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Japan’s space debris remover Astroscale secures $109M, brings valuation to $295M

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Tokyo-based Astroscale Holdings, the Japanese startup offering space debris removal services, has secured approximately 12.4 billion yen (about $109 million) in a Series F round, which brought the startup’s valuation to 33.4 billion yen (about $295 million). This follows their series E round back in October of last year. Investors participating in the latest round are: DNCA Invest Beyound Global Leaders Environmental Energy Investment Siniphian AXA Life Insurance Innovation Engine OPS Seraphim Space Investment Trust Solaris ESG Master Fund Chiba Dojo Nomura Sparks Investment Prelude Structured Alternatives Master Fund Yamauchi-No.10 Family Office (the family office of Nindendo’s founder) Y’s Investment According to the company, the funding will enable the company’s global growth, including the development of technology for safe and cost-effective on-orbit services and the expansion of its own facilities for mass production in Japan, the UK and the US. Since its Series E round back in October of last year, the company’s workforce has grown by more than 60 percent, reaching about 250 employees globally. The company successfully launched and put into orbit the ELSA-d space debris removal satellite in March, and this month, followed by introducing its docking plate this month, which is designed to be pre-loaded onto…

ELSA-d
Image credit: Astroscale Holdings

Tokyo-based Astroscale Holdings, the Japanese startup offering space debris removal services, has secured approximately 12.4 billion yen (about $109 million) in a Series F round, which brought the startup’s valuation to 33.4 billion yen (about $295 million). This follows their series E round back in October of last year.

Investors participating in the latest round are:

  • DNCA Invest Beyound Global Leaders
  • Environmental Energy Investment
  • Siniphian
  • AXA Life Insurance
  • Innovation Engine
  • OPS
  • Seraphim Space Investment Trust
  • Solaris ESG Master Fund
  • Chiba Dojo
  • Nomura Sparks Investment
  • Prelude Structured Alternatives Master Fund
  • Yamauchi-No.10 Family Office (the family office of Nindendo’s founder)
  • Y’s Investment

According to the company, the funding will enable the company’s global growth, including the development of technology for safe and cost-effective on-orbit services and the expansion of its own facilities for mass production in Japan, the UK and the US.

Since its Series E round back in October of last year, the company’s workforce has grown by more than 60 percent, reaching about 250 employees globally.

The company successfully launched and put into orbit the ELSA-d space debris removal satellite in March, and this month, followed by introducing its docking plate this month, which is designed to be pre-loaded onto low-Earth orbit satellites, one of the main possible sources of space debris.

Japan’s sticker character production Quan to merge with cartoonist agency Wwwaap

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Quan, the Japanese startup producing characters like Betakkuma and Business Fish for messaging stickers, has announced that it will merge with Wwwaap (pronounced ‘warp’), an agency of cartoonists and influencers. The two companies will be merged by January of 2022 to establish a new company called Minto. Quan’s CEO Kazuhiro Mizuno will be appointed as the CEO of the new company while Wwwaap’s CEO Genta Nakagawa, Wwwaap’s director Nobuyuki Takahashi, and Quan’s director Jun Oagawa will join the new company’s director board. In the U.S., influencing creators such as YouTubers, Instagramers, and Tiktokers are expanding their fan base all over the world, which has grown the creator economy up to over $104 billion US. Meanwhile, Japan’s creator economy is centered on two-dimensional content, mainly on manga and anime illustration. Webtoons originally from South Korea has recently spread into the Japanese market, which lets Kakao Japan operating the Piccolo manga app become valued over $7 billion US by riding on the wave. We won’t go into detail about Quan’s business here because we’ve covered them many times while Wwwaap was founded in 2016 by Nakagawa, who started a manga editing team and an app…

Nobuyuki Takahashi (Co-CEO of Wwwaap), Kazuhiro Mizuno (CEO of Quan), Genta Nakagawa (Co-CEO of Wwwaap)
Image credits Quan, Wwwaap

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Quan, the Japanese startup producing characters like Betakkuma and Business Fish for messaging stickers, has announced that it will merge with Wwwaap (pronounced ‘warp’), an agency of cartoonists and influencers. The two companies will be merged by January of 2022 to establish a new company called Minto. Quan’s CEO Kazuhiro Mizuno will be appointed as the CEO of the new company while Wwwaap’s CEO Genta Nakagawa, Wwwaap’s director Nobuyuki Takahashi, and Quan’s director Jun Oagawa will join the new company’s director board.

