THE BRIDGE

contribution

You can’t coach ambition

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This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. Red Auerbach — winning basketball coach of the Boston Celtics for 9 NBA championships in the 1950s and 60s, famously remarked that, “You can’t coach height.” He made the statement in response to a reporter‘s question on why he drafted somebody who turned out to be a fantastic player but didn’t possess much in the way of basketball skills other than being super tall. In other words, some favorable basketball attributes can be coached: passing, dribbling, shooting free throws, making plays, rebounding shots, etc. whereas other attributes can never be taught, namely a player’s height.  I think the equivalent of this expression for entrepreneurs would be, “You can’t coach ambition.” This expression came to mind again as I witness reverberations in the Silicon Valley echo chamber about the recent funding round of Clubhouse.  The brouhaha…

mark-bivens_portraitThis guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


Image credit: PhotoFond

Red Auerbach — winning basketball coach of the Boston Celtics for 9 NBA championships in the 1950s and 60s, famously remarked that, “You can’t coach height.” He made the statement in response to a reporter‘s question on why he drafted somebody who turned out to be a fantastic player but didn’t possess much in the way of basketball skills other than being super tall. In other words, some favorable basketball attributes can be coached: passing, dribbling, shooting free throws, making plays, rebounding shots, etc. whereas other attributes can never be taught, namely a player’s height. 
I think the equivalent of this expression for entrepreneurs would be, “You can’t coach ambition.”

This expression came to mind again as I witness reverberations in the Silicon Valley echo chamber about the recent funding round of Clubhouse. 

The brouhaha relates to Clubhouse’s Series A fundraising of $10 million from Andreessen Horowitz, which was accompanied by $2 million worth of secondary cash paid directly to the Clubhouse founders.

Perhaps it’s because I spent more of my investing career in Europe then in Silicon Valley, but for me, creative deal structures like this one — even if it looks egregious to some on the surface — do not strike me as eye-popping. 

Although I would not classify most European founders as underprivileged, very few come from positions of extreme wealth. Most of the entrepreneurs I have encountered had been toiling away for years with modest wages (especially on a net basis after significant taxes and social charges), and limited capital gains from other sources such as stock market appreciation. Functioning universal healthcare coverage provides a safety net on the downside, in contrast with the U.S., making entrepreneurship accessible to a wider range of economic classes.

For these and historically cultural reasons, the go-for-broke mentality is far less prevalent among European entrepreneurs.

So I’ve been no stranger to structuring deals with a secondary component for the founders who have been plugging away for years with relatively little concrete monetary value to show for it. No, I have not offered secondaries of $2 million — closer to an order of magnitude smaller — nor have I offered them on Series A rounds, only at later stages. However, I’ve done them on multiple occasions.

In some cases, the secondaries have worked out superbly well, removing obstacles for founders to strive for aggressive growth. On other occasions, they provided little or no improvement, and have sometimes even backfired by misaligning the interests in the cap table.

It was only after numerous experiences with these that I realized the importance of controlling for another variable: the intrinsic ambition of the founder.

If a founder’s self-imposed restraint stemmed from external factors, for instance family responsibilities, alleviating such burdens with a small secondary payout has proven wildly effective. If the risk aversion originated from within, on the other hand, the hoped-for benefits of a secondary structure never seemed to materialize.

Ambition is raw. It sits independently of the support I might provide to portfolio companies, either directly or by finding people who do. Company structuring, financial management, marketing, pitching, fundraising, negotiating, recruiting, exit positioning, etc. all of these skills can be fostered and encouraged.

10 crisis initiatives for startups

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This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. A fair bit of ink has been spilled with VC recommendations to startups on how to best confront the business challenges catalyzed by the covid-19 crisis. In fact, it’s practically compulsory writing for any VC on social media these days. Rather than write yet another of one of those posts, I’m taking a different angle. The preponderance of the various VC tips permeating the ether these days — worthwhile as they are — tend to be fairly prescriptive in nature. So, in complement to all that good wisdom out there and rather than preach from the perch of my Peloton®, I’m going to highlight some best practices from the people on the front lines of this economic crisis, i.e. our portfolio company CEOs. Here is an extract of some of the most concrete and actionable…

mark-bivens_portrait

This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


Image credit: Pxfuel

A fair bit of ink has been spilled with VC recommendations to startups on how to best confront the business challenges catalyzed by the covid-19 crisis. In fact, it’s practically compulsory writing for any VC on social media these days.

Rather than write yet another of one of those posts, I’m taking a different angle. The preponderance of the various VC tips permeating the ether these days — worthwhile as they are — tend to be fairly prescriptive in nature. So, in complement to all that good wisdom out there and rather than preach from the perch of my Peloton®, I’m going to highlight some best practices from the people on the front lines of this economic crisis, i.e. our portfolio company CEOs. Here is an extract of some of the most concrete and actionable ideas which have been initiated by a variety of our investments. [I have restricted my own comments to brackets.] Hopefully some of these initiatives will inspire ideas that are more directly relevant to your own unique situations.

