meter long and 1 ton with an diameter of 50 centimeters, has been developed by the startup from scratch. Intersteller has just become the first private company in Japan to launch a rocket into the space. The launch was initially planned in April but was postponed due to a minor leak of liquid oxygen fuel and strong winds. This follows their second launch last year which ended in a fiery crash just after the liftoff. The startup is planning to launch another rocket in 2023, hoping to carry small satellites for lower costs.

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Momo F3
Image credit: Interstellar

Japanese space startup Intersteller Technologies announced earlier today that it has successfully launched a small rocket in Hokkaido this morning. The company is well known for having been co-founded and invested by Japanese renowned investor/entrepreneur Takafumi Horie a.k.a. Horiemon.

Named Momo after a Japanese alias for 100, the rocket literally succeeded to rise to an altitude of more than 100 kilometers (the startup’s twitter says it was 113.4 kilometers). It is 10 meter long and 1 ton with an diameter of 50 centimeters, has been developed by the startup from scratch. Intersteller has just become the first private company in Japan to launch a rocket into the space.

The launch was initially planned in April but was postponed due to a minor leak of liquid oxygen fuel and strong winds. This follows their second launch last year which ended in a fiery crash just after the liftoff. The startup is planning to launch another rocket in 2023, hoping to carry small satellites for lower costs.

Japan’s BlueGoats Capital looks to join series B rounds for global startups in unique way

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See the original story in Japanese. Kazuhiro Aoyagi, the founder and CEO of Ignition Point, announced the establishment of a startup fund called BlueGoats Capital today. The fund size is set to be 300 to 500 million yen (about $2.7 million to $4.5 million). It will offers 1 to 50 million yen (about $8,900 to $450,000) per investment in Japanese startups in their pre-seed or seed round.  Additionally, it will also introduce Japanese large funds to foreign startups seeking series B funding and join the round as a minority investor. The firm targets so-called ‘XTech (cross-tech) Field’, which applies new technologies into conventional real businesses. Obviously named after the founder’s name – Aoyagi consisting of Ao (blue) and Yagi (goats), the fund was also influenced by the English words of ‘Greatest of All Time’. He had been giving advice to entrepreneurs about incorporation or scaling-up of their business. In these processes, he has sometimes invested as an angel investor in some of them out of those like Synapse, the developer of the platform driving potential customers to online travel agencies.  But he finally decided to expand his investment activity by forming the fund. Ignition Point had found various kinds of…

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Kazuhiro Aoyagi, Founder of BlueGoats Capital

See the original story in Japanese.

Kazuhiro Aoyagi, the founder and CEO of Ignition Point, announced the establishment of a startup fund called BlueGoats Capital today. The fund size is set to be 300 to 500 million yen (about $2.7 million to $4.5 million). It will offers 1 to 50 million yen (about $8,900 to $450,000) per investment in Japanese startups in their pre-seed or seed round.  Additionally, it will also introduce Japanese large funds to foreign startups seeking series B funding and join the round as a minority investor. The firm targets so-called ‘XTech (cross-tech) Field’, which applies new technologies into conventional real businesses.

Obviously named after the founder’s name – Aoyagi consisting of Ao (blue) and Yagi (goats), the fund was also influenced by the English words of ‘Greatest of All Time’. He had been giving advice to entrepreneurs about incorporation or scaling-up of their business. In these processes, he has sometimes invested as an angel investor in some of them out of those like Synapse, the developer of the platform driving potential customers to online travel agencies.  But he finally decided to expand his investment activity by forming the fund.

Ignition Point had found various kinds of business in a short period; the Secual smart security startup, the LEARNie online English conversation lesson for kids, the Pontely free DNA test for pet shop dogs, and the DANX on-demand eating and drinking service using food trucks. BlueGoats has no capital relationship with Ignition Point, but Aoyagi’s deep insight and experience about startups and business management will be surely shared with the firm’s portfolio companies.