In the U.S., influencing creators such as YouTubers, Instagramers, and Tiktokers are expanding their fan base all over the world, which has grown the creator economy up to over $104 billion US. Meanwhile, Japan’s creator economy is centered on two-dimensional content, mainly on manga and anime illustration. Webtoons originally from South Korea has recently spread into the Japanese market, which lets Kakao Japan operating the Piccolo manga app become valued over $7 billion US by riding on the wave.

We won’t go into detail about Quan’s business here because we’ve covered them many times while Wwwaap was founded in 2016 by Nakagawa, who started a manga editing team and an app marketing team at a major digital ad agency. With more than 250 creators, mainly manga and anime creators attracting fans through social network channels, the company has successfully monetized their content by making companies to use them for promotion. It claims that 80 to 90% of the manga illustrations used in Twitter ads in Japan are created by them. In other words, they can be called a multi-channel network for manga artists.

Nakagawa says,

In this industry, even if you are extremely talented (as an artist), you can’t make a living. While there are many people quitting, we have succeeded in monetizing their works to tell them how much we can pay them if they have a certain number of followers. We have over than 250 manga artists having 10,000 followers, and some of them are housewives earning 10 million yen ($8.8 million US) a year.

By joining forces, the two companies are expected to create several complementary relationships. It allows Quan to distribute Wwwaap’s creators’ works through Quan’s vast region-wide network in Asia while Wwwaap will be able to expand its sales channels. In addition to their own characters, Quon will be able to play a trader role in the distribution of third-party content.

Mizuno says,

Whether it’s webtoon or animation, there are so many small productions are working here. It is true that this has created diversity, but in order to be strategic and dynamic business, a certain level of scale is necessary. If we only had our own characters, we would not be able to cover all the demands form clients. After subsiding the pandemic, it would be especially difficult to differentiate ourselves from other competitors from the rest of the world.

Some of characters and manga titles by Quan and wwwaap
Image credit: Quan, Wwwaap

Mizuno’s and Nakagawa’s different areas of expertise will complementary work. Despite several business models in hand Quan has been focused on monetizing by character merchandising as well as promotion use for companies in Asia after gaining popularity of unique characters through the use of free messaging stickers. Having successfully established his own business in Japan, Nakagawa expressed confidence in the business potential after the merger in terms of diversifying revenue stream in the region.

Japan’s Flatt Security nabs $1.8M to help developers fix security issues in codes

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Tokyo-based cybersecurity startup Flatt Security announced on Monday that it has secured about 200 million yen (about $1.8 million US) in equity and loans from B Dash Ventures, FinTech Global, and an unnamed business company. For the startup, this follows their $2 million funding back in July of 2019. The latest round brought their total sum of funding up to date to 450 million yen (about $4 million). Under its previous name of Flatt, the company was founded in May of 2017 with most of its members from millennials attending the University of Tokyo. Initially, they had been developing a live commerce app called PinQul but subsequently pivoted to the cybersecurity business and rebranded themselves in 2019. Flatt Security currently provides vulnerability assessment service as well as a secure coding learning platform for web engineers called Kenro. The company is launching a new product called Shisho for the global market, aiming to eliminate the gap between product development and cybersecurity measure within a team. In the app development, we see sometimes a trade-off between security and usability, and also that between ensuring safety and enriching functionality. The company’s solutions are designed to bridge the gap between app development engineers and…

The Flatt Security team
Image credit: Flatt Security

Tokyo-based cybersecurity startup Flatt Security announced on Monday that it has secured about 200 million yen (about $1.8 million US) in equity and loans from B Dash Ventures, FinTech Global, and an unnamed business company. For the startup, this follows their $2 million funding back in July of 2019. The latest round brought their total sum of funding up to date to 450 million yen (about $4 million).

Under its previous name of Flatt, the company was founded in May of 2017 with most of its members from millennials attending the University of Tokyo. Initially, they had been developing a live commerce app called PinQul but subsequently pivoted to the cybersecurity business and rebranded themselves in 2019.

Flatt Security currently provides vulnerability assessment service as well as a secure coding learning platform for web engineers called Kenro. The company is launching a new product called Shisho for the global market, aiming to eliminate the gap between product development and cybersecurity measure within a team.

