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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14 standout financial solution startups from Japan

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These days in Japan, there are a bunch of startups providing accounting or financial solutions, both for personal and business use. Let’s take a quick rundown of some of the more popular ones. BizNote by CrowdCast ¶ BizNote is a cloud-based accounting app that helps SME owners and startup managers handle their cash flows using their PC or smartphone. The app aims to simplify accounting, thus letting business spend their time on more important tasks. BizNote won the top award at the Yayoi App Contest, an Android app competition run by Japan’s largest accounting software company. It recently added key features like receipt scanning as well as data integration with major accounting software packages. It’s available in English and Japanese, and for free for the first 30-days. Apps are available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Google Chrome. The app was developed by CrowdCast, a company founded in 2011 by Takashi Hoshikawa. He previously worked with Microsoft Japan and DEC Japan. Coiney ¶ Coiney is Japan’s first-ever smartphone-based credit card processing service. It’s similar to services like Square, Paypal Here, and Swiff. The company was founded by ex-Paypal Japan employee Naoko Samata and won the top prize at Rising Expo…

bookkeeping

These days in Japan, there are a bunch of startups providing accounting or financial solutions, both for personal and business use. Let’s take a quick rundown of some of the more popular ones.


BizNote by CrowdCast

BizNote is a cloud-based accounting app that helps SME owners and startup managers handle their cash flows using their PC or smartphone. The app aims to simplify accounting, thus letting business spend their time on more important tasks.

biznote_logoBizNote won the top award at the Yayoi App Contest, an Android app competition run by Japan’s largest accounting software company. It recently added key features like receipt scanning as well as data integration with major accounting software packages. It’s available in English and Japanese, and for free for the first 30-days. Apps are available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Google Chrome.

The app was developed by CrowdCast, a company founded in 2011 by Takashi Hoshikawa. He previously worked with Microsoft Japan and DEC Japan.

Coiney

coiney_logoCoiney is Japan’s first-ever smartphone-based credit card processing service. It’s similar to services like Square, Paypal Here, and Swiff. The company was founded by ex-Paypal Japan employee Naoko Samata and won the top prize at Rising Expo 2012, a startup showcase competition event held by CyberAgent Ventures.

The startup announced in February that it had fundraised 100 million yen (over $1 million) from four investors including East Ventures, CyberAgent Ventures, and Shinji Kimura (the founder of ad platform developer AtLantis). It has partnered with Sumitomo Mitsui Card, the largest issuer/acquirer of Visa-affiliated credit cards in Japan, and is working together with them to accelerate merchant acquisition.

I previously spoke with the team when the service was launched last October, so check that out for more details.

Freee by CFO K.K.

freee_new_logo-c3970ad3866dd25fda6b1c27779b6173The recently launched Freee is a cloud-based accounting solution that aims to set SME owners free of tedious accounting tasks. By synchronizing your account to this cloud system (which is integrated with web services provided by banks and credit companies) your payments will be logged in the system using web-scraping technology. They are sorted into the appropriate categories corresponding to the items you’ve purchased.

It was developed by CFO K.K., a company founded in July of 2012 by ex-Googler Daisuke Sasaki and ex-Sony engineer Ryu Yokoji. They’ve been developing the service as a stealth project at their home, and fundraised 50 million yen (about $523,000) from notable US-based VC firm DCM in December.

Hottoscope

hottoscope_logoHottoscope is a data-mining company that provides market analysis and prediction based on the aggregated information from social media. It provides analysis to Bloomberg Terminal, one of the most famous information resources for stock traders.

The company was launched about 12 years ago as a kind of a hobby/study group at the University of Tokyo. Since then it has been providing various tools for analyzing social updates to prevent companies from being financially damaged by harmful rumors and misinformation.

Kanmu’s Card Link

kanmuclo_logoBy associating coupons with your credit card, Kanmu allows you to get discounts from participating merchants when paying with a credit card. For merchants, you’ll be charged on a performance basis, and can reduce transfer fees while easily targeting a specific segment of customers. For the consumers, you even don’t need to print coupons beforehand or present virtual coupons with your smartphone at storefronts.

The startup was founded by Wataru Yamaki who previously worked with several web startups as an intern. He also has developed Marketgeek.