  1. Anticipating that things will get worse before they get better. Erring on the side of abundant caution and taking measures early even if they seem excessively prudent.
  2. Holding candid discussions with their investors, early and often, to find out whether they have the capacity, the will, and the dry powder to provide some bridge financing in the event that things do get worse.
  3. Providing their employees the tools to work from home. Not all of them rock the same home office crib that the CEO does. Those who could afford it have given their employees a “work-from-home stipend” to enable them to purchase the equipment they need to be productive. [Not only is the productivity boost covering the expense, but I have a feeling that the staff loyalty they generate from moves like this will probably prove priceless
  4. Designating to each employee a special additional role during the crisis [hat tip to Eric Ries for this idea], for example
  • A person who contacts suppliers, customers, and partners purely to check in on their well-being
  • A point person to keep up with the evolving dynamic of local government subsidies for which the startup might be eligible
  • A person who posts any good news on a regular basis about covid-19 developments
  • A person to ensure there’s adequate supply of hand sanitizer in the office
  • [an initiative like this brings several benefits: it gives every employee a clear responsibility; it aligns employees with the problem-solving mission; it relieves much of the burden on the CEO (if you haven’t learned how to delegate yet, now would be a good time, and quick); it enhances productivity; etc.]
  1. Giving themselves some time (usually two weeks) to brainstorm with all staff on how to creatively generate more short-term revenue, free of ideological mindset constraints. [if you’re product purists, could you provide some services ? are there any work-for-hire opportunities ? could you monetize some of your company’s talents or technologies in a different way ?]
  2. Over-communicating with transparency and candor to all employees about the potential financial challenges
  3. Leading by example first, by postponing 100% of their own salary and then asking employees to postpone 50% of theirs. In the event that layoffs are absolutely necessary, finding the most humane manner possible to do them [extending option exercise periods, offering to re-hire, granting use of facilities, etc.]
  4. Postponing fees to external board members [exploring the postponement of such fees could hardly be considered offensive if you have already established a relationship of transparent communication with your board.]
  5. Pursuing every possible government aid available [government-backed loans, partial unemployment subsidies, tax deferrals, etc.]
  6. Generally extending the same level of transparency to their suppliers, sharing openly their financial predicament and exploring potential flexibility in payment terms [I know of one startup who told their landlord with sincere apologies that they will temporarily need to stop paying rent for a few months, were prepared to accept the consequences, and genuinely hope that the landlord understands their situation.]

[On a related note, I recall one CFO from a portfolio company in the distant past who found himself forced to navigate crises on almost a bi-annual basis. I’m going to dedicate a whole future post to this individual one day. One of his most creative ideas when in a cash crunch was to approach each supplier with a proposition of flipping a coin: heads he pays them within 30 days; tails he postpones payment for 60 days. I love trotting out this anecdote every time a startup manager tells me that they’re in a cash crisis and they’ve tried absolutely everything. “Have you really tried everything? If you haven’t flipped coins with your suppliers yet, then you haven’t tried absolutely everything,“ I like to respond.]

A healthy company culture will be one of your greatest assets to navigate this crisis. Leverage it.

Japan Embassy in Bangkok, CP Group help Japan startups digitalize Thai conglomerates

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This article was rearranged by our editorial from the original by Momoko Furukawa, Assistant to Executive/PR at TalentEx. TalentEX is a Bangkok-based startup offering a media outlet and an online platform for recruitment and human resources. All the photos in this article were taken by Tomohiro Ueno, Corporate Planning at TalentEx. See our past coverage to learn more about TalentEx. See the original story in Japanese. The Japanese Embassy in Thailand together with the CP Group (Charoen Pokphand Group), operating 7/11 convenience stores in Thailand and also owning local mobile telco giant True, held a Demo Day and matchmaking event called Rock Thailand in March, aiming to help Japanese startups and Thai conglomerates to work together. The event is part of the Open Innovation Columbus (OIC) initiative, which promotes strategic alliances between Japanese startups and Thai conglomerates. With regards to OIC-related events, this follows the DX Summit held by the Japanese Embassy in Thailand last October. The majority of Thai conglomerates do not reap the benefits of a digital economy. In Japan, large companies are moving to start digital transformation (DX) by collaborating with startups (it’s so called ‘open innovation’), while in Thailand, due to the nature of the verticals…

This article was rearranged by our editorial from the original by Momoko Furukawa, Assistant to Executive/PR at TalentEx. TalentEX is a Bangkok-based startup offering a media outlet and an online platform for recruitment and human resources.

All the photos in this article were taken by Tomohiro Ueno, Corporate Planning at TalentEx.

See our past coverage to learn more about TalentEx.


See the original story in Japanese.

The Japanese Embassy in Thailand together with the CP Group (Charoen Pokphand Group), operating 7/11 convenience stores in Thailand and also owning local mobile telco giant True, held a Demo Day and matchmaking event called Rock Thailand in March, aiming to help Japanese startups and Thai conglomerates to work together. The event is part of the Open Innovation Columbus (OIC) initiative, which promotes strategic alliances between Japanese startups and Thai conglomerates. With regards to OIC-related events, this follows the DX Summit held by the Japanese Embassy in Thailand last October.

The majority of Thai conglomerates do not reap the benefits of a digital economy. In Japan, large companies are moving to start digital transformation (DX) by collaborating with startups (it’s so called ‘open innovation’), while in Thailand, due to the nature of the verticals that local startups specialize in, DX through open innovation will likely still take time.

In response to this, OIC selected a team of 10 Japanese startups that lead verticals likely to be useful for DX (AI, robotics, IoT, logistics), and that are particularly interested in advancing into Southeast Asia, including Thailand, and invited them to Bangkok. This is an attempt at targeting cross-border open innovation and focuses on using the power of Japanese startups to foster DX for Thai conglomerates.

Representatives from the 10 Japanese startups pitched in front of top executives from major corporations such as CP Group’s CEO Suphachai Chearavanont, the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT), major retailer TCC known for its beer brewing brand Chang, Kasikornbank, the Thai royal family-backded SCG (Siam Cement Group), and the big name in hospital management BDMS (Bangkok Dusit Medical Service). Individual consultations between representatives were also made with the goal of establishing cooperative relationships starting with a PoC (proof of concept).

A committee made up of 10 venture capitalists and media personnel from Japan who have deep knowledge of the startup scenes in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, selected the startups to participate in this first edition of the event.