In the app development, we see sometimes a trade-off between security and usability, and also that between ensuring safety and enriching functionality. The company’s solutions are designed to bridge the gap between app development engineers and security management engineers, who are often completely separated in doing their jobs each other.

Shisho
Image credit: Flatt Security

In addition to general cloud configuration and app diagnostics, Flatt Security offers diagnostics specific to the users of Firebase, one of popular no-code backend environment tools. When Japanese accounting company Freee acquired bookkeeping app Taxnote in June, Flatt Security’s diagnostics were adopted for evaluation upon acquisition and throughout subsequent operations.

The company has been focused on consulting and a learning platform but is aiming to expand its business with greater scalability by launching a security product for developers around the world.

In Bridge’s interview with Flatt Security’s Chief Creative Officer Keijiro Toyoda, he says,

Shisho’s goal is to create security tools that are easy for developers to use. Previous tools did not support modern technology stacks and did not support the latest diagnostic methods. […]

We would like to eliminate the gap between operating companies and security vendors which we have seen in the system development. First of all, we will closely work with ecosystems of developers, and eventually create a system that can suggest code fixes with just a single click.

Flatt Security hopes to expand Shisho’s global reach by penetrating the developer community. In order to achieve this, the company has released the vulnerability detection and correction engine, which is the technical core of Shisho, as open source software, and also released the SaaS-based beta version of the product earlier this month. They plan to use the revenue from existing businesses and the funds from the latest round to accelerate the launch of the new product.

Japan’s cloud-based CCTV solution provider Safie hits $1.6B market cap after IPO

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Safie (TSE: 4375), the Japanese startup offering cloud-based CCTV solutions, went public on the TSE Mothers market on Wednesday. The company has priced its initial public offering at 2,430 yen (about $22) a share but it hit the highest price of 3,700 yen (about $33) last week which brought the company’s market cap up to over 180 billion yen (about $1.6 billion). In Japan, Safie is this year’s fourth IPO-ed company with a market cap over 100 billion yen (about $900 million) at its opening price, following Taiwanese AI startup Appier, job-placement portal site BizReach’s parent company Visional, and data analysis firm Plus Alpha Consulting. Safie was founded in October of 2014 by Ryuhei Sadoshima (currently CEO) and his two longtime colleagues who all previously worked at Japanese image processing startup Motion Portrait, a spin-off of Sony’s Kihara Research Center. Sadoshima is also known for Daigakunote.com, his previous startup running a university student portal. The company launched a cloud-based CCTV solution back in 2015. Safie has so far secure funds from NTT Docomo Ventures, 31Ventures (by Mitsui Fudosan and Global Brain), Innovation Fund 25 (by Senshu Ikeda Bank and others), Orix, Kansai Electric…

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Safie (TSE: 4375), the Japanese startup offering cloud-based CCTV solutions, went public on the TSE Mothers market on Wednesday. The company has priced its initial public offering at 2,430 yen (about $22) a share but it hit the highest price of 3,700 yen (about $33) last week which brought the company’s market cap up to over 180 billion yen (about $1.6 billion).

In Japan, Safie is this year’s fourth IPO-ed company with a market cap over 100 billion yen (about $900 million) at its opening price, following Taiwanese AI startup Appier, job-placement portal site BizReach’s parent company Visional, and data analysis firm Plus Alpha Consulting.

Safie was founded in October of 2014 by Ryuhei Sadoshima (currently CEO) and his two longtime colleagues who all previously worked at Japanese image processing startup Motion Portrait, a spin-off of Sony’s Kihara Research Center. Sadoshima is also known for Daigakunote.com, his previous startup running a university student portal. The company launched a cloud-based CCTV solution back in 2015.

Safie has so far secure funds from NTT Docomo Ventures, 31Ventures (by Mitsui Fudosan and Global Brain), Innovation Fund 25 (by Senshu Ikeda Bank and others), Orix, Kansai Electric Power, Canon Marketing Japan, NEC Capital Solutions, and others.