Makeleaps

makeleaps_logoMakeleaps is a web-based invoicing solution that targets startups and SME owners. It was founded in 2010 by Tokyo-based (Australian) entrepreneur Jason Winder who’s also known for organizing Hacker News Tokyo. They launched the service in Japan because people here aggressively pursue product quality, which is why he believes his business can work globally once it succeeds here. In addition to invoice delivery via snail mail and fax, the startup provides an optional dunning service too.

Misoca by Stand Firm

misoca_logoMisoca is an online invoice-issuing solution for startups and SMEs, a service provided by Nagoya-based company Stand Firm. The app is totally cloud-based and has features to send invoices to your clients via snail mail or fax.

Money Forward

moneyforward_logoMoney Forward provides online personal accounting for individuals, allowing them to easily manage their daily expenses by integrating with their bank passbooks and credit purchase history with information scraped from their web account. The startup was spun-off from Tokyo’s famous online stock brokerage Monex in 2012.  It recently raised 100 million yen (over $1 million) from several angel investors and WIT Corporation, a TLO (technology licensing organization) under Waseda University.

Mycredit.jp

mycredit.jp_logoMycredit.jp provides a credibility report of your finances, a sort of Japanese version of Experian or Equifax. By authenticating your identity over the phone, you will be able to get the report in just about 10 minutes after placing the order. This is intended as a service to check your credibility prior to applying for a house mortgage. Subsequently you can find a way to improve your standing for future borrowing from financial institutions.

The startup was founded by serial entrepreneur Russell Cummer who’s also running Acqush, a Tokyo-based social lending startup, backed by Dave McClure’s 500 Startups.

Paygate by Royal Gate

paygate_logoPaygate is a credit card processor that works as an attachment to tablets and smartphones. Using it together with a small printer, merchants can issue receipts to customers at purchase. The product is intended for people like motorcycle messengers, or insurance canvassers.

The service was developed by a 5-year-old IT company, and fundraised a total of 100 million yen (over $1 million) from NTT Investment Partners and Mizuho Capital in its final seed round in 2011.

ReceReco by Brain Pad

recereco_logoTokyo-based data mining company Brain Pad launched an iOS app called ReceReco (receipt recording) last month. By scanning receipts with your iPhone camera, the personal accounting app can recognize what you’ve paid for, visualize it in diagrams, and even lets you to share to Evernote or Facebook.

Brain Pad was founded in 2004 and was ranked 23rd place on Deloitte’s Fast50 Japan, a ranking of 50 Japanese tech companies based on revenue growth in Japan.

Totte Okuru

totte-okuru_logoTotte Okuru is an iPhone app developed by Tokyo-based startup Pirika Works. The app allows users to easily record expenses by scanning your receipts. Unlike similar services, scanned images will be transferred to keypunchers and entered to the system manually, which enables reading of not only machine-printed receipts but also hand-written ones.

The service uses people living in the Tohoku region for keypunching, which goes a little ways towards helping some people affected by the 2011 East Japan Earthquake.

Ubiregi

ubiregi_logoUbiregi is a cloud-based POS (point of sales) system that uses an iPad at the storefront. Compared to conventional systems, it can be reasonably deployed and easily maintained, especially for individual merchants like small restaurants, standing bars, and accessory shops.

The startup was launched by Keita Kido in August of 2010, and raised around 20 million yen (over $200,000) from Voyage Ventures and Kronos Fund. It also has a capital tie-up with SalesForce.com.

Zaim

zaim_logoZaim is a smartphone app that allows you to input your expenses into an assortment of categories, thus gaining some insight into your spending habits thanks to its graphic analysis. The startup has partnered with OCN Kakeibo, a cloud-based household accounting solution run by NTT Communications, and allows users to shorten the time requirements of their bookkeeping tasks.

It was launched in 2011 by Japan’s notable geek girl Takako Kansai. Zaim was incorporated last September, and raised 42 million yen (about $450,000) from Japan’s top recipe sharing site Cookpad. My colleague Rick spoke with her a little more about the service in this Tech in Asia article.