The following is an introduction of the participating startups. They are introduced in the order that they pitched. The collaboration specifics were not disclosed except between the Thai conglomerates and startups, so we introduce only the comments from participating startups.

PKSHA Technology

Yugo Takino, VP of Product, PKSHA TEchnology

PKSHA Technology (TSE: 3993) develops algorithm solutions focused on natural language processing, image recognition, machine learning and deep learning technologies. The company also develops function-specific algorithm modules and provides services to use them as core functions/ sub-functions for various software/hardware. Founded by engineers and researchers who conduct algorithm research, approximately 70% of PKSHA’s engineers who have completed doctoral programs make up their team along with a collection of qualified personnel with academic expertise. PKSHA said that their resources could be used to provide services adapted to each industry such as weather and equipment maintenance.

ABEJA

Naoki Tonogi, Managing Director, ABEJA Singapore

ABEJA provides all kinds of solutions for a variety of industries using its core technology, the AI platform “ABEJA Platform”. The company uses deep learning to automatically extract feature values from accumulated big data without human intervention.

Naoki Tonogi, Managing Director of ABEJA Singapore, cited three of ABEJA’s strengths.

  1. ABEJA can provide services for all industrial fields.
  2. The company has developed services internationally, and has already achieved results, especially in Southeast Asia.
  3. In addition to providing solutions with AI, the company produces its own products.

Tonogi shared the following comments regarding the company’s participation in Rock Thailand.

We were able to talk with major conglomerates including CP Group. Companies that we had already talked to said they’d like to work together, and we were able to propose approaches using AI tailored to each task such as smart factories, smart cities, smart stores to the others. Because of the back-up from the Japanese government, it seems possible to create a cooperative system for innovation with the conglomerates in Thailand, rather than receiving a simple project order from them.¥

It’s been about two years since I came to Singapore and Thailand, but over the past year or so the interest of corporate management in AI has greatly increased, and we were able to put together a number of projects with them. Based on the idea central to our company ‘implementing a fruitful world’, we would like to implement a rich society in Thailand for all the people involved in AI.

See also our past articles of ABEJA.

LPixel

Yuki Shimahara, CEO & Founder, LPixel

Spun off from the University of Tokyo, LPixel has a strength in image analysis for life science. The company is developing software and optimizing AI technology for image analysis in life science such as medicine, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture. They continue to research and develop medical image diagnosis support using AI in cooperation with the National Cancer Center Japan and a number of other medical institutions. They have expanded into Cambridge, US to provide global services.

See also:

Skydisc

Yoshihiko Suenaga, Head of Overseas Strategy Division, Skydisc

Skydisc develops IoT sensor devices and services that allows users to analyze the data collected using AI. It has most often been introduced in the manufacturing industry, and contributes to creating smart factories by diagnosing abnormalities in machines, increasing yield rates, and improving the accuracy of inspections.

See also:

Umitron

Masahiko Yamada, Co-founder and Managing Director, Umitron

Umitron is working on solutions for food and environmental issues by using technology for aquaculture. The company has offices in Singapore and Japan and it provides services using IoT, satellite remote sensing, and machine learning. Umitron Cell, a smart feeder recently announced by the company, allows users to feed cultured fish on schedule and monitor their appearance autonomously or remotely.

Masahiro Yamada, Co-founder and Managing Director of Umitron, shared shared the following impressions regarding participation in Rock Thailand.

I’ve participated in many matching events, but I’ve never been to an event that left me so satisfied. Top class executives from the country’s top conglomerates gathered together, the interviews were set up, and I was able to meet the people I wanted to meet, so it was really great.

I was able to talk with nearly all the conglomerates (that participated), and my first order of business is to begin discussions regarding their on-site issues. As far as business partners in Thailand, I expect there is a good chance for collaboration.

See also:

SmartDrive

Retsu Kitagawa, CEO, SmartDrive

Telematic startup SmartDrive provides services to collect travel data from cars and other mobility devices and then visualize and analyze it. Their services include SmartDrive Fleet (real-time vehicle management for corporations), SmartDrive Cars (flat-rate connected cars for personal use), SmartDrive Families (monitoring of the elderly), and Public Service (mapping of dangerous areas and traffic sharing). The company has also focused on developing sensors, including drive recorders, and creating its own route for data acquisition.

See also:

Smart Shopping

Ryosuke Shimohara, VP of B2B Business, Smart Shopping

Smart Shopping is a price comparison site for daily goods and food and serves over 400,000 users. In October of last year, the company launched a new product called SmartMat, an IoT device equipped with weight sensors that enables automatic recurring orders and inventory replenishment for consumables. It is primarily desgined for corporations tand automates the task of always keeping the necessary amount of items that may be easy to forget to order. With Smart Shopping, the pre-consumption weight of the product is stored in the company’s product database and based on regular weight checks asks the user to authorize purchases when the remaining weight is low.

Ryosuke Shimohara, VP of B2B Business, Smart Shopping, shared the following comments about participating in Rock Thailand.

For WHA, a big name in Thai industrial parks and rental warehouses, we were able to propose added value for logistics facilities, solutions for their factory customers, and supply chain optimization using Smartmats. For the CP Group, Singha (beer brand), and Siam Makro (Thailand’s answer to Costco), we were able to propose the introduction of an automatic recurring ordering solution for retail stores using SmartMats. We hope this will lead to the acquisition of large customers when developing business in Thailand, and lead to partnerships in Southeast Asia, including Thailand.

Ground

Takatsugu Kobayashi, Chief Data Officer and Head of Global Innovation, Ground

Ground provides logistics solutions with “Intelligent Logistics” as its company slogan. Starting with picking operations in warehouses, the company has built a platform combining robots and AI software to optimize logistics.