Japan’s Citadel AI secures seed round to automatically detect errors in predictions

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Citadel AI, the Japanese startup developing automated AI quality maintenance tools, announced on Monday that it has secured 100 million yen (about $900,000 US) in a seed round from UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC) and Anri. For the startup, this is the first funding from external investors. They launched Citadel Rader in beta in May, aiming to help companies protect themselves from AI-specific risks by automatically monitoring their AI systems, detecting, blocking, and visualizing anomalies. Citadel AI was launched in December by CEO Hironori “Rick” Kobayashi and CTO Kenny Song. Prior to Citadel AI, Kobayashi served Loyalty Marketing as president, Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas) as SVP, and US-based meat processing firm Indiana Packers Corporation as CEO. Meanwhile, Song led the development of TensorFlow and AutoML as a product manager at Google Brain, the tech giant’s AI research and development unit. Unlike traditional hardware-based software, AI systems are exposed to an ever-changing real-world environment that degrades their accuracy and quality day by day. It is important for businesses to maintain the quality of AI functions by automatically detecting anomalies before they are misrecognized and misjudged, resulting in business losses and compliance issues. Citadel Rader has an XAI (eXplainable Artificial Intelligence) function that…

Image credit: Citadel AI

Citadel AI, the Japanese startup developing automated AI quality maintenance tools, announced on Monday that it has secured 100 million yen (about $900,000 US) in a seed round from UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC) and Anri. For the startup, this is the first funding from external investors. They launched Citadel Rader in beta in May, aiming to help companies protect themselves from AI-specific risks by automatically monitoring their AI systems, detecting, blocking, and visualizing anomalies.

Citadel AI was launched in December by CEO Hironori “Rick” Kobayashi and CTO Kenny Song. Prior to Citadel AI, Kobayashi served Loyalty Marketing as president, Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas) as SVP, and US-based meat processing firm Indiana Packers Corporation as CEO. Meanwhile, Song led the development of TensorFlow and AutoML as a product manager at Google Brain, the tech giant’s AI research and development unit.

Unlike traditional hardware-based software, AI systems are exposed to an ever-changing real-world environment that degrades their accuracy and quality day by day. It is important for businesses to maintain the quality of AI functions by automatically detecting anomalies before they are misrecognized and misjudged, resulting in business losses and compliance issues. Citadel Rader has an XAI (eXplainable Artificial Intelligence) function that automatically detects and blocks AI input and output anomalies and visualizes them in a form that humans can understand.

Kobayashi says,

In the development stage, AI reads only clean data, but when it moves to actual operation, it receives a variety of data, including those with input errors. Basically, people think that computers will give correct answers, and even if they give wrong answers, it is difficult to point them out.

Since it is difficult for companies to allocate human resources to monitor the output of AI, our tool may help AI engineers who are usually busy with their daily work find the time to concentrate on their original work.

Image credit: Citadel AI

When a system integrator receives an order for an AI system, they will typically implement the system but not provide services to automate the operation and maintenance afterwards.

Kobayashi continued,

If the accuracy and quality of the data deteriorates, in the worst case scenario, it could lead to errors in sales forecasting, or in credit approval. For example, think FATF (Financial Action Task Force, the global organization working with money laundering regulators in various countries). A single node with poor security in determining a money laundering case could lead to the vulnerability of the entire global network, which could lead to the node not being allowed to join the organization.

He added that Citadel Rader is currently used by more than 10 companies on a trial basis and is in talks with more than 100 companies as potential users. The company plans to use the funds to expand its engineering team for the product’s official launch which is scheduled next spring.

Japanese smart lock developer Photosynth files for IPO

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Tokyo-based Photosynth, the Japanese startup developing and offering smart lock Akerun as well as cloud-based room-entry access control system, announced on Thursday that its application to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on November 5 with plans to offer 700,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 946,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 5,613,300 shares. The underwriting will be led by Daiwa Securities and Credit Suisse while Photosynth’s ticker code will be 4379. Based on the estimated issue price of 1,500 yen (about $13.4), the company will be valued at 22.9 billion yen (about $204.2 million). Its share price range will be released on October 19 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on October 20 and pricing on October 26. According to the consolidated statement as of December 2020, they posted revenue of 1,175.9 million yen ($10.5 million) with an ordinary loss of 683.5 million yen ($6.1 million). Founded back in September 2014 by Kodai Kawase, Photosynth aims to allow people to gain access to spaces without carrying physical keys. They have developed IoT-based connected smart locks and a cloud-based authentication platform, offering them to…

Photostynth CEO Kodai Kawase

Tokyo-based Photosynth, the Japanese startup developing and offering smart lock Akerun as well as cloud-based room-entry access control system, announced on Thursday that its application to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on November 5 with plans to offer 700,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 946,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 5,613,300 shares. The underwriting will be led by Daiwa Securities and Credit Suisse while Photosynth’s ticker code will be 4379.