Japanese fashion e-commerce service Laso raises $2.1M from DCM

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Laso, a Tokyo-based fashion e-commerce retailer specializing in high-end clothes and outfits from around the world, has announced it has fundraised 200 million yen (approximately $2.1 million) from US-based VC firm DCM. The company expects to use the fund to improve site design, further system development, hire new employees, and create O2O (online to offline) marketing approaches. To differentiate the service from others in this intensely competitive field, the company has imported more than 200,000 items from 2,000 brands in 50 countries worldwide. Their buyers handpicked items to showcase in accordance with global fashion trends. They have no physical inventory of these items in Japan, so a user’s purchase will be delivered one or two weeks after placing the order. In its announcement, the company highlights how much potential there is in this business: The Japanese fashion market has not matured yet, where some foreign fashion brands are struggling hard to find market potential and other brands have been forced to give up continuing their business expansion. We wish to give consumers more opportunities to encounter wonderful global fashion items and make themselves feel close to the world. Laso was founded in 2006 by Masatoshi Murota who was previously on…

laso_logoLaso, a Tokyo-based fashion e-commerce retailer specializing in high-end clothes and outfits from around the world, has announced it has fundraised 200 million yen (approximately $2.1 million) from US-based VC firm DCM. The company expects to use the fund to improve site design, further system development, hire new employees, and create O2O (online to offline) marketing approaches.

To differentiate the service from others in this intensely competitive field, the company has imported more than 200,000 items from 2,000 brands in 50 countries worldwide. Their buyers handpicked items to showcase in accordance with global fashion trends. They have no physical inventory of these items in Japan, so a user’s purchase will be delivered one or two weeks after placing the order.

In its announcement, the company highlights how much potential there is in this business:

The Japanese fashion market has not matured yet, where some foreign fashion brands are struggling hard to find market potential and other brands have been forced to give up continuing their business expansion. We wish to give consumers more opportunities to encounter wonderful global fashion items and make themselves feel close to the world.

Laso was founded in 2006 by Masatoshi Murota who was previously on the board of directors for J-Word, which provided a web browser plug-in and an alternative to Google Search. It later acquired by Yahoo Japan and GMO.

laso_screenshot

How a Japanese stealth startup plans to push small business accounting to the cloud

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Tokyo-based startup CFO K.K. today unveiled a cloud-based accounting solution called Freee, a service that aims to set SME owners free from routine accounting. For such business owners to complete tasks that need to be approved by a taxation office, you need knowledge of commercial book-keeping. But this can be time consuming and usually is not possible on tablets or Macintosh laptops [1]. By synchronizing your account on this cloud system with web services provided by banks and credit companies [2], your payments will be transferred to the system with web-scraping technology and sorted into appropriate categories corresponding to the items you’ve purchased. The system also has a feature that allows you to print out a final return form for your income tax, which meets the requirement taxation offices in Japan. The startup is expecting to develop more features, adding an API to connect with third-party services, and optimizing browsing for multiple devices. CFO K.K. was founded in July of 2012 by ex-Googler Daisuke Sasaki and ex-Sony engineer Ryu Yokoji. They’ve been developing the service as a stealth project at their home, and fundraised 50 million yen (about $523,000) from notable US-based VC firm DCM in December. The startup’s CEO…

freee_new_logo-c3970ad3866dd25fda6b1c27779b6173

Tokyo-based startup CFO K.K. today unveiled a cloud-based accounting solution called Freee, a service that aims to set SME owners free from routine accounting. For such business owners to complete tasks that need to be approved by a taxation office, you need knowledge of commercial book-keeping. But this can be time consuming and usually is not possible on tablets or Macintosh laptops [1].

By synchronizing your account on this cloud system with web services provided by banks and credit companies [2], your payments will be transferred to the system with web-scraping technology and sorted into appropriate categories corresponding to the items you’ve purchased. The system also has a feature that allows you to print out a final return form for your income tax, which meets the requirement taxation offices in Japan. The startup is expecting to develop more features, adding an API to connect with third-party services, and optimizing browsing for multiple devices.

freee_screenshot2

CFO K.K. was founded in July of 2012 by ex-Googler Daisuke Sasaki and ex-Sony engineer Ryu Yokoji. They’ve been developing the service as a stealth project at their home, and fundraised 50 million yen (about $523,000) from notable US-based VC firm DCM in December. The startup’s CEO previously served as the CFO of a web company where he witnessed that the company accountants were always tired from time-consuming tasks. This prompted him to launch Free to address this problem.

daisuke_sasaki
CFO K.K.’s CEO Daisuke Sasaki

It’s a freemium service, allowing you to share and manage the accounting records of your company with two other colleagues. All paid plans are available for free until June, as the startup hopes to acquire at least 10,000 SME in its first year. In this field of accounting services for SMEs, freelancers, and consumers, I can think of more than a dozen prominent players. Expect intense competition, and maybe some mergers and acquisitions in the not-so-distant future.