Problems that companies often encounter include too many options for consumers, consumers becoming easily bored, and the inability to detect consumer behavior in advance (such as cancellations). Ground uses machine learning based on a customer database that can identify consumers’ behavior. Then, based on demand forecasts, it predicts the number of products to be made and the number of sales, and aims to improve the efficiency of all logistics operations.

Takatsugu Kobayashi, Chief Data Officer and Head of Global Innovation, Ground shared his impressions of participating in Rock Thailand.

We talked with several conglomerates, but we are especially considering whether we can provide solutions to the CP Group, Kasikornbank, and WHA. We believe that we can accelerate the development of our company’s AI logistics software ‘DyAS’ and aim for early market-in to Thailand.

For startups that offer both hardware and software like ours, both the speed and scale axes are required–more so than regular startups. In terms of business expansion, if you don’t take the three big steps PoV (Proof of Value) > PoC (Proof of Concept) > PoB (Proof of Business), it is very difficult. In that sense, business development in mature markets tends to be expensive for explanation and introduction costs, and startups with weak capital capabilities are likely to struggle.

However, after talking with the representatives from the conglomerates, such concerns have been lowered. I felt like in the current age we cannot compete overseas (especially with Amazon and Alibaba) if we don’t market-in early (in Thailand) and support reverse innovation in Japan.

Souco

Kunehito Nakahara, Founder and CEO, Souco

Souco is a logistics sharing platform that has built an online database of warehouses and matches companies that want to lend warehouses with those that would like to rent them. The company simplified the procedures necessary to complete before using the space and made it easy to begin using warehouses with a “small lot” for a “short period” in 3 days minimum from the application date. Since the service launch, user growth has been steady and registered users have reached more than 300 companies.

See also:

Hacobu

Masaru Sakata, COO, Hacobu

Hacobu offers a shared logistics platform called Movo. Thanks to the cloud and hardware such as the IoT devices managing moving vehicles, the company solves problems like vehicle dispatch (as an integrated logistics management solution, solves the problem of the difficulty of finding trucks to dispatch), operation management (solves the problem of not knowing location information of the trucks), and berth management (solves the problem of using trucks efficiently because of waiting time).

From left: Polapatr Suvarnazorn (SVP, Thai Beverage), Takatsugu Kobayashi (Ground Chief Data Officer and Head of Global Innovation, Ground), Naoki Tonogi (Managing Director, Abeja Singapore)

Following their pitches, there was a networking opportunity where talks about collaborations between Thai conglomerates and Japanese startups were lively. Thai executives also had positive comments to share about joining Rock Thailand.

Pichairat Jiranunrat, Director of Robotics AI & Intelligent Solution at PTT, says:

Thailand has long established good relationships with Japan and Japanese companies, and I think of Japan as a “good friend”. Based on this trust, perhaps we can create something even more new?

I felt that it’s important to incorporate technology (like that introduced today) into our company.

Yojiro Koshi (center), CEO of TalentEX, also also participated in the networking party.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s Spectee, news video aggregator for press, ready for North America expansion

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This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. Spectee, at an OrangeFab meetup in Tokyo outlining the program in Asia, noted that from September it will start expanding its presence abroad — most likely in the U.S. which has been the amateur-based newsfeed firm’s largest market. Founder & CEO Kenjiro Murakami worked at a Silicon Valley major prior to starting up Spectee, under a different name. The Tokyo firm is a second batch (the first which covered Japan, Korea and Taiwan) graduate of the accelerator run by the European telecom concern Orange. Spectee will showcase its service at an Austin, Texas confab next month to mark the launch of its active foray into North America. Many competing services are headquartered on this continent. The Japanese startup not only handles copyright management issues for the image data but applies Artificial Intelligence (AI) upon finding and matching the requisite data. It was underscored that by 2020 the Internet will be some 44 ZB (zettabytes) of information floating out on cyberspace, beyond the capacity of a normal human brain alone to thresh through. See also: Japan’s social news aggregator for press…

This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


Spectee CEO Kenjiro Murakami introduces his service at a recent OrangeFab Asia meet-up.
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy

Spectee, at an OrangeFab meetup in Tokyo outlining the program in Asia, noted that from September it will start expanding its presence abroad — most likely in the U.S. which has been the amateur-based newsfeed firm’s largest market. Founder & CEO Kenjiro Murakami worked at a Silicon Valley major prior to starting up Spectee, under a different name.

The Tokyo firm is a second batch (the first which covered Japan, Korea and Taiwan) graduate of the accelerator run by the European telecom concern Orange. Spectee will showcase its service at an Austin, Texas confab next month to mark the launch of its active foray into North America. Many competing services are headquartered on this continent.

The Japanese startup not only handles copyright management issues for the image data but applies Artificial Intelligence (AI) upon finding and matching the requisite data. It was underscored that by 2020 the Internet will be some 44 ZB (zettabytes) of information floating out on cyberspace, beyond the capacity of a normal human brain alone to thresh through.

See also:

Spectee is currently working with Associated Press (AP) among other press organizations to disseminate its visual newsfeed network. Its system is also armed with multiple patents, which is rare for a startup with less than ten years of history, to be applied in expanding into new areas beyond the news field.

In addition to the Spectee talk, OrangeFab outlined its past efforts and announced it was ready to accept applications for the next program term from entrepreneurs. Creww also provided a spiel about the venue it runs (dubbed “docks”), which is a mid-Tokyo open innovation incubation and coworking space near Tokyo Tower, being used for the event series.