Based on the estimated issue price of 1,500 yen (about $13.4), the company will be valued at 22.9 billion yen (about $204.2 million). Its share price range will be released on October 19 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on October 20 and pricing on October 26. According to the consolidated statement as of December 2020, they posted revenue of 1,175.9 million yen ($10.5 million) with an ordinary loss of 683.5 million yen ($6.1 million).

Founded back in September 2014 by Kodai Kawase, Photosynth aims to allow people to gain access to spaces without carrying physical keys. They have developed IoT-based connected smart locks and a cloud-based authentication platform, offering them to users based on a subscription basis.

Last year, the company introduced the Akerun Access Intelligence, an access authentication platform to realize a keyless society, as well as a new service called the Akerun visitor management system. In this scheme, users can associate their unique identity used in real life, such as NFC transit card, smartphone, employee ID and entrance pass with their digital entity such as e-mail address and phone number, and then register all them in to the cloud. This allows users to gain access to various spaces such as their office, building and home with just a single ID.

The company won the grand prize at the JR East Startup Program, a startup accelerator program by Japan’s largest railway company, with a system offering access control for the entry to office buildings using JR’s Suica NFC transit card. They established a joint venture with Japanese leading lock and security company Miwa Lock in January.

Led by CEO Kawase (18.35%), the company’s major shareholders include Globis Capital Partners (9.81%), Norinchukin Bank (7.45%), Jafco (5.47%), Fidelity Funds (4.34%), Globis Fund (4.19%), Daiwa Corporate Investment (4.18%), Gaiax (3.82%), Tokyo Metropolitan Government (3.48%), Fidelity Japan Trust (3.10%), and Executive Vice President Hiroaki Uesaka (2.65%).

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Japan’s Incubate Fund launches $147M fund for growth-stage startups

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Tokyo-based VC firm Incubate Fund announced on Tuesday that it has established a new growth fund called IFGO worth 16.1 billion yen (about $147 million). This is the sixth flagship fund for the firm since its first fund established in 2010 (excluding regional funds and franchise funds in India, the US, and Brazil). With the launch of the new fund, Incubate Fund’s AUM (assets under management) has reached approximately 62 billion yen (about $567 million). Focusing on follow-on investments in their more than 400 portfolio companies, the firm will start investing in middle- and later-stage startups. The firm has been focused on investing in early-stage startups, especially those in seed to series B rounds. When a promising startup in need of funding came to the firm but they are in the middle or later stage, the firm may have experienced to decline the startup’s request due to scope mismatch. In an interview with Bridge, Masahiko Honma, the firm’s founder and managing partner says, the new fund is to actively invest in the firm’s portfolio startups preparing for IPO and help them become unicorns. The fund’s ticket size is expected to be 500 million to 2.5 billion yen (about $4.6 million…

Image credit: Incubate Fund

Tokyo-based VC firm Incubate Fund announced on Tuesday that it has established a new growth fund called IFGO worth 16.1 billion yen (about $147 million). This is the sixth flagship fund for the firm since its first fund established in 2010 (excluding regional funds and franchise funds in India, the US, and Brazil). With the launch of the new fund, Incubate Fund’s AUM (assets under management) has reached approximately 62 billion yen (about $567 million). Focusing on follow-on investments in their more than 400 portfolio companies, the firm will start investing in middle- and later-stage startups.

The firm has been focused on investing in early-stage startups, especially those in seed to series B rounds. When a promising startup in need of funding came to the firm but they are in the middle or later stage, the firm may have experienced to decline the startup’s request due to scope mismatch. In an interview with Bridge, Masahiko Honma, the firm’s founder and managing partner says, the new fund is to actively invest in the firm’s portfolio startups preparing for IPO and help them become unicorns.

Image credit: Incubate Fund

The fund’s ticket size is expected to be 500 million to 2.5 billion yen (about $4.6 million to 22.8 million), aiming to actively lead pre-IPO rounds. If it is possible for middle- and later-stage startups to secure billions of yen in their pre-IPO round, they will no longer have to rush into an IPO but will be able to gain sufficient profitability, recognition, an appropriate valuation before it. The Japanese market used to be ridiculed for having many small IPOs compared to the U.S. and other countries, but the recent emergence of growth funds and large funds in Japan may help resolve these issues.