  1. Most of Japanese accounting software packages are intended for use on Windows PCs only.  ↩
  2. Regarding account aggregation, Freee can pull passbook or payment records from 15 financial institutions as of the time of its release.  ↩

A brainwave music player so nice, Japan made it twice

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During the past week, a Japanese startup and a Japanese university both brought us innovative music players that allow us to choose songs without the need for any remote controls. Here’s a quick look at both, which appear to operate on the same principle. Neurowear, the Tokyo-based startup best known for having introduced wearable cat ears controlled by brain waves, unveiled an new amazing product called Mico. It’s an automatic song selection headset, and it was exhibited at SXSW Interactive 2013 from March 8th to the 12th. The headset reads brainwaves from your frontal lobe, and the program predicts the a song you might want to listen to by comparing the signal received to previously recorded patterns. The system integrates with an iPhone app that plays a song for you, and the surface of ear pads are illuminated according to your emotion state (e.g. concentrating, or sleeply). The startup hopes to let users discover music they might not have heard or tried before. Likewise, some academics in Japan are working to bring us a similar solution. Professor Yasue Mitsukura and her team at Keio University have studied more than 1,000 people and have succeeded to map the patterns of brainwave…

neurowear_600
Japanese digital pop artist Julie Watai wearing Neurowear’s Mico

During the past week, a Japanese startup and a Japanese university both brought us innovative music players that allow us to choose songs without the need for any remote controls. Here’s a quick look at both, which appear to operate on the same principle.

Neurowear, the Tokyo-based startup best known for having introduced wearable cat ears controlled by brain waves, unveiled an new amazing product called Mico. It’s an automatic song selection headset, and it was exhibited at SXSW Interactive 2013 from March 8th to the 12th.

The headset reads brainwaves from your frontal lobe, and the program predicts the a song you might want to listen to by comparing the signal received to previously recorded patterns. The system integrates with an iPhone app that plays a song for you, and the surface of ear pads are illuminated according to your emotion state (e.g. concentrating, or sleeply). The startup hopes to let users discover music they might not have heard or tried before.


brainwave_and_musicplayer

Likewise, some academics in Japan are working to bring us a similar solution. Professor Yasue Mitsukura and her team at Keio University have studied more than 1,000 people and have succeeded to map the patterns of brainwave that emerge when a user wants to listen to specific type of songs. Then by detecting your brainwave pattern with the sensor on their headset, the music player lets you listen to a series of songs you might like.

The new technology aims to help users who have a difficult time selecting song. The study used a small brainwave sensor and a music player, and the team succeeded in achieving 90% precision, in terms of choosing songs based on what test participants were thinking they wanted to listen to.

Professor Mitsukura and her team have been exploring possibilities of augmented reality (AR), facial image recognition, and sensibility evaluation. The group was previously known for having developed a real-time avatar webcam which was exhibited at Digital Content Expo 2012.

Japan’s language learning site Best Teacher raises $530,000 from GMO-VP and SMBC-VC

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Best Teacher, a Tokyo-based startup providing online language learning solutions, announced today it has raised 51.1 million yen (approximately $530,000) from GMO Venture Partners and SMBC Venture Capital. The startup began with seed investment from CyberAgent Ventures in January of 2012, and launched a C2C-based English-conversation learning service over Skype in May. As of last September, it has acquired 2,000 Japanese users who want to learn English, and 400 English teachers from 40 countries worldwide. The Japanese online language learning market is extremely competitive, including service providers like Rarejob and Englishtown. Best Teacher was a late-comer, and in order to overcome this disadvantage and differentiate from others, it has deployed a new feature which allows you to ask your teacher what kind of expressions you want to practice. The teacher will correct your phrases, arrange them in a more natural way, and coach your pronunciation over Skype. This method lets you concentrate on learning only the expressions you need. Best Teacher was founded by Toshimitsu Miyachi (who previously worked as a consultant and served as the CFO of a venture IT company) and ex-prep school teacher Masaki Goto. There is a pretty high demand for such English language services in…

bestteacher_logo

Best Teacher, a Tokyo-based startup providing online language learning solutions, announced today it has raised 51.1 million yen (approximately $530,000) from GMO Venture Partners and SMBC Venture Capital. The startup began with seed investment from CyberAgent Ventures in January of 2012, and launched a C2C-based English-conversation learning service over Skype in May. As of last September, it has acquired 2,000 Japanese users who want to learn English, and 400 English teachers from 40 countries worldwide.