Earlier last month, Uzabase — offering the NewsPicks service and tied up with Dow Jones in the U.S. — announced its intention to buy digital-only business news service Quartz from Atlantic Media. Assuming the approximately month-long U.S. government approval goes smoothly, the Tokyo company can expect to be the new Quartz provider.

Nikkei presents AG/SUM 2018 in Central Tokyo with an eye to next year, 2020

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This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. AG/SUM (Agritech Summit) 2018 was presented by Nikkei from June 11 in Tokyo’s Nihombashi area, which from the Edo era has been home to Shinto shrines dedicated to medicinal plants. The district, under redevelopment by Mitsui Fudosan which was a major event sponsor, also has a concentration of pharmaceuticals firms ranging the gamut from Daiichi-Sankyo (with its Kusuri [Medicine] Museum) to Takeda Pharmaceutical’s newly-opened global headquarters building. The three-day event is part of the newly-launched “summit” series run by Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the flagship daily newspaper of the NIKKEI news concern; originally focused on finance and regulation, it is now aiming at such fields as life sciences and transportation, with an eye to the expansion of business activities in reflection of the Rugby World Cup next year in Japan as well as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics/Paralympics. The agriculture-centered event comprised a Symposium, an Exhibition and a Start-up Pitch Run plus a Reverse Pitch, in addition to a Marche where stalls lined the underground passageway leading from the main venues of Nihombashi Life Science Building and Nihombashi Mitsui Hall to the…

This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


AG/SUM Pitch Run finalists
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy

AG/SUM (Agritech Summit) 2018 was presented by Nikkei from June 11 in Tokyo’s Nihombashi area, which from the Edo era has been home to Shinto shrines dedicated to medicinal plants. The district, under redevelopment by Mitsui Fudosan which was a major event sponsor, also has a concentration of pharmaceuticals firms ranging the gamut from Daiichi-Sankyo (with its Kusuri [Medicine] Museum) to Takeda Pharmaceutical’s newly-opened global headquarters building.

The three-day event is part of the newly-launched “summit” series run by Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the flagship daily newspaper of the NIKKEI news concern; originally focused on finance and regulation, it is now aiming at such fields as life sciences and transportation, with an eye to the expansion of business activities in reflection of the Rugby World Cup next year in Japan as well as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics/Paralympics.

The agriculture-centered event comprised a Symposium, an Exhibition and a Start-up Pitch Run plus a Reverse Pitch, in addition to a Marche where stalls lined the underground passageway leading from the main venues of Nihombashi Life Science Building and Nihombashi Mitsui Hall to the nearest railway stations, namely Mitsukoshimae subway station for Ginza and Hanzomon Metro lines as well as the JR Shin-Nihombashi station, nearby Nihombashi Information Center.

AG/SUM Reverse Pitch
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy

The Pitch Run was held with 26 participants, in two parts (a.m. and p.m.) on June 12, with the Reverse Pitch being gathered in the early evening of the same day. The competitors vied for the main Nikkei Award while the Mizuho Award (namesake after Mizuho Bank, Mizuho standing for the Japanese phrase meaning plentiful harvest, roughly equivalent to “cornucopia”) was subsidiary. The Reverse Pitch was more of a participant feedback and follow-up session for pitch participants.

The a.m. session judges were Plug and Play Tech Center’s Seena Amidi, World Innovation Lab’s Namiko Kajiwara, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings’ Uraki Fumiko and Nihon Keizai Shimbun’s Keiichi Murayama while the p.m. judges were Bits x Bites’ Matilda Ho, RocketSpace’s Shaina Silva, Mistletoe’s Eriko Suzuki and euglena’s Akihito Nagata; Mizuho Bank’s Naoto Oohitsu was a judge for both sessions.

Musca CEO Mitsutaka Kushima
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy

The joint winners of the Mizuho Award turned out to be three companies, all from Japan – graft biotech outfit Gra & Green, plant factory maker PlantX and insect-tech Musca [“musca” meaning fly in Latin]. The Nikkei award went to the international quartet of U. California Berkeley-affiliated Sugarlogix, Stanford-related Agribody Technologies, vineyard support tech provider Biome Makers and non-fermentation winemaker AVA Winery.

Speaking of wine, along with visitors from Israel (though only contaminant detector manufacturer Inspecto showed up this year, MBR-supported hydroponics firm FreightFarms opting out this year, depriving me of a chance to ask about Kosher foodstuff) and elsewhere in the Middle East (Turkish agro-finance service Tarfin and sensor data processor Tarsens [with NVIDIA backing], where Halal is a huge market), afficianados of the beverage like myself found AVA tech intriguing for such diets.

It is hoped that next year the event can be expanded and brings more general visitors to the Marche and other public outreach aspects – as for example the Turkish start-ups in fact stayed on through Monday after in order to gain more information and further exchange. In addition perhaps more start-up involvement from South American and even Africa, not to mention elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, could be possible.

Japan has its successful Unicorn. Next it needs its first Unicorpse.

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This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. Japan witnessed its first successful unicorn take flight this week in the IPO of Mercari. Since its launch in 2013, Mercari has become Japan’s leading online flea market platform, allowing people to buy and sell secondhand items on a smartphone app with a brilliant UX. In just five years, the startup has reached a valuation of $6 billion, the largest IPO for a tech company since Line Corp. went public in July 2016. Hats off to the investors who backed Mercari, especially East Ventures who subscribed to the vision during the company’s seed round. And deep bow to the tireless leadership of Shintaro Yamada and his team at Mercari for your collectively heroic efforts! My hope is that Mercari represents a watershed moment for tech innovation in Japan. I’ve encountered mixed prognostications here in Tokyo…

mark-bivens_portraitThis guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


Image credit: Bakhtiar Zein / 123RF

Japan witnessed its first successful unicorn take flight this week in the IPO of Mercari.
Since its launch in 2013, Mercari has become Japan’s leading online flea market platform, allowing people to buy and sell secondhand items on a smartphone app with a brilliant UX. In just five years, the startup has reached a valuation of $6 billion, the largest IPO for a tech company since Line Corp. went public in July 2016.