The firm also disclosed some of the investees from the new fund: ispace (lunar development), BellFace (online sales SaaS), Wovn (website multilingualization solution), Timers (parenting app development), Caster (online secretary and assistant), and Satori (marketing automation tool developer). Since all these startups have won a certain level of recognition from the market, there’s no doubt if any of them has started countdown to an IPO.

Image credit: Incubate Fund

About 57% of the new fund is backed by financial institutions and university foundations from North America, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Honma says there may be two main reasons behind the fact. First, the firm proactively disclosed their track records, sharing their performance to date in terms of DPI (Distributions to Paid in Capital) with potential investors, which helped gain the latter’s great understanding.

Secondly, geopolitical trends have also had a significant impact on the market. Due to the offensive between the U.S. and Chinese governments, as well as the restrictions imposed by the Chinese government, China’s big tech market is becoming increasingly suspicious. Even though we don’t know much about the inner workings of the market, the world’s money, with its huge appetite for consumption and expectations of speculative growth, is losing its way here. The Japanese market has been attracting attention because of its moderate market size, stable politics and economy, and steady real returns.

Honma says,

I have wanted to launch such a fund for a long time. Asked about why we could do it at this time this year, I think it’s significantly triggered by the momentum.

Incubate Fund has a strong presence in Japan, but I had a strong impression that they are pouring money from Japanese investors into promising startups in Southeast Asia, as Homma is based out of Singapore and they have invested in KK Fund other funds in the region. With the launch of the new fund, a two-way money flow will be created where funds from overseas will be invested in Japanese startups, which will benefit their international business expansion in the future.

Since the beginning of this year, Japanese independent VC firms have launched a series of large funds worth over 10 billion yen (about $9.1 million): One Capital closed its first fund with 16 billion yen while University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC) launched its 30 billion yen fifth fund. Coral Capital launched its third fund worth 14 billion yen, revealing that a third of its investors are from overseas.

Japan curated news app SmartNews secures $230M in series F at $2B valuation

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SmartNews announced on Wednesday that it has raised US$230 million in a Series F round. This brings the company’s total amount raised to date to over US$400 million, and its valuation up to US$2 billion, the highest for a single news app, securing its “double unicorn” status. This follows the close of their previous series E round announced 22 months ago. Participating investors in this round include Princeville Capital and Woodline Partners from the US, JIC Venture Growth Investments, Green Co-Invest Investment, and Yamauchi No.10 Family Office (by Nintendo founder’s family) from Japan in addition to existing investors like ACA Investments and SMBC Venture Capital. According to AppAnnie’s monthly average usage of mobile apps for iOS and Android in the U.S., SmartNews ranked first with 4.7 hours, followed by FlipBoard (4.5 hours) in the second as well as Google News (2.9 hours) and Apple News (0.8 hours). Futhermore, the number of monthly active users has doubled since 2019 (as of 2019, the total number of users in the US and Japan was 20 million). SmartNews plans to use the additional funding to double its headcount in the U.S. (currently 500 staffers globally) and add engineers and leaders, especially in Silicon…

SmartNews announced on Wednesday that it has raised US$230 million in a Series F round. This brings the company’s total amount raised to date to over US$400 million, and its valuation up to US$2 billion, the highest for a single news app, securing its “double unicorn” status. This follows the close of their previous series E round announced 22 months ago.

Participating investors in this round include Princeville Capital and Woodline Partners from the US, JIC Venture Growth Investments, Green Co-Invest Investment, and Yamauchi No.10 Family Office (by Nintendo founder’s family) from Japan in addition to existing investors like ACA Investments and SMBC Venture Capital.

According to AppAnnie’s monthly average usage of mobile apps for iOS and Android in the U.S., SmartNews ranked first with 4.7 hours, followed by FlipBoard (4.5 hours) in the second as well as Google News (2.9 hours) and Apple News (0.8 hours). Futhermore, the number of monthly active users has doubled since 2019 (as of 2019, the total number of users in the US and Japan was 20 million).