The Japanese online language learning market is extremely competitive, including service providers like Rarejob and Englishtown. Best Teacher was a late-comer, and in order to overcome this disadvantage and differentiate from others, it has deployed a new feature which allows you to ask your teacher what kind of expressions you want to practice. The teacher will correct your phrases, arrange them in a more natural way, and coach your pronunciation over Skype. This method lets you concentrate on learning only the expressions you need.

bestteacher_screenshot

Best Teacher was founded by Toshimitsu Miyachi (who previously worked as a consultant and served as the CFO of a venture IT company) and ex-prep school teacher Masaki Goto. There is a pretty high demand for such English language services in Japan, with about 2 million people registering to take the well-known TOEIC test [1]. Startups are expected to account for about 1% of this population, and if all of them subscribed to the Best Teacher service, it could potentially generate revenue of $830,000 a month.


  1. TOEIC stands for the Test of English for International Communication.  ↩

Japan’s Open Network Lab now taking applications for its incubation program

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See also this story in Japanese. Open Network Lab (aka OnLab), a Tokyo-based tech incubator backed by Digital Garage and NetPrice.com, has today started receiving applications for the 7th batch of the seed accelerator incubation program. The amount of funds for each qualified startup is 2 million yen (over $20,000), which is double what it was in the past. A special training course called the ‘Onlab Hacker Program‘ allows participating engineers to work with the incubator’s portfolio startups, thus forming an ecosystem where ‘succeeding’ startups can help new entries at the incubator. It’s often said that in order to launch a startup, we need to have three kinds of people: hustlers (management), hipsters (designers/creatives), and hackers (engineers). The incubator now serves all three of these, with doubling the funding for hustlers to work with, UI and UX mentoring from Adaptive Path founder Janice Fraser and AQ CEO Chris Palmieri, and now, they’ve established this program for hackers as well. Incubators usually need to figure out a way to differentiate themselves from others, and OnLab has made a good effort to do that here. Similarly, KDDI Mugen Labo, the tech incubator by Japan’s second largest telco, has set up a special application category…

opennetworkspace2

See also this story in Japanese.

Open Network Lab (aka OnLab), a Tokyo-based tech incubator backed by Digital Garage and NetPrice.com, has today started receiving applications for the 7th batch of the seed accelerator incubation program. The amount of funds for each qualified startup is 2 million yen (over $20,000), which is double what it was in the past. A special training course called the ‘Onlab Hacker Program‘ allows participating engineers to work with the incubator’s portfolio startups, thus forming an ecosystem where ‘succeeding’ startups can help new entries at the incubator.

It’s often said that in order to launch a startup, we need to have three kinds of people: hustlers (management), hipsters (designers/creatives), and hackers (engineers). The incubator now serves all three of these, with doubling the funding for hustlers to work with, UI and UX mentoring from Adaptive Path founder Janice Fraser and AQ CEO Chris Palmieri, and now, they’ve established this program for hackers as well.

onlab_logoIncubators usually need to figure out a way to differentiate themselves from others, and OnLab has made a good effort to do that here. Similarly, KDDI Mugen Labo, the tech incubator by Japan’s second largest telco, has set up a special application category for HTML5-engineering startups, and OnLab and Movida Japan have begun seeking high potential startups in cities beyond Tokyo. These efforts are good to see, representing a range of new entrepreneurship opportunities for creative minds out there.

Applications for OnLab’s seventh batch open today (March 14th), and the deadline is set for May 31st. If you’d like to apply, you can do so here. Good luck!

Google Glass, you’ve got company! Sekai Camera inventor introduces Telepathy One

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See also this story in Japanese. Takahito Iguchi, the former Tonchidot CEO best known for having invented an augmented reality smartphone app Sekai Camera, has just unveiled a wearable communications device called Telepathy One at SXSW 2013. It looks poised to be a rival product to Google Glass, and sales are expected to start in the US before the 2013 Christmas season. The device has a display and camera located just in front of your eye, which lets you see a virtual 5-inch screen just in front of you. It also can connect to other devices via Bluetooth, and lets users receive e-mails, check updates on social networks, and even share whatever scene you’re looking at with your friends. Iguchi-san quit Tonchidot in November of 2012, and everybody in the Japanese startup community has been much anticipating what he would develop next. And apparently this is it, and it certainly looks like an ambitious project. Given that he is somewhat of a pioneer in the AR space (Sekai Camera was a finalist at the 2008 TechCrunch 50 event), it will be interesting to see how this solution stacks up to Google Glass. In terms of differentiation, Iguchi explains his product will be…

iguchi_wearing_telepathy_one
Inventor Iguchi wearing his new product Telepathy One

See also this story in Japanese.