BlueGoats Capital says that it may make Ignition Point’s office space Spark 2045 or the Point Edge creative studio in Shibuya available to the new fund’s portfolio companies.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

One Visa now can help immigrant workers in Japan get credit cards, official certificates

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See the original story in Japanese. One Visa (formerly Residence), the Japanese startup that helps companies streamline visa management for their foreign employees, announced in a press conference held in Tokyo that it has partnered with Credit Saison (TSE:8253) and Fuji Xerox System Service. Credit Saison will issue credit cards for foreigners while Fuji Xerox System Service will work with government offices to offer pre-filled application forms for official documents. In the past, it was difficult for credit companies to obtain the latest information on the addresses and status of work of foreign national users, so there were problems in issuing credit cards to them. Through the collaboration with Credit Saison and by linking the visa information of One Visa users, companies using One Visa can detect when the foreign national user joins or leaves a company in real time as well as the latest information regarding visa renewals, the result being a smoother process for issuing a credit card. Additionally, with the support of Fuji Xerox System Service, One Visa will allow their users to get a pre-filled application for an official certificate by linking with the information from their visa application documents. The format of documents differs depending…

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Albert Okamura explains how One Visa can help immigrant workers.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

See the original story in Japanese.

One Visa (formerly Residence), the Japanese startup that helps companies streamline visa management for their foreign employees, announced in a press conference held in Tokyo that it has partnered with Credit Saison (TSE:8253) and Fuji Xerox System Service. Credit Saison will issue credit cards for foreigners while Fuji Xerox System Service will work with government offices to offer pre-filled application forms for official documents.

In the past, it was difficult for credit companies to obtain the latest information on the addresses and status of work of foreign national users, so there were problems in issuing credit cards to them. Through the collaboration with Credit Saison and by linking the visa information of One Visa users, companies using One Visa can detect when the foreign national user joins or leaves a company in real time as well as the latest information regarding visa renewals, the result being a smoother process for issuing a credit card.

Additionally, with the support of Fuji Xerox System Service, One Visa will allow their users to get a pre-filled application for an official certificate by linking with the information from their visa application documents. The format of documents differs depending on each local authority, but Fuji Xerox System Service is currently in the process of standardizing the format for the 23 wards in Tokyo and in Yokohama City where the population of foreign nationals is particularly large.

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The new building at the One Visa Education Center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

In preparation for the revision of the immigration control laws that will go into effect on April 1st and created the new “special skills” visa requiring Japanese language ability, the company created a Japanese learning environment called the One Visa Education Center. The first center was established in September of last year in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and it is promoting a Japanese language learning business for overseas personnel in cooperation with Kansai University’s Ikeda Laboratory.

In partnership with Seven Bank in December of last year, the company established a system that makes it possible for foreign employees to obtain a bank account almost immediately upon arrival in Japan by linking it with their visa information. Previously this has taken upwards of six months post arrival. (This system will launch on April 1st with the introduction of the new residence status, but it will take some more time until the first user comes in.)

One Visa was initially launched as a service helping companies streamline visa acquisition and management for their immigrant employees. With the expansion of its service lineup to include education (One Visa Education), employment referral (One Visa Work), One Visa (visa acquisition and management), and One Visa Connect (living support), it will become possible to provide extensive support for foreign workers, from working to living or other every aspect of their whole lives.

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One Visa Co-founder and CEO Alberto Okamura
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Okamura himself has worked for the Tokyo Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa, Tokyo and had a hand in issuing visas for some 30,000 foreigners. More than 400 companies have introduced it since the beta launch in June 2017. The company graduated from the 4th batch of Recruit’s Tech Lab Paak accelerator, and came in 4th place at IVS 2017 Spring Kobe’s LaunchPad. In June of 2017 it raised 36 million yen (about $324,000 US) from Primal Capital and Skyland Ventures in a seed round.

Translated by Amanda Imaksaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan startup unveils manned hoverbike, expecting it to fly above public roads [video]

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based A.L.I. Technologies (formerly known as Aerial Lab Industries) gave the press a demonstration of the prototype of its hoverbike named Speeder today. This was the first tine to show the hoverbike capable of flying with a person while the company showcased a mock-up of it at press conference announcing the establishment of Drone Fund’s No.2 fund last year. Since the company thinks that it requires some time to realize a manned drone due to undeveloped legal system, it first aims the practical application of a hoverbike that can run on public roads floating in the air. They are currently in negotiation with tjhe Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and the National Police Agency about the possible permission to ride a hoverbike with both a medium-sized motorcycle license and a drone license. The company also expects to ask purchasers of Speeder to get a lecture or training in advance at an authorized drone school for the consideration of safety. In the demonstration, they showed the hoverbike’s various functions working properly: altitude control by ultrasonic sensor, auto-attitude control by IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit), buoyancy control by duct effect / ground effect as…

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based A.L.I. Technologies (formerly known as Aerial Lab Industries) gave the press a demonstration of the prototype of its hoverbike named Speeder today. This was the first tine to show the hoverbike capable of flying with a person while the company showcased a mock-up of it at press conference announcing the establishment of Drone Fund’s No.2 fund last year.