SmartNews plans to use the additional funding to double its headcount in the U.S. (currently 500 staffers globally) and add engineers and leaders, especially in Silicon Valley, New York, and San Francisco. The company will also expand its dashboard on the COVID-19 vaccine and its “News From All Sides” feature which gives users easy access to a wide range of political views.

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Teatis closes seed round with $700K, offering meal replacement for diabetic Americans

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Launched by Japanese serial entrepreneur Hiroshi Takatoh, Teatis offers meal replacement / superfood powders for diabetic consumers mainly in the US. The company announced on Friday that it has secured $700,000 in a seed round. Participating in the round are Genesia Ventures, Ryo Ishizuka (co-founder of Japanese C2C company Mercari), Takuya Noguchi (founder of Japanese men’s skincare D2C brand Bulk Homme), and seven unnamed angel investors. This round follows the company’s angel round announced in June and brings their total funding amount up to over $1 million. Noguchi participated in the previous round. Focusing on diabetes, one of the most common lifestyle-related diseases among people today, Teatis started offering meal replacements, which contain a lot of superfood ingredients such as seaweed polyphenols, in the US, where about 120 million people are said to have pre- and diabetes. When dissolved in water, it can be drunk as a smoothie or latte with a focus to help curb blood sugar spike, contains no chemicals nor sweeteners but seaweed extract which has been proven to inhibit the absorption of sugar from the intestinal tract and help maintain normal blood sugar levels. Prior to the official launch, Takatoh revealed Teatis already had about 4,000…

Image credit: Teatis

Launched by Japanese serial entrepreneur Hiroshi Takatoh, Teatis offers meal replacement / superfood powders for diabetic consumers mainly in the US. The company announced on Friday that it has secured $700,000 in a seed round. Participating in the round are Genesia Ventures, Ryo Ishizuka (co-founder of Japanese C2C company Mercari), Takuya Noguchi (founder of Japanese men’s skincare D2C brand Bulk Homme), and seven unnamed angel investors. This round follows the company’s angel round announced in June and brings their total funding amount up to over $1 million. Noguchi participated in the previous round.

Focusing on diabetes, one of the most common lifestyle-related diseases among people today, Teatis started offering meal replacements, which contain a lot of superfood ingredients such as seaweed polyphenols, in the US, where about 120 million people are said to have pre- and diabetes. When dissolved in water, it can be drunk as a smoothie or latte with a focus to help curb blood sugar spike, contains no chemicals nor sweeteners but seaweed extract which has been proven to inhibit the absorption of sugar from the intestinal tract and help maintain normal blood sugar levels.

Prior to the official launch, Takatoh revealed Teatis already had about 4,000 pre-registered users in June. Asked these users a try, the company received a lot of feedback that they felt it helped control elevated blood sugar levels. In September, they plan to launch a platform called Teatis RD on Demand, aiming to give users nutrition advice by registered dietitians.

via PR Newswire

Japan EdTech startup Atama Plus secures $46M+ series B round for global expansion

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See the original story in Japanese. Atama Plus, the Japanese startup offering AI-based learning materials for cram schools under the same name, announced Wednesday that it has fundraised about 5 billion yen (about $46.4 million US) in a series B round. In addition to existing investors such as DCM Ventures and JAFCO Group, participating investors include the Singapore Government-backed Temasek Holdings’ Pavilion Capital and US-based T. Rowe Price. This has brought the company’s funding sum to date up to about 8.2 billion yen (about $74.6 million). The learning platform allows users to shorten the time to acquire basic academic skills. It can detect where students are likely to get stuck during learning, so it can teach the teacher when they are likely to get stuck, enabling precise and efficient coaching. It is being used in more than 2,500 classrooms, including Japanese notable cram school chains like the Sundai Group and the Z-kai Group, as it is expected to have a high learning effect. In July of last year, the company began offering online mock exams, and in December, it launched a joint research group with Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto to link the company’s learning data to the university’s entrance exams….

The Atama Plus team
Image credit: Atama Plus

See the original story in Japanese.

Atama Plus, the Japanese startup offering AI-based learning materials for cram schools under the same name, announced Wednesday that it has fundraised about 5 billion yen (about $46.4 million US) in a series B round. In addition to existing investors such as DCM Ventures and JAFCO Group, participating investors include the Singapore Government-backed Temasek Holdings’ Pavilion Capital and US-based T. Rowe Price. This has brought the company’s funding sum to date up to about 8.2 billion yen (about $74.6 million).