Takahito Iguchi, the former Tonchidot CEO best known for having invented an augmented reality smartphone app Sekai Camera, has just unveiled a wearable communications device called Telepathy One at SXSW 2013. It looks poised to be a rival product to Google Glass, and sales are expected to start in the US before the 2013 Christmas season.

The device has a display and camera located just in front of your eye, which lets you see a virtual 5-inch screen just in front of you. It also can connect to other devices via Bluetooth, and lets users receive e-mails, check updates on social networks, and even share whatever scene you’re looking at with your friends.

telepathy_oneIguchi-san quit Tonchidot in November of 2012, and everybody in the Japanese startup community has been much anticipating what he would develop next. And apparently this is it, and it certainly looks like an ambitious project. Given that he is somewhat of a pioneer in the AR space (Sekai Camera was a finalist at the 2008 TechCrunch 50 event), it will be interesting to see how this solution stacks up to Google Glass. In terms of differentiation, Iguchi explains his product will be more fashionable and introduced for a more affordable price.

He is currently attending at SXSW 2013 exhibiting the product and letting other SXSW-ers try it on, and gathering feedback from them.

Update: There’s also a promo video on YouTube for Telepathy One, which you can check out below.

(Photo via Telepathy One Facebook page)

Japanese legal portal Bengo4.com raises $208,000 from Kakaku.com

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Japan’s legal consultation portal site Bengo4.com, owned by Tokyo-based law office Authense, announced on Monday that it has raised about 20 million yen (approximately $208,000) from price comparison site Kakaku.com (TSE:2371). Prior to this fundraising, the portal site raised 100 million yen ($1.04 million) from DG Incubation, the investment arm of Japanese tech conglomerate Digital Garage (TSE:4819). Founded in 2005, Bengo4.com provides legal consultation services from participating lawyers for free, and allows consumers to get estimates from lawyers and compare them. As of March 8th, it has consulted on more than 246,599 cases and acquired 5,688 lawyers. To put that latter figure in perspective, that’s about 17% of Japan’s entire lawyer population. With this new partnership, the legal site expects to explore a sort of service integration with Kakaku.com site and its restaurant recommendation site Tabelog. On its website, Bengo4.com also announced it had partnered with Yahoo Japan (TYO:4689) to provide legal and tax-related Q&A content to Yahoo Chiebukuro, one of Japan’s largest knowledge-sharing community services.

bengo4

Japan’s legal consultation portal site Bengo4.com, owned by Tokyo-based law office Authense, announced on Monday that it has raised about 20 million yen (approximately $208,000) from price comparison site Kakaku.com (TSE:2371). Prior to this fundraising, the portal site raised 100 million yen ($1.04 million) from DG Incubation, the investment arm of Japanese tech conglomerate Digital Garage (TSE:4819).

Founded in 2005, Bengo4.com provides legal consultation services from participating lawyers for free, and allows consumers to get estimates from lawyers and compare them. As of March 8th, it has consulted on more than 246,599 cases and acquired 5,688 lawyers. To put that latter figure in perspective, that’s about 17% of Japan’s entire lawyer population. With this new partnership, the legal site expects to explore a sort of service integration with Kakaku.com site and its restaurant recommendation site Tabelog.

On its website, Bengo4.com also announced it had partnered with Yahoo Japan (TYO:4689) to provide legal and tax-related Q&A content to Yahoo Chiebukuro, one of Japan’s largest knowledge-sharing community services.

Japan’s Loftwork unveils hardware startup community site at SXSW

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See this story in Japanese. South by South West (SXSW) in Austin, Texas is always a fun event for digital enthusiasts, and more than a few Japanese people and companies make the long haul to attend. The folks behind FabCafe, a community venue for designers and hardware manufacturing entrepreneurs in Tokyo, have a presence at SXSW this year, where they provided hot coffee and communicated their concept to other exhibitors and attendants. But they also have some good news to share, as Tokyo-based digital production company Loftwork, which owns FabCafe, has launched a portal site called Factory.org where people can share information on hardware startups, manufacturers, venues for gatherings, and events. The startup aims to share the information not only with the Japanese community but also with hardware communities around the world. In my own SXSW experience, Japanese startups have been always been proficient makers of hardware, even before the digital manufacturing industry became trendy. So I’m really glad to see a Japanese company trying to take the lead in the global movement in this way. There are more than a few websites that profile startups, most notably CrunchBase, AngelList, and Japan’s Creww.me come to mind. Here at SD Japan,…

fabcafe-at-sxsw2013
Setting up FabCafe at SXSW 2013 (courtesy of Loftwork, reproduced with permission)

See this story in Japanese.

South by South West (SXSW) in Austin, Texas is always a fun event for digital enthusiasts, and more than a few Japanese people and companies make the long haul to attend. The folks behind FabCafe, a community venue for designers and hardware manufacturing entrepreneurs in Tokyo, have a presence at SXSW this year, where they provided hot coffee and communicated their concept to other exhibitors and attendants. But they also have some good news to share, as Tokyo-based digital production company Loftwork, which owns FabCafe, has launched a portal site called Factory.org where people can share information on hardware startups, manufacturers, venues for gatherings, and events.

The startup aims to share the information not only with the Japanese community but also with hardware communities around the world. In my own SXSW experience, Japanese startups have been always been proficient makers of hardware, even before the digital manufacturing industry became trendy. So I’m really glad to see a Japanese company trying to take the lead in the global movement in this way.

There are more than a few websites that profile startups, most notably CrunchBase, AngelList, and Japan’s Creww.me come to mind. Here at SD Japan, we’re also developing something like that, which you can find at data.startup-dating.com. But as far as I know, there hasn’t been any such database service specializing in manufacturing and hardware startups. These companies often crowdfund from sites like Kickstarter, Indiesgogo, or Campfire. And while those sites usually keep you up to date on the fundraising aspect, they lack deeper information like what the startups are doing now, or what products they might have developed in the past. It’s good to see Factory.org making an effort in this way. For Japanese startups out there, you can consider Factory to be a media hub to transmit your presence overseas.

factory_img

moonspeechpartyMeanwhile, to mark FabCafe’s presence at SXSW2013 and its launch of Factory.org, Loftwork is now planning to hold something called a ‘Moon Speech Party‘ on the evening of March 11th (local time in Austin), where Japanese entrepreneurs can come together and make speeches to other SXSW-ers. Japanese watch maker Seiko is sponsoring this event, serving complimentary Japanese sake to everyone there. Joi Ito, the director of the MIT Media Lab is invited as a special guest. As I write this the event is fully booked, and that should mean great opportunities to connect with the global community.

On a related note, Korean startups are also planning to hold a party called Geeks from Gangnam at the same time, but a different venue in Austin.

9 great ideas from Japan’s NICT student entrepreneur competition

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Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) recently held its annual business plan presentation event for college and university students. It’s called Kigyouka Koshien, which literally means ‘entrepreneur championship.’ The event took place at an CyberAgent Ventures’ Startup Basecamp this past Thursday. NICT provides mentoring to students who have a passion for entrepreneurship. At the Thursday event, nine finalists from different regions came together in Tokyo, all hoping to walk away with the championship. Here’s a quick run down of what the participating teams are working on. Judges: Koki Sato (CEO, Septeni) Ryuichi Nishida (editor-in-chief, TechCrunch Japan) Tsuyoshi Hoshina (CTO, Nihon Unisys) Masahiko Honma (representative partner, Incubate Fund) Re-Ja ¶ Most of us wish we could spend more time with our parents, or perhaps we regret not seeing them as often as we’d like. Presented by students from Kansei Gakuin University and Kobe University, Re-ja is a mobile app that uses gamification to encourage people to talk more with parents. The app presents the same quiz questions to you and your parent, and if you both answer correctly, you will get a reward point that can be used to buy something for them. Moku Tomo ¶ Japan is…

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Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) recently held its annual business plan presentation event for college and university students. It’s called Kigyouka Koshien, which literally means ‘entrepreneur championship.’ The event took place at an CyberAgent Ventures’ Startup Basecamp this past Thursday.

NICT provides mentoring to students who have a passion for entrepreneurship. At the Thursday event, nine finalists from different regions came together in Tokyo, all hoping to walk away with the championship. Here’s a quick run down of what the participating teams are working on.

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Judges:

Re-Ja

oyakoukouMost of us wish we could spend more time with our parents, or perhaps we regret not seeing them as often as we’d like. Presented by students from Kansei Gakuin University and Kobe University, Re-ja is a mobile app that uses gamification to encourage people to talk more with parents. The app presents the same quiz questions to you and your parent, and if you both answer correctly, you will get a reward point that can be used to buy something for them.

Moku Tomo

Japan is said to have more than 20 million smokers. Moku Tomo is an app that lets them to find a smoking area nearby using a handy map. The business model is based on sponsorships from cigarette companies, from pharmaceutical companies selling nicotine patches, and from restaurants which have such smoking areas. The presenters, from Doshisha University in Kyoto, are now in talks with Japan Tobacco and British Tobacco.

S.P.M.i Series

Shingo Aida (of Aizu University in Fukushima) has developed an iOS app that acts as an alternative to seat posture measurement instruments. Such instruments are used to prevent those with mobility problems from developing posture issues or sores by ensuring the wheelchair is adjusted specifically for their body size and shape. An instrument of this kind helps people live better but is very costly. So Shingo has developed this app which is much cheaper. The target market is comprised of about 10,000 people in Japan and 80,000 more in the US.

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Private tutor knowledge base

When we hire a private teacher for our son or daughter, the biggest problem is usually that the quality of the lectures is very much dependent on who you hire. Tamiko Iwama (of Digital Hollywood University) wants to standardize the quality of the lectures by providing tutors with a web-based knowledge sharing platform. Learning materials and slides can be stored on the platform, and tutors can download them via the dashboard and customize their own lectures.

Code Library – Top Award Winner

It’s often said that learning to reading code is like mastering a new language. But it’s not always easy since other people’s code could be written or structured far differently than what you might envision. And physical books for programming languages can be very costly and bulky. Code Library is a smartphone app that allow users to receive a lecture regardless of time and location. As part of its testing, Hamhei Horiuchi (of Tokyo’s University of Electrocommunications) has introduced a beta app called Code Library Lite, which will enable him to receive lots of feedback from programmers so he can refine the service.

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Zero Gaku Shoku

A ‘Gakushoku’ is a cafeteria at a university which typically offers decent foods at affordable prices. For students who usually have little or no income, expenses for lunch at the cafeteria can account for most of their spending. That’s why this Chuo University team has come up with the idea of giving students a chance to win a complimentary meal. A QR code is printed on the back of a meal ticket, and a student can then scan it with his smartphone and watch ads while he waits for the meal. The team receives revenue from advertisers and pay a commission to cafeteria owners participating in the program.

C@ndy

candy

The world’s Muslim community has huge market potential with a population of 1.6 billion people. A team from Yokohama National University hopes to found a sort of Craiglist for Muslims, in order to bridge Muslim communities around the world and here in Japan too. To refine the idea, the team has enlisted feedback from the folks at the Saudi Arabian Embassy and mosques in Tokyo. In partnership with Japanese travel agencies, C@ndy expects to provide information on travel packages for Muslim people, offer Japanese dishes made from Halal foods, and provide venues for praying during the trip.

Iron Beads Master

Perler beads (or Hama beads) are a popular craft for children. But it’s difficult to build an original design on aa peg board. This team from Yonago National College of Technology hopes to produce a system that lets children create their own designs from their favorite pictures on an iPad. They plan to speak with Kawada Co., Ltd., a local distributor of Perler beads in Japan, to explore the monetization potential of this idea.

ShinBunet

Elderly people in Japan (and in Okinawa, where this team originates) are eager to use digital devices to browse the web, but in many cases they can’t. In order to bridge this digital divide, the team has developed an app that lets elderly to browse news and updates from social media and blog on an iPad in a way that reflects the newspaper experience. Instead of searching a keyword to look for a specific topic, all you have to do is place your hand over an interesting story on your physical newspaper, just in front of the iPad camera. The app will detect which story you are interested in, and then collect updates from the blogsphere, showing them to you if they were a from a physical newspaper.

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Pictured: The team from Okinawa National College of Technology presents ShinbuNet