Since the company thinks that it requires some time to realize a manned drone due to undeveloped legal system, it first aims the practical application of a hoverbike that can run on public roads floating in the air. They are currently in negotiation with tjhe Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and the National Police Agency about the possible permission to ride a hoverbike with both a medium-sized motorcycle license and a drone license. The company also expects to ask purchasers of Speeder to get a lecture or training in advance at an authorized drone school for the consideration of safety.

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Speeder, A.L.I.Technologies’ hoverbike under development
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

In the demonstration, they showed the hoverbike’s various functions working properly: altitude control by ultrasonic sensor, auto-attitude control by IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit), buoyancy control by duct effect / ground effect as well as braking system. This prototype mounts a generic but customized engine but the detailed specification including how much power output it has was not disclosed.

A.L.I. Technologies starts taking orders for Limited Edition of Speeder Standard Model (only 100 will be sold) in early May while the finished product will be delivered in the first half of 2021. The expected price is $80,000 to $120,000. No down payment of deposit is needed but the firm plans to conduct pre-purchase examination for purchasers including license possession status in order to prevent the abuse of the product.

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A.L.I. Technologies also plans to produce Speeder Sports Model targeting high-end users (the expected price is $300,000 to $500,000), although the production volume is still to be fixed. As for the mass production type of Speeder following Limited Edition, it will work using electric motors without gasoline engine and propeller but the company has not disclosed about how they will make it float in the air. In the demonstration event, Shuhei Komatsu (Chirman, A.L.I. Technologies), Kotaro Chiba (General Partner, Drone Fund / Managing Director & Investor, A.L.I. Technologies ) and Soichiro Imaeda (member of the House of Representatives, Diet Members Caucus supporting Drone Business) celebrated the hoverbike has stepped into the new development phase.

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L to R: Kotaro Chiba (General Partner, Drone Fund / Managing Director, A.L.I. Technologies), Soichiro Imaeda (Member of the House of Representatives, Japan / Executive Director, Diet Members Caucus supporting Drone Business), Shuhei Komatsu (Chairman, A.L.I. Technologies) and Daisuke Kataoka (CEO, A.L.I. Technologies)
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japanese ‘robotics legend’ joins telexistence startup Gitai as COO to create space robots

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese telexistence robotics startup Gitai (formerly MacroSpace) announced today that it has appointed humanoid scientist/engineer and former Founder/CEO of Schaft Yuto Nakanishi as COO. Schaft was founded back in 2012 and subsequently secured funding from TomyK and Tsuneishi Partners. It won the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge trials in 2013, and was later acquired by Google (name at the time of acquisition). Since then, Schaft had been developing robots at a new technology development company called X (formerly Google X) operating under Google’s stock holding company Alphabet, but the Schaft project shut down in November of last year. Gitai was initially focused on the telexistence technology which connects an operator and a robot in two different locations. Since its participation in the 9th batch of the Tech Lab Paak accelerator in 2017, it appears the company has been trying to shift the business to the space sector. The cost of operating the International Space Station (ISS) tops several trillion yen or more worldwide, with Japan supplying several hundred billion yen or more of the cumulative total. Around half of the cost comes from training astronauts, their travel between the Earth…

The Gitai Team – Back row, third person from the right: CEO Sho Nakanose ; front row, middle: COO Yuto Nakanishi
Image credit: Gitai

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese telexistence robotics startup Gitai (formerly MacroSpace) announced today that it has appointed humanoid scientist/engineer and former Founder/CEO of Schaft Yuto Nakanishi as COO.

Schaft was founded back in 2012 and subsequently secured funding from TomyK and Tsuneishi Partners. It won the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge trials in 2013, and was later acquired by Google (name at the time of acquisition). Since then, Schaft had been developing robots at a new technology development company called X (formerly Google X) operating under Google’s stock holding company Alphabet, but the Schaft project shut down in November of last year.

Gitai was initially focused on the telexistence technology which connects an operator and a robot in two different locations. Since its participation in the 9th batch of the Tech Lab Paak accelerator in 2017, it appears the company has been trying to shift the business to the space sector.

Yuto Nakanishi

The cost of operating the International Space Station (ISS) tops several trillion yen or more worldwide, with Japan supplying several hundred billion yen or more of the cumulative total. Around half of the cost comes from training astronauts, their travel between the Earth and the ISS, and transporting the necessary items to maintain life on the ISS.

As astronauts are human, the amount of time spent performing tasks and the range of such activities are limited, and since we cannot ignore the effects of weightlessness and space radiation, astronauts who reach a certain period of time on their mission must return to Earth. Additionally, a variety of tests are conducted on the ISS; however, there are limits to carrying out these experiments in each field and all alone as each astronaut specializes in different fields.

If robots can be sent to the ISS and remotely controlled from Earth, it is possible to reduce the number of astronauts sent. If the ISS robot operators work in shifts, experts in all fields are able to carry out their experiments remotely, all day, every day. If robots can replace some of the extremely costful industries being employed, perhaps there is room to turn this into a business. It seems Sho Nakanose, Founder & CEO of Gitai, thought so.

With the Trump administration in the US announcing a policy shift in the operation of the ISS to the private sector (from NASA to space startups), the US has seen a remarkable increase in the momentum of space startups. Following the US movement to contribute 80% of the ISS operating costs, Japan is also looking for ways to cooperate with space startups through JAXA, one example being the ISS experimental module “Kibou”.

Nakanose says,

For example, let’s say that the ISS mission, which had cost 40 billion yen so far, has to be able to operate on 4 billion yen. In this case, even if a robot is a bit expensive, we can look at it as a cost reduction tool for the entire mission, so the robot’s cost would be acceptable. […]

It may still take awhile for robots to operate autonomously, but if we can provide telexistence with detailed, high-definition but low-latency video and operability, it should be valuable enough.

Whether it is robots for businesses, or robots for consumers, an overwhelming reduction in cost is needed to bring it to the level of mass production that could cope with the widespread use of robots. As a matter of fact, this is probably the reason behind X’s abandoning Schaft’s operations. In contrast, a robot using telexistence for space missions would be able to make enough money for startups to continue doing business for as long as there is a demand.

6th prototype robot
Image credit: Gitai

Nakanishi added,

The main focus for Google’s development of Schaft was to turn it into a business. Because we focused on how to do business with a bipedal robot, in order to do that we focused on the themes of low cost, low power consumption, and full autonomy.  […]

Lower cost means that the profit rate for each robot is also lower, which makes mass production necessary, but it is still going to take time for a fully autonomous robot to reach the market. Google allowed me to do it for five years, and I feel like I took it as far as I could, but after reaching this conclusion I decided to move on.

Contrary to Nakanishi’s previous dealings in the world of cost consciousness, in the space robot market companies can make a profit by selling just one. Furthermore, since there is no requirement to be fully automatic from the beginning, Nakanishi judged Gitai as the place where he can make the most use of his knowledge as a humanoid engineer. According to him, the hardware and software for fully autonomous robots are still unable to keep up with the the abilities of humans and the speed of human movement.

Nakanishi continued,

As a robot researcher, if someone else is able to do this, I feel like I don’t want to admit it (laughs). But, if there is a place where you can accomplish what you want and get paid to do it, well, that’s the best. (If it’s not completely autonomous) Many people may place blame on it but you’d better ignore them (laughs). I want to produce a robot that can actually be used.

Nakanishi has been developing a robot that mimics the motions of the lower half of the human body at Schaft. But now he will work to produce a robot that produces movements as similar as possible to those of the upper human body at Gitai. The day when the technologies developed by the same humanoid scientist at different startups go on to be acquired by Google, uniting the upper and lower bodies in real life, may not be just a dream.

Gitai has enrolled several engineers from the Univesity of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Information Engineering, Nakanishi’s alma mater, such as CTO Toyotaka Kozuki (former mechanical engineer at Japanese personal mobility startup Whill) along with VP of Software Development Ryohei Ueda (formerly software engineer at Schaft).  Gitai has transformed almost imperceptibly into an assembly point for some of the world’s top robotics authorities.

Gitai raised 15 million yen (about $134K US) from Skyland Ventures in a seed round in September 2016, and then raised $1.25 million US from ANRI and 500 Startups Japan (at that time) in a seed round in December 2017.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Buzzreach raises $450K to help Japanese pharma firms ease clinical trials for drugs

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based MedTech startup Buzzreach announced today that it has fundraised 50 million yen (about $450,000 US) in a seed round. This round was secured in December of 2018 and led by KLab Venture Partners. The amount includes loans from financial institutions.  The company offers a matchmaking platform called Puzz between clinical trial patients and pharmaceutical companies as well as a media portal called ‘Smt‘. Buzzreach was founded by Takateru Inokawa (current CEO) and Kiyoshi Aoyagi (current COO), both of whom had been previously involved in the foundation of two patient recruit organizations: Clinical Trial and Croee. In the increased globalization of the pharmaceutical industry and their drug discovery business, more new drugs are becoming in need of getting approved by authorities in each country before coming to the markets. To seek approval for drugs, it is necessary to conduct tests called clinical trials. Clinical trials are roughly classified into three phases: phase I: Conducting a trial to evaluate drug’s safety and toxicity to healthy persons phase II: Conducting a trial to examine usage / dosage with a smaller number of patients phase III: Conducting trial to assess drug’s effectiveness comparing to conventional drugs in…

The Buzzreach team, investors from KLab Venture Partners
Image credit: Buzzreach

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based MedTech startup Buzzreach announced today that it has fundraised 50 million yen (about $450,000 US) in a seed round. This round was secured in December of 2018 and led by KLab Venture Partners. The amount includes loans from financial institutions.  The company offers a matchmaking platform called Puzz between clinical trial patients and pharmaceutical companies as well as a media portal called ‘Smt‘.

Buzzreach was founded by Takateru Inokawa (current CEO) and Kiyoshi Aoyagi (current COO), both of whom had been previously involved in the foundation of two patient recruit organizations: Clinical Trial and Croee.

In the increased globalization of the pharmaceutical industry and their drug discovery business, more new drugs are becoming in need of getting approved by authorities in each country before coming to the markets. To seek approval for drugs, it is necessary to conduct tests called clinical trials.

Clinical trials are roughly classified into three phases:

  • phase I: Conducting a trial to evaluate drug’s safety and toxicity to healthy persons
  • phase II: Conducting a trial to examine usage / dosage with a smaller number of patients
  • phase III: Conducting trial to assess drug’s effectiveness comparing to conventional drugs in a larger number of patients.

Out of all these phases, phase I trials are performed in a smaller group consisting of recruited subjects by giving compensation as we can occasionally see recruitment ads on job magazines. On the other hand, phase II and III trials must be performed in a larger group of patients with a specific disease.

This process in recruiting patients poses many difficulties. To participate a clinical trial for a new drug, patients are required to meet eligibility criteria set for each trial including health status or disease condition. Even if a patient meet the criteria, a pharmaceutical company would have to acquire the consent from the patient and cooperate with medical centers / clinics as well as principal investigators. If the pharmaceutical company could not have a sufficient number of patients, it would be forced to extend the period of the trial or increase the number of medical centers / clinics, which requires vast extra-budget before the application for marketing approval.

To solve these problems, Buzzreach has developed Puzz, the data management system of clinical trial subjects. Pharmaceutical companies, CRO (contract research organization) which monitors clinical trial process and SMO (site management organization) which owns data about medical centers / clinics capable of participating clinical trials are allowed to join Puzz and then can deliver clinical trial information to more than 2.5 million potential trial subjects, over 10 healthcare-related media outlets and 10 patient advocacy groups.

For subject candidates needing clinical trial information, Buzzreach offers a medical portal site called SMT, where users can search specific clinical trials with the criteria which their clinical condition and symptom meets. Although such information is also provided by Japic CTI (Japan Pharmaceutical Information Center), it is not so user-friendly; the website offers only smaller information only and no inquiry contact. SMT gives detailed information provided by pharmaceutical companies in addition to the quote from Japic CTI. By replying to questionnaires shown in search results, applicants can convey their intention to participate in a clinical trial to a pharmaceutical company.

smt
Image credit: Buzzreach

Buzzreach makes money by charging fee to pharmaceutical companies using the platform on a monthly basis. The startup provides three pricing plans according to how many drug discovery pipelines the user company has or how much budget they have.

We have seldom seen KLab Venture Partners’ investment in a vertical SaaS (software as a service) startup. However, the VC firm may not help ignoring the existence of patients as consumers in the business model. Of course, such a service requires great care to handle information concerning users’ privacy, but Buzzreach has a great potential to create another value through the secondary use of such precious individual data.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by Masaru Ikeda