Hats off to the investors who backed Mercari, especially East Ventures who subscribed to the vision during the company’s seed round. And deep bow to the tireless leadership of Shintaro Yamada and his team at Mercari for your collectively heroic efforts!

My hope is that Mercari represents a watershed moment for tech innovation in Japan. I’ve encountered mixed prognostications here in Tokyo this week. Some view it as a game-changer. Others remain skeptical, contending that Mercari remains an exception in a culture which stigmatizes failure.

Numerous people in both camps have told me that the absence of unicorns in Japan has been an embarrassment to the world’s third largest economy and former technology powerhouse viewed with intimidation in the West.

True, the U.S., Europe, and China possess herds of tech unicorns. Even today, I would submit that Europe punches above its weight in its proportion of unicorns. As I had explained in a recent interview to ITmedia News, Europe now counts about 30 technology unicorns, over 25% of the U.S. figure, which is impressive given that Europe only receives 1/10th of VC funding with substantially lower fundraising rounds compared to the U.S. As a VC during the breakout years of Europe’s tech sector, I have been fortunate to witness and invest in this magical phase.

And magical it is. The birth of unicorns in Europe has awakened international investors to the Old Continent’s potential. Capital from America and China has found it way into Europe. Now it appears that a few savvy investors from Japan are discovering the potential as well. Perhaps Mercari can unleash a similar stampede.

Granted, the term unicorn is annoyingly overused and increasingly inaccurate. However, investment bankers, research analysts, and investors love it (not to forget tech journalists, of course). Government officials across the globe have also almost universally adopted the unicorn mantra. Some use it as a metric on which to score points in petty rivalries about whose nation boasts the best tech ecosystems. One could also argue that a proliferation of unicorns is a sign of inefficiency in the capital markets.

Although I am hopeful that Japan will produce more tech unicorns in short order, I submit that the real litmus test will come in the form of a more macabre milestone: Japan’s first unicorpse.

Now please don’t misunderstand me. I applaud each and every aspiring unicorn venture, and I wish them no harm. I also salute the as-of-yet unsung heroes: the entrepreneurs who are still struggling out of the spotlight to reach escape velocity. Some of you will hopefully join the unicorn club, whereas many of you will not cross the $1B barrier but still build great companies of lasting value. Just as I wept at the end of Seabiscuit, I would not take pleasure in seeing a bunch of dead unicorn carcasses.

However, although Aileen Lee’s term refers to an arbitrary valuation threshold (remember: $1B is just another number), there is something stratospheric, ostentatious, and memorable about the $1 billion mark. On today’s scales, when you’ve crossed $1B, you’ve made it beyond the big leagues; you’ve become a near-mythical creature.

By the same token, a $1B failure will also be monumental. The topic of faltering unicorns is still a bit taboo, and the projected “dying unicorn lists” are not publicized (I know of one in particular that has recently attracted Japanese VC funding to the surprise of the local insiders).

But make no mistake, there has been and will be more blood. Probably several more unicorpses around the world. Such is the nature of venture building. This is actually a good thing, because global success stories of game-changing disruption cannot exist in an environment devoid of colossal failures.

Japan’s first unicorpse, whenever it happens, will represent a new inflection point. How the community reacts will reveal the true potential of Japan’s innovation ecosystem.

Loopin’ for more — Upon attending “Startup Mantra” recitals in Tokyo

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This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. Startups, Startups Everywhere Tokyo I daresay is as of June looking to launch full-fledged efforts to leverage various international events, not only the Olympiad but also — American football in Japan having besmirched its name during May — Rugby World Cup, Gov. Yuriko Koike having had to clear some obstacles such as those related to Central Fish Market and development/environment issues. As a prelude, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in late May organized in conjunction with Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Invest Japan Center a Startup Tokyo gathering. It was followed thereupon by startup-focused events, to culminate in the once-every-five-year international fire safety and disaster mitigation event which this year particularly highlights startup roles. Thus, the startup mantra recitations. To underscore Tokyo’s friendliness towards foreign-affiliated startups the Startup Tokyo seminar was held at a WeWork facility in ARK Hills South, aptly located next to JETRO HQ as well as Invest Japan office. The event was opened by the Governor herself, with a short speech. In fact, prior to her arrival the participants got to view a looping video of her exhorting…

This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


TOSBEC
Image credit: Invest Tokyo

Startups, Startups Everywhere

Tokyo I daresay is as of June looking to launch full-fledged efforts to leverage various international events, not only the Olympiad but also — American football in Japan having besmirched its name during May — Rugby World Cup, Gov. Yuriko Koike having had to clear some obstacles such as those related to Central Fish Market and development/environment issues.

As a prelude, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in late May organized in conjunction with Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Invest Japan Center a Startup Tokyo gathering. It was followed thereupon by startup-focused events, to culminate in the once-every-five-year international fire safety and disaster mitigation event which this year particularly highlights startup roles. Thus, the startup mantra recitations.

To underscore Tokyo’s friendliness towards foreign-affiliated startups the Startup Tokyo seminar was held at a WeWork facility in ARK Hills South, aptly located next to JETRO HQ as well as Invest Japan office. The event was opened by the Governor herself, with a short speech. In fact, prior to her arrival the participants got to view a looping video of her exhorting the merits of Tokyo.

See also:

Yuriko Koike, Governor of Tokyo
Image credit: Invest Tokyo

Invest Tokyo

The Governor noted that the Financial Times [I would note the paper is owned by Nikkei now] and some others had found Tokyo to be the best city to live, and that thanks to first-instance use of National Strategic Special Zone scheme, the Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center (TOSBEC) facilitates corporate foundation for startups as well as foreign companies to set up branches and subsidiaries.

The WeWork Japan CEO Chris Hill then spoke about the foray made by the international collaboration group into Tokyo since the beginning of this year. His staff gave a presentation after this, and invited participants to explore the facility while networking with entrepreneurs there, including two (a Japanese husband-and-wife team as represented by cleanliness expert Ms. Ohashi and a global outfit) who presented their experiences.

American businessman Mr. Erek Yedwabnick spoke on behalf of his international Internet consultant colleagues at Webguru. He noted that even with the combined knowledge of multinational web-savvy people and language support from his Japanese wife it would have been quite cumbersome to set up shop so quickly without use of TOSBEC. As it is, going forth Webguru will need to negotiate IP issues and suchlike.

See also:

Chris Hill, CEO of WeWork Japan
Image credit: Invest Tokyo

Expanding Business

As for Ouchi Detox headed by Ms. Ohashi, she outlined her company expansion. A former nurse, she started out at an individual level armed with knowhow as to compact storage of goods and struck a chord with the social problem of “hoarders” in Japan. She methodically expanded business, gaining IT-literacy and business-computing prowess (her husband being good with numbers too), to enable incorporation.

Apparently, she is expanding operations into Kyoto area with a business partner located there. As it is, Kyoto and other history-laden locations in Japan could use expertise in proper storage methods since some items with value could become irretrievably ruined, whether they be family heirlooms (as the old saying goes, a spoilt… or moldy, as it were… apple will ruin the whole basket) or invaluable documentation.

Interestingly, clean storage can be seen becoming a good business in Asia-Pacific overall. Not only such necessities as the need to reduce allergens and infections becoming widespread, there is the Damocles sword of natural and even man-made disasters hanging over the region so preparedness in terms of appropriate storage and maintenance is foreseen forming new demands at home/work (including collab space).

Waka Ohashi, CEO of Ouchi Detox
Image credit: Invest Tokyo

Coworking space WeWork makes headway in Japan, uses government-related activities

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This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. WeWork, the New York-born coworking space operation with a global company which entered the Japanese market this year. It already has four locations to Tokyo, thanks to adept leveraging of government-related activities. There are already many real estate companies in Japan looking to use the increased demand to expand their business, but foreign-affiliated services that until now were targeting the high-end of the market is joining the fray. The Roppongi/ARK Hills South base where the Governor of Tokyo visited to highlight investments from abroad recently is one example. ARK Hills is known as the base for Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Within ARK Hills also can be found the associated Invest Tokyo center, which handles activities like bringing in foreign direct investment. See also: How to start a business in Tokyo using Metropolitan Government resources Tokyo Government looking to attract foreign entrepreneurs in effort to create New Tokyo But those near other properties such as Toranomon Hills located close to the Japan Red Cross and Mid-Town Hibiya, in addition to…

This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


WeWork Shimbashi location
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy

WeWork, the New York-born coworking space operation with a global company which entered the Japanese market this year. It already has four locations to Tokyo, thanks to adept leveraging of government-related activities. There are already many real estate companies in Japan looking to use the increased demand to expand their business, but foreign-affiliated services that until now were targeting the high-end of the market is joining the fray.

The Roppongi/ARK Hills South base where the Governor of Tokyo visited to highlight investments from abroad recently is one example. ARK Hills is known as the base for Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Within ARK Hills also can be found the associated Invest Tokyo center, which handles activities like bringing in foreign direct investment.

See also:

But those near other properties such as Toranomon Hills located close to the Japan Red Cross and Mid-Town Hibiya, in addition to city center Marunouchi and shopping district Ginza, are now available in Japan’s capital. As for the nearby Shimbashi WeWork site, it is close to Toranomon/Kasumigaseki, the government quarters of Japan, and the WeWork location just south of the Foreign Ministry-supported ASEAN Centre is now home to the Australia-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce (ANZCC).

It will soon open its Shibuya branch, the place now known as the startup hub of Tokyo; Plug-and-Play is another foreign player already sited in the area. Although not fully­confirmed at press time, it is understood that a foreign batterytech startup seems to find the possibility of a Shibuya office with easy access to the Canadian Embassy quite enticing. Further reporting on this will be forthcoming after the stealth mode period.

Meet top 4 startups with decentralized apps from d10e blockchain conference in Tokyo

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This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. d10e — dubbed “The Leading Conference On Decentralization” — held the 21st Global Edition from April 28 to May 1, 2018. The venue, Hilton Tokyo Bay Hotel located near Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea, gathered numerous participants who foresee far-reaching changes being brought on by adoption of blockchain technology, especially by localities and businesses. The first and second days were spent by Blockchain Investors Consortium (BIC), one of the main event sponsors, familiarizing d10e-goers with Tokyo. Keynote speeches were presented on the third day. On the final day, 22 teams gathered to present their revolutionary wares during the 1st Edition in Japan Startup Pitch (MC: Ms. Naomi Brockwell). Leonardo Render Chief Strategy Officer Delon de Metz, the energetic (enough to jump off the stage and safely too) young man with the winning message at this year’s inaugural Japan pitch competition, got First Prize. The visual rendering services company headquartered on Madison Avenue in New York convinced all that their business is ready to roll. The runner-up was Ms. Liina Laas-Billson, Chief Business Development Officer for Black Insurance, the digital insurance company on blockchain….

This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


Randy Hencken, Co-founder of floating seasteading company Blue Frontiers, delivered his keynote speech.
Image credit: Kurt Hanson / The Bridge

d10e — dubbed “The Leading Conference On Decentralization” — held the 21st Global Edition from April 28 to May 1, 2018. The venue, Hilton Tokyo Bay Hotel located near Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea, gathered numerous participants who foresee far-reaching changes being brought on by adoption of blockchain technology, especially by localities and businesses.

Image credit: d10e

The first and second days were spent by Blockchain Investors Consortium (BIC), one of the main event sponsors, familiarizing d10e-goers with Tokyo. Keynote speeches were presented on the third day. On the final day, 22 teams gathered to present their revolutionary wares during the 1st Edition in Japan Startup Pitch (MC: Ms. Naomi Brockwell).

Delon de Metz, Chief Strategy Offier of Leonardo Render
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy / The Bridge

Leonardo Render Chief Strategy Officer Delon de Metz, the energetic (enough to jump off the stage and safely too) young man with the winning message at this year’s inaugural Japan pitch competition, got First Prize. The visual rendering services company headquartered on Madison Avenue in New York convinced all that their business is ready to roll.

Liina Laas-Billson, Chief Business Development Officer of Black Insurance
Image credit: d10e

The runner-up was Ms. Liina Laas-Billson, Chief Business Development Officer for Black Insurance, the digital insurance company on blockchain. The demure pitch for the Estonian outfit gained Second Prize as it explained elegantly how its platform connects insurance brokers directly with capital, enabling them to launch their own virtual insurance agencies.

Cereal Finance CEO Sergey Vart (left) and a pitch judge
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy / The Bridge

Third Prize was garnered by Cereal Finance Co-founder & CEO Sergey Vart, who heads the St. Petersburg-based provider of blockchain ecosystem for asset-based loans. Finally, the Audience Award went to ZPER (according to Marketing Manager DK Yoon, pronounced ‘Zee-per’) of Singapore, offering a decentralized ecosystem for P2P finance.

George Hahn, co-founder and CGO of ZPER
Image credit: d10e

Panasonic, Scrum Ventures announce BeeEdge joint venture to foster innovation

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This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology. Panasonic (TSE:6752) held a press conference as MC’d by Panasonic Senior Managing Executive Officer Tetsuro Homma on Thursday, announcing in Tokyo that it is forming a joint venture with a 49% share called BeeEdge together with Scrum Ventures, a San Francisco-based early-stage venture capital firm. Aimed at enabling a new generation of products, BeeEdge will identify technologies within Panasonic that are not fully utilized and create independent startups to develop them commercially. BeeEdge will act as an accelerator, with Panasonic and Scrum pooling their experience upon collaboration and supporting entrepreneurs. Scrum Ventures said in their release on the U.S. side. We know how to identify and support startups that are working on ground‐breaking new technologies. We are very hands‐on with founders and make sure they have what is needed to succeed. Sharing our expertise with Panasonic is a great opportunity to bring underutilized innovations to market. Tak Miyata heads the U.S. outfit as Founding Partner of Scrum Ventures, a seed-stage venture firm investing across a range of industries in the U.S. and Asia. With extensive experience plus networks in both…

This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.


Scrum Ventures’ partner Makoto Haruta speaks at a press conference in Tokyo.
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy

Panasonic (TSE:6752) held a press conference as MC’d by Panasonic Senior Managing Executive Officer Tetsuro Homma on Thursday, announcing in Tokyo that it is forming a joint venture with a 49% share called BeeEdge together with Scrum Ventures, a San Francisco-based early-stage venture capital firm.

Aimed at enabling a new generation of products, BeeEdge will identify technologies within Panasonic that are not fully utilized and create independent startups to develop them commercially. BeeEdge will act as an accelerator, with Panasonic and Scrum pooling their experience upon collaboration and supporting entrepreneurs.

Scrum Ventures said in their release on the U.S. side.

We know how to identify and support startups that are working on ground‐breaking new technologies. We are very hands‐on with founders and make sure they have what is needed to succeed. Sharing our expertise with Panasonic is a great opportunity to bring underutilized innovations to market.

Tak Miyata heads the U.S. outfit as Founding Partner of Scrum Ventures, a seed-stage venture firm investing across a range of industries in the U.S. and Asia. With extensive experience plus networks in both Silicon Valley and Japan, Scrum Ventures accelerates their portfolio companies for global opportunities and helps corporations innovate. Scrum Ventures partner Makoto Haruta will become BeeEdge President. It was recently announced that Scrum Studio to connect global corporations in Japan with startups in Silicon Valley through investing and collaboration have been set up.

Scrum Ventures’ partner Makoto Haruta (right) shakes hands with Panasonic’s Tetsuro Homma (left).
Image credit: “Tex” Pomeroy

Meanwhile Panasonic, known for creating consumer electronics that enhance customer lifestyles, has been increasing its investment to create new consumer experiences and businesses for the next generation. In April, it will look to focus their design efforts in Kyoto, among other changes. Haruta took the stage to underscore Scrum Ventures’ track record identifying new trends and technologies, in addition to strong understanding of the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem, noting that Scrum Ventures is well‐positioned to bring expertise to BeeEdge upon advising the startups.

Homma, in charge of the Appliance Company at Panasonic, said:

We are looking forward to working with Scrum Ventures because of their expertise in supporting startups. From analyzing opportunities and bringing products to market, to sharing best practices in operations, Scrum Ventures will be a valuable partner in maximizing how we develop our technologies with new innovative companies.

The Osaka manufacturing giant spokesman added as well that Panasonic is mulling investment into the Scrum Ventures Fund III along with the joint venture set-up.