The learning platform allows users to shorten the time to acquire basic academic skills. It can detect where students are likely to get stuck during learning, so it can teach the teacher when they are likely to get stuck, enabling precise and efficient coaching. It is being used in more than 2,500 classrooms, including Japanese notable cram school chains like the Sundai Group and the Z-kai Group, as it is expected to have a high learning effect.

In July of last year, the company began offering online mock exams, and in December, it launched a joint research group with Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto to link the company’s learning data to the university’s entrance exams. With the latest fund, the company aims to expand its business by increasing employees from the current 160 to 250.

Overseas investors joined the round for the first time

Image credit: Atama Plus

It is rare for foreign funds such as Temasek and T. Rowe Price to invest in privately held Japanese companies, but there have been a few cases in the past, including Studyst and SuperStudio (both from Pavilion Capital), and Freee and Sansan (both from T. Rowe Price).

Global investments (mostly in the US) in the first half of 2021 totaled $288 billion, up significantly from $110 billion in the same period last year. Among these investments, Temasek has invested in 47 companies in the first half of 2021 alone. Temasek invested in 47 companies in the first half of 2021 alone, while T. Rowe Price’s investments totaled $5 billion.

So, why haven’t they paid more attention to Japanese startups so far? As I heard from a local investor, typical overseas investors tend to evaluate deals based on market size. They simply evaluate companies based on their market cap, so the upside is Apple as their market cap hit $2.4 trillion as of this writing.

Manwhile, foreign investors are unlikely to invest in startups which cannot compete in the global arena. Conversely, these investors recognized that Atama Plus CEO Inada and his team could compete globally. In fact, Inada said that the reason for having foreign funds in this round is aiming for a global IPO.

Competing in the global market

The world’s most valued EduTech companies – Toppr (India), Byju’s (India) Yuanfudao (China), and Descoplica (Brazil)

According to Inada the global education market is estimated $3.8 trillion, while $226 billion in Japan alone including $9 billion for cram and prep schools. The Yano Research Institute’s report (forecast as of 2019) says that the market of cram schools, prep schools, language learning and qualification courses is estimated to be about $25.3 billion, with Benesse at the top of the industry with sales of about $4 billion while other businesses scattered across the country.

Meanwhile, as shown in the list of unicorns, Asian startups are making remarkable progress in the global education market. In particular, India’s Byju’s (valued at $16.5 billion) and China’s Yuanfudao (valued at $15.5 billion) may be definite rivals for Atama Plus in the global competition because both of the startups were founded back in 2017 when Atama Plus was so. By the way, Japanese largest education company Benesse is valued at about $2.4 billion (as of this writing).

Inada and his team’s idea wants to take a firm position as a top player by starting with cram and prep schools in Japan first (there about 50,000 schools nationwide), while at the same time expanding the business beyond cram and prep school materials, such as online mock exams and the joint project with Ritsumeikan. The platform used to have a problem taking a long time for onboarding, but now it has been streamlined and the introduction to cram and prep schools has become smoother than before.

Inada thinks that the education market in China and India is still under development, and the challenge there is offering better access to education rather than pursuing the quality of learning materials. The inflated valuations of education startups in these markets are much dependent on marketing-led growth but his company may have a better chance of winning the competition with the quality of products, he says.

Merpay’s Aoyagi joined the board

From left: Naoki Aoyagi (newly-appointed advisor for Atama Plus, CEO of Merpay), Daisuke Inada (Founder and CEO of Atama Plus)

Prior to the latest funding, Merpay CEO Naoki Aoyagi joined the advisory board of Atama Plus. Inada’s intention having him on the board is to learn how to compete in the global market. In the past decade, we haven’t seen that many tech entrepreneurs from Japan challenging the world.

Aoyagi is around Inada’s age, and his experience having startups like Gree and Merpay grown up to giants will certainly be very beneficial for Inada’s team. Atama Plus uses the funds to expand to 250 employees, and such a growth at a startups is the first-time experience for Inada even if he has worked at the education business unit at an enterprise like Mitsui & Co. Inada wants to property deal properly with growing pains that may occur in the future by learning from him in advance.

The company’s latest funding has a huge potential in terms of not only a rare case of funding for a Japanese startup from global institutional investors but also a case study of those looking at global expansion. We’ll keep our eyes on how they will fare from now on.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda