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Japan’s Warrantee rolling out complimentary health insurance in US, Singapore

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We first covered Warrantee seven years ago when the company’s founder Yusuke Shono was selected as a finalist at HackOsaka 2014, an annual startup conference hosted by Osaka City. His rare experience that every single home appliance he bought when he started living alone was broken triggered him to launch his first business Warrantee aiming to convert all warranties into digital. It may be often hard for us to find a warranty form when we specifically need it. He created the service because he thought it would be convenient to manage such warranties electronically, but at first he had no idea about how to get companies to pay for it or how to grow the user base. They wondered if they could provide something like, “If you register your warranty on the platform, we’ll give you another year of warranty for free.” That was the beginning of their new insurance concept. In late 2014, Warrantee received investment from Japanese cooking-recipe sharing site Cookpad (TSE:2193) and started exploring business synergy with them. This made Shono keenly aware of the strength of a complimentary service, and he says, “It’s amazing that (Cookpad) can attract so many users even though it’s free,”. This…

Image credit: Warrantee

We first covered Warrantee seven years ago when the company’s founder Yusuke Shono was selected as a finalist at HackOsaka 2014, an annual startup conference hosted by Osaka City. His rare experience that every single home appliance he bought when he started living alone was broken triggered him to launch his first business Warrantee aiming to convert all warranties into digital.

It may be often hard for us to find a warranty form when we specifically need it. He created the service because he thought it would be convenient to manage such warranties electronically, but at first he had no idea about how to get companies to pay for it or how to grow the user base. They wondered if they could provide something like, “If you register your warranty on the platform, we’ll give you another year of warranty for free.” That was the beginning of their new insurance concept.

In late 2014, Warrantee received investment from Japanese cooking-recipe sharing site Cookpad (TSE:2193) and started exploring business synergy with them. This made Shono keenly aware of the strength of a complimentary service, and he says, “It’s amazing that (Cookpad) can attract so many users even though it’s free,”. This may be another reason why Warrantee is focused on developing a complimentary service.

Shono said,

Insurance for home appliances could be provided for free (as a way for sponsoring appliance manufacturers in return to obtain detailed user profiles) because it’s inexpensive, but not for automobiles because of high price. But if, for example, we divide a year by 365 days and ask a companies to pay 200 yen a day for each user, it could work.

Warrantee announced the launch of its first InsureTech business in 2017. Warrantee CEO Yusuke Shono (left), Tokio Marine Nichido Managing Executive Officer Yusuke Otsuka (right)
Image credit: Warrantee

In 2017, Warrantee, which had been touting themselves a warranty managing startup, suddenly started talking about insurance. Through its experience launching insurance business, Shono says his company could learn about Japan’s Insurance Business Act and how to coordinate with government agencies. Warrantee’s “Free Insurance” is a way of making on-demand insurance premium-free.

He explained,

One example is our partnership between Japanese air-conditioner giant Daikin and property franchisor Century 21 Japan. Daikin wanted to connect with property owners (such as landlords) who owned a large number of air conditioners in their properties. However, since air conditioners are typically sold through retailers or housing equipment companies, Daikin had no profile of these air conditioner owners as end users.

By having Daikin sponsor our product, Warrantee provided property owners with an additional warranty for their air conditioners free of charge. In return, Daikin could obtain the real estate owner’s profiles. It was a win-win situation for both Daikin and the property owners.

Despite its start with insurance for home appliances, Shono’s company can provide the service even for clinics which typically own expensive medical equipments. In view of how pharmaceutical firms and medical equipment manufacturers approaching medical institutions, we may imagine their sales representatives making on-site visits and phone calls but this is inefficient because medical professionals are often very busy. If Warrantee can provide give the firms sales channels in return for sponsoring Free Insurance for clinics, medical professionals would be willing to find the time slot for meet-up.

He continued,

Many manufacturers are pivoting their business model from product selling to subscription-based. For example, before a product becomes obsolete or broken, they can send customers a new model at no extra cost after 10 years of their first purchase. I believe that our Free Insurance is a great match for this trend.

The Free Insurance concept can be applied not only to “products” but also to “humans”. For example, it may give osteoporosis patients calcium supplements for free, or may allow people to sign up for complimentary health promotion services based on the result of their medical checkup. Some people may be reluctant to give out their profile but many may be willing to receive these rewards if the benefits outweigh the negatives.

He added,

Japan has a universal health insurance system that allows all its nationals to receive advanced medical care at lower cost. But US and Singapore don’t, so doctor bills there vary from hospital to hospital, making it easy for us to launch the Free Insurance in these markets. In the US, not only health insurance but also car insurance is expensive. We decided to open a branch office in Singapore because it is a good place to start something new.

Warrantee’s core members are located in Tokyo and Osaka, but we finally learned why Shono has repeatedly visited Singapore despite the inconvenience of being quarantined for two weeks amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Free Insurance business seems to be doing quite well although the amount of sales is unknown, and the firm is aiming for an IPO in the US through an SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company) in the near future, sources say.

In February, Evo Acquisition was incorporated as an SPAC to help get Japanese companies listed in the US. There will be more and more Japanese startups like Warrantee seeking a way out of the global market and aiming for a US IPO.

Japan’s Allm secures $50.5M+ to promote COVID-19 solutions and telemedicine in Asia

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese MedTech Startup Allm has secured 5.6 billion yen (over $50.5 million) from investors including Mitsui & Co (TSE:8031) and SOMPO Holdings (TSE:8630), Nikkei reported on Sunday. This round is considered to be a series A extension round while Japanese startup database Initial reports the company’s post-valuation has reached about 32 billion yen (about $300 million). According to a statement issued by Allm at 11am on Monday, participating investors are: SOMPO Holdings, Mitsui, Eisai (TSE:4523), Royal Philips (AMS:PHIA), NID (TSE:2349), Cyberdyne (TSE:7779), Financial Agency, Mixi (TSE:2121), Capital Medica, Vector (TSE:6058), SBI Investment, Bonds Investment Group, Mizuho Capital, Asia Africa Investment and Consulting Royal Philips participated in Allm’s previous series A round as well. Allm was founded in 2001 by Teppei Sakano as SkillUp Japan. After selling its video distribution platform business, the company entered the medical ICT business in 2015 and rebranded its name into the current state. Since then, the company has rolled out medical device programs in more than a few countries around the world. Their portfolio products include Join (communication app for medical professionals), Enroll (patient recruitment solution), JoinTriage (triage app for emergency transport), Team (comprehensive regional care system promotion solution),…

The “Join” app
Image credit: Allm

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese MedTech Startup Allm has secured 5.6 billion yen (over $50.5 million) from investors including Mitsui & Co (TSE:8031) and SOMPO Holdings (TSE:8630), Nikkei reported on Sunday. This round is considered to be a series A extension round while Japanese startup database Initial reports the company’s post-valuation has reached about 32 billion yen (about $300 million).

According to a statement issued by Allm at 11am on Monday, participating investors are:

SOMPO Holdings, Mitsui, Eisai (TSE:4523), Royal Philips (AMS:PHIA), NID (TSE:2349), Cyberdyne (TSE:7779), Financial Agency, Mixi (TSE:2121), Capital Medica, Vector (TSE:6058), SBI Investment, Bonds Investment Group, Mizuho Capital, Asia Africa Investment and Consulting

Royal Philips participated in Allm’s previous series A round as well.

Allm was founded in 2001 by Teppei Sakano as SkillUp Japan. After selling its video distribution platform business, the company entered the medical ICT business in 2015 and rebranded its name into the current state. Since then, the company has rolled out medical device programs in more than a few countries around the world. Their portfolio products include Join (communication app for medical professionals), Enroll (patient recruitment solution), JoinTriage (triage app for emergency transport), Team (comprehensive regional care system promotion solution), and MySOS (life-saving and health app).

Allm will use the funds to focus on research and development of solutions that can contribute to developing countermeasures against COVID-19, not only in Japan but also overseas. The company will team up with Mitsui to help their operating medical institutions in Southeast Asia share information between core hospitals and smaller clinics. It will also develop telemedicine business connecting hospitals in Japan with local doctors in Southeast Asia to support the latter’s medical treatment. It will work with Sompo Holdings to consider creating a system utilizing Allm’s data for insurance and health promotion of nursing home users.

Amid buy-now-pay-later boom, Paidy becomes unicorn after raising $120M in series D

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Paidy, the Japanese startup behind cardless online payments and “Buy Now, Pay Later” service, has raised US$120 million in a Series D round, according to Nikkei’s report on Tuesday. It says the amount is one of the largest ever raised by an unlisted startup in Japan. Participating investors include Wellington Management, two funds owned by prominent investor George Soros, and Tybourne Capital Management (Hong Kong). Goldman Sachs, Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, and other financial institutions has set up debt facilities of up to $182.4 million. Prior to this, the company secured $55 million in a Series C round in July 2018, followed by its extension round securing $83 million in November of 2019 and an undisclosed sum in April of 2020. The latest round brought the sum raised up to date to about $337 million while the total amount of debt facilities has reached $248 million. According to sources, their valuation is estimated about $1.32 billion, which means they have join the unicorn club. Paidy was founded in 2008 by Russell Cummer, whose previous work experience includes Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs. It started with a P2P finance or social lending service called Aqush…

Entrance of Paidy Headquarters in Tokyo
Image credit: Paidy

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Paidy, the Japanese startup behind cardless online payments and “Buy Now, Pay Later” service, has raised US$120 million in a Series D round, according to Nikkei’s report on Tuesday. It says the amount is one of the largest ever raised by an unlisted startup in Japan. Participating investors include Wellington Management, two funds owned by prominent investor George Soros, and Tybourne Capital Management (Hong Kong). Goldman Sachs, Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, and other financial institutions has set up debt facilities of up to $182.4 million.

Prior to this, the company secured $55 million in a Series C round in July 2018, followed by its extension round securing $83 million in November of 2019 and an undisclosed sum in April of 2020. The latest round brought the sum raised up to date to about $337 million while the total amount of debt facilities has reached $248 million. According to sources, their valuation is estimated about $1.32 billion, which means they have join the unicorn club.

Russell Cummer pitching at RISE 2018 in Hong Kong on July 12
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Paidy was founded in 2008 by Russell Cummer, whose previous work experience includes Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs. It started with a P2P finance or social lending service called Aqush followed by the launch of Paidy back in 2014. Subsequently the management of Paidy shifted from ExCo to the operating company Paidy. They became an equity method affiliate of Itochu after the series C round in July of 2018.

Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) is a global phenomenon. In addition to US and European platformers such as Klarna (Sweden), Affirm (US), and Afterpay (Australia), startups like Hoolah, Pace, and Atome are beginning to emerge in the Asian market. Since the concept has a high affinity with digital wallet services, so-called “super apps,” many of which usually originate from car-hailing or food delivery apps, may also catch up with this trend.

Nextblue unveils first fund with $28M target for Japanese and European startups

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Tokyo-based VC firm Nextblue announced on Thursday that its first fund targeting to raise up to 3 billion yen ($27.5 million), which was initially set up in April, has reached its first close with completing securing about half of the final target. Disclosed limited partners include Japanese department store chain Marui Group (TSE: 8252), Japanese system integrator Q’sfix, and Japanese social gifting and e-voucher rewards platform Giftee (TSE:4449). The fund’s investment areas are Future of Work, Future of Health, and Future of Lifestyle. It intends to invest in seed stage startups in Japan as well as those in the pre-series A stage in Europe which have completed the product market fit phase and is ready for expanding into the Japanese market. The fund was founded by Yuichi Kori, Kanako Inoue, and Vincent Tan. Followed by launching his own startup Otsumu, Kori has been running his own VC called Reality Accelerator. Both Inoue and Tan have worked at Boston Consulting Group and Tokyo-based VC firm D4V. Nextblue’s goal is to support Japanese startups as well as European startups which usually face similar social issues to the Japanese society in their home turf. For helping these European startups expand into Japan, the…

Nextblue’s partners: From left, Vincent Tan, Kanako Inoue, Yuichi Kori
Image credit: Nextblue

Tokyo-based VC firm Nextblue announced on Thursday that its first fund targeting to raise up to 3 billion yen ($27.5 million), which was initially set up in April, has reached its first close with completing securing about half of the final target. Disclosed limited partners include Japanese department store chain Marui Group (TSE: 8252), Japanese system integrator Q’sfix, and Japanese social gifting and e-voucher rewards platform Giftee (TSE:4449).

The fund’s investment areas are Future of Work, Future of Health, and Future of Lifestyle. It intends to invest in seed stage startups in Japan as well as those in the pre-series A stage in Europe which have completed the product market fit phase and is ready for expanding into the Japanese market.

The fund was founded by Yuichi Kori, Kanako Inoue, and Vincent Tan. Followed by launching his own startup Otsumu, Kori has been running his own VC called Reality Accelerator. Both Inoue and Tan have worked at Boston Consulting Group and Tokyo-based VC firm D4V. Nextblue’s goal is to support Japanese startups as well as European startups which usually face similar social issues to the Japanese society in their home turf. For helping these European startups expand into Japan, the fund expects to establish a joint venture with them and provide hands-on support with local partners.

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In an interview with Bridge, Inoue told us why her team picked up the two markets to invest in:

The investment market in Europe is still conservative, still giving early-stage and seed companies a limited access to risk money. We also chose the market because it is easier to secure a certain equity stake (compared to the US where valuations are extremely high).

Bring promising European startups to Japan and help them expand into the market is also our mission. We will pour a certain amount of money into them in return for receiving a certain portion of their equity, but we want to commit to them, create a joint venture, and make their business in Japan a success in partnership with our local partners.

Kori had been investing in startups through his own Reality Accelerator, and this activity will be apparently integrated into Nextblue. Kori and Inoue mainly invest in Japanese startups from Tokyo, while Tan is currently based in Berlin to watch the European startup landscape.

As of the announcement, the firm unveiled a portfolio of 14 investees from the first fund so far. Among them, two companies – AZOO and Early Music Company Japan – graduated from the fund’s accelerator program conducted in Tokyo last summer.

From Japan:

  • AZOO …… Provides Wasimil, an operation automation service for small and medium-sized hotels
  • Early Music Company Japan …… Provides Smart Accompanist, a platform for selling ”minus-one” sound tracks of classical music
  • Indigames …… Develops and provides casual games and high-quality game development engines
  • Kalkul …… Develops and provides Aura, a vertical AR (augmented reality) audio content platform
  • Matsuri Technologies …… Provides SaaS and platforms for short-term rental residences
  • SecureNavi …… Provides ISMS (Information Security Management System) automation tools
  • Precal …… Provides an automated prescription data-entry service for pharmacies

From Europe:

  • Ohne (UK) …… Provides organic sanitary product subscription service and PMS (premenstrual syndrome) relief products
  • Xapix (Germany) …… Provides a platform that automatically integrates data and organizes data suitable for AI use
  • FounderNest (Spain) …… Provides an AI-powered platform for matching startups and investors
  • BreakthroughX Health (Germany) …… Provides an app for patients suffering from multiple sclerosis
  • Lana Labs (Germany) …… Develops and provides AI-based process mining tools
  • Artivive (Austria) …… Provides AR art creation tools

Nextblue seems to be looking to bring Japanese startups to Europe too. The firm says it is happy to provide support to startups that already have overseas offices or branches.

Inoue added,

There are more and more funds for seed stage startups, but not many of them provide hands-on support yet. Kori has a background in engineering, and the three partners of us, including Vincent and I, are strong in helping teams in the phase creating from the scratch. We would like to actively support startups that can find our value there.

Japan’s Airfunding, UN’s IOM, shake hands to support entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone

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Tokyo-based Kiheitai, the parent company of the Airfunding cross-border donation-based crowdfunding platform, has partnered with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a United Nations affiliate. Through the partnership, the company aims to support the development of entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone leveraging the crowdfunding platform. Kiheitai was founded back in September of 2010. Incubate Fund’s general partners and co-founders Keisuke Wada and Yusuke Murata were initially involved in founding the startup, and then Ryosuke Abe, the current CEO, joined them later. In addition to Airfunding, the company has also launched Airtripp, a social networking app that allows users to connect with people around the world by posting photos. Many of our readers may recall that a crowdfunding platform in the US called GoFundMe is often used to celebrate somebody’s life events and provide support for people in difficulties such as accidents and illnesses. It is still fresh in my mind that GoFundMe launched a funding campaign to support the family of a Japanese woman who was killed in a hit-and-run accident in SOMA, San Francisco on New Year’s eve. Airfunding can be easily understood as a cross-border version of GoFundMe. In an interview with Bridge, Abe explains how the platform is…

Image credit: Kiheitai

Tokyo-based Kiheitai, the parent company of the Airfunding cross-border donation-based crowdfunding platform, has partnered with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a United Nations affiliate. Through the partnership, the company aims to support the development of entrepreneurs in Sierra Leone leveraging the crowdfunding platform.

Kiheitai was founded back in September of 2010. Incubate Fund’s general partners and co-founders Keisuke Wada and Yusuke Murata were initially involved in founding the startup, and then Ryosuke Abe, the current CEO, joined them later. In addition to Airfunding, the company has also launched Airtripp, a social networking app that allows users to connect with people around the world by posting photos.

Many of our readers may recall that a crowdfunding platform in the US called GoFundMe is often used to celebrate somebody’s life events and provide support for people in difficulties such as accidents and illnesses. It is still fresh in my mind that GoFundMe launched a funding campaign to support the family of a Japanese woman who was killed in a hit-and-run accident in SOMA, San Francisco on New Year’s eve. Airfunding can be easily understood as a cross-border version of GoFundMe.

In an interview with Bridge, Abe explains how the platform is being used.

Many projects are intended to donate to the people in ASEAN and Latin American countries. About 17,000 to 18,000 projects are created on the platform each month, many of which are funded by relatives, family members, classmates in their high school years, and acquaintances. There are many different types of support, such as medical assistance, disaster relief, and even support for soccer study abroad.

There are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing support in the countries concerned, but they often do not operate outside their country and the existence of these organizations and social problems are less known globally. It seems that Airfunding intends to help smooth the flow of funds across countries and bring social issues to the world’s attention by putting them on the platform.

Although Airfunding’s direct target is individuals, more than a few NGOs and non-profit organizations (NPOs) are contacting the platform. For Airfunding, this is the first time to support an organization rather than an individual.

Airfunding has so far supported more than 200,000 projects in over 200 countries by offering them about US$200 million in total. Kiheitai has secured equity funding from multiple VC firms including i-nest Capital.

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Japan’s Mitsuri, B2B platform for metalworking, secures $3.8M in series A round

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Catallaxy, the company behind a B2B platform for metalworking called Mitsuri, announced on Monday that it has secured about 410 million yen ($3.8 million US) in a Series A round. Participating investors are Incubate Fund, SMBC Venture Capital, Future Venture Capital (TSE:8462), Nagase & Co (TSE:8012), Pavilion Capital (a private equity fund under Temasek Holdings, a Singaporean sovereign investment firm), and unnamed angel investors. This follows the company’s pre-series A round back in March of last year when they raised about 325 million yen (about $3 million). Among the latest round’s investors, Incubate Fund and SMBC Venture Capital also participated in the pre-series A round. Catallaxy was founded in 2015 by Hiroaki Oishi, a former employee at Kingsoft working for Chinese tech giant Qihoo 360. He launched the Fabit manufacturing industry-focused media website and the Mitsuri B2B platform for metalworking in 2018 followed by helping his family’s construction company create their website. Since the construction company has a function as a trading company for metal parts, Oishi had many opportunities to come into contact with metalworking craftspersons. In addition to manual bending and cutting, NC machine tools are often used in the metalworking…

Image credit: Catallaxy

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Catallaxy, the company behind a B2B platform for metalworking called Mitsuri, announced on Monday that it has secured about 410 million yen ($3.8 million US) in a Series A round. Participating investors are Incubate Fund, SMBC Venture Capital, Future Venture Capital (TSE:8462), Nagase & Co (TSE:8012), Pavilion Capital (a private equity fund under Temasek Holdings, a Singaporean sovereign investment firm), and unnamed angel investors.

This follows the company’s pre-series A round back in March of last year when they raised about 325 million yen (about $3 million). Among the latest round’s investors, Incubate Fund and SMBC Venture Capital also participated in the pre-series A round.

Hiroaki Oishi
Image credit: Catallaxy

Catallaxy was founded in 2015 by Hiroaki Oishi, a former employee at Kingsoft working for Chinese tech giant Qihoo 360. He launched the Fabit manufacturing industry-focused media website and the Mitsuri B2B platform for metalworking in 2018 followed by helping his family’s construction company create their website. Since the construction company has a function as a trading company for metal parts, Oishi had many opportunities to come into contact with metalworking craftspersons.

In addition to manual bending and cutting, NC machine tools are often used in the metalworking industry. These tools are required to input numerical information on the order of tools and the work processes required for processing so that craftspersons can automate dangerous machining and improve safety and operational efficiency. However, the fact is not many craftsmen are actually able to fully use these tools, which reminded Oishi of the need for software in the industry and led him to develop the Mitsuri platform.

When major brands need one-of-a-kind items (parts for prototypes, or parts for non-mass-produced machines), they often place orders with small metalworking factories. 300 metalworking companies, accounting 1% of all the 30,000 companies in Japan, are using the Mitsuri platform where these small companies can receive order and quotation requests. For brands, it is an easy way to obtain quotes from factories that match their processing needs, and for metalworking companies, it is an advantage to obtain accurate requests for more precised quotations and processing orders.

On the platform, metalworking companies are rated on a five-point scale based on quality, delivery time, price, and service. A company will be kicked out from the platform if they keep receiving a low rating under a certain level. If a brand has no drawing of what to be ordered, Catallaxy can help design it. The platform also acts as an escrow / middleperson between brands and metalworking companies, which helps eliminate the anxiety even if it is the first deal for both sides.

Catallaxy currently has 22 employees, and the orders dealt on the platform exceeded worth 3 billion yen (about $27.7 million) in 2019 while the number of companies placing orders hitting 10,000 (as of September 2020). The company plans to use the funds to further develop its software for both upstream and downstream processes in the metalworking industry. Joining Pavilion Capital as an investor suggests that the company also hopes to build a presence in Southeast Asia where we can see a similarly high demand in the metalworking industry.

weBelong, social network app for teenage minorities, raises $670K+ in pre-seed round

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See the original story in Japanese. HoloAsh announced on Monday that it has secured 73 million yen (over $670,000 US) in a pre-seed round. Participating investors include Akatsuki’s Heart Driven Fund, Miraise as well as angel investors like Kenji Kasahara (founder of Mixi), Hiroshi Tomishima (formerly at Mixi), and Shokei Suda (CEO of Enigmo). At the same time, the company also announced that it will pivot its main business to a community app for teenage minorities. Founded back in 2018, the company secured a pre-seed round from Hiroshi Takato (Momentum) in 2019 following an angel round from INDEE Japan, Takeshi Soga (SGcapital), Takashi Shibayama (BLANQ), and Osamu Ogasahara (ABBALab) in 2018. The latest round brought the company’s funding sum to date up to about 100 million yen (about $925,000 US). Founded by Yoshua Kishi, who himself has been also suffering from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), his startup has been aiming to alleviate the symptoms leveraging technology. Following his first product of a cognitive science-based holographic interface, he launched a mobile app called Nao allowing users to receive the experience similar to the aforementioned product with a virtual character using a messaging app. The Delaware-incorporated startup consisted of French, Indian,…

See the original story in Japanese.

HoloAsh announced on Monday that it has secured 73 million yen (over $670,000 US) in a pre-seed round. Participating investors include Akatsuki’s Heart Driven Fund, Miraise as well as angel investors like Kenji Kasahara (founder of Mixi), Hiroshi Tomishima (formerly at Mixi), and Shokei Suda (CEO of Enigmo). At the same time, the company also announced that it will pivot its main business to a community app for teenage minorities.

Founded back in 2018, the company secured a pre-seed round from Hiroshi Takato (Momentum) in 2019 following an angel round from INDEE Japan, Takeshi Soga (SGcapital), Takashi Shibayama (BLANQ), and Osamu Ogasahara (ABBALab) in 2018. The latest round brought the company’s funding sum to date up to about 100 million yen (about $925,000 US).

Founded by Yoshua Kishi, who himself has been also suffering from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), his startup has been aiming to alleviate the symptoms leveraging technology. Following his first product of a cognitive science-based holographic interface, he launched a mobile app called Nao allowing users to receive the experience similar to the aforementioned product with a virtual character using a messaging app.

The Delaware-incorporated startup consisted of French, Indian, and Nigerian members in addition to Japanese CEO Kishi has been focusing on the global market since their day one. The company lauched the weBelong social community app in January, intended for teens of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer), Black, Hispanic and other minorities in the US and the rest of the world.

Functions of the weBelong app
Image credit: HoloAsh

In an interview with Bridge, Kishi says,

Our app targets minority teenagers who are less understood by society about their gap. 76% of LGBTQ kids say they don’t belong according to Human Rights Campaign’s survey. They are confined to their homes, less understood by their parents about their gap, and in some cases they are abused.

TikTok is becoming popular in the US but it is mostly white girls receiving attention there. In contrast, our app wants to create a community where minority kids can belong and they could upvote each other. When I was a little boy, I had the experience of getting a hug from my school’s principal for brushing my teeth well, which filled my heart with joy. I want to deliver that kind of experience through the app.

With the recent emergence of various social networks, it has been reported that some users, in order to satisfy their desire for self-expression and approval, over-present themselves, resulting in mental exhaustion. It is also interesting that weBelong is designed to promoting peace of mind and encouraging users to motivate but never to hate each other, as the content posted “ephemerally” disappears.

Currently, weBelong has more than a few hundred users. By country, 70-80% of the users are from the US, followed by Canada, the UK, and Japan. The average time spent by users per day is about 40 minutes, which is longer than that of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. In this particular niche , Dubsmash, a short video app for minorities, was acquired by Reddit last year while other notable apps include LEX (LGBT community app), Blue Fever (community app for Gen Z), and Quilt (minority community for adults).

HAX Tokyo alumni LexxPluss secures seed round to enhance warehouse robotics

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See the original story in Japanese. Kawasaki, Kanagawa-based LexxPluss announced on Wednesday that it has secured an undisclosed sum in a seed round from Incubate Fund, SOSV Investments, and Sumitomo Corporation. For the startup, this is the first funding from third-party investors except founders. SOSV and Sumitomo are known for jointly operating HAX Tokyo, the regional chapter of globally renowned hardware startup accelerator HAX, where LexxPlus was incubated in the program’s second batch. LexxPluss was founded in 2020 by Masaya Aso, a former employee of German auto parts giant Bosch. In addition to LexxPluss, he serves as the president for Deep4Drive, an open mobility development community focused on automated driving and reinforcement learning. LexxPluss is working on automated transport robots for logistics warehouses and manufacturing plants while there are many competing manufacturing automated transport robots in the world including Kiva which is often seen in Amazon’s footage films. According to Aso, about 80% of logistics warehouses in Japan have not even begun considering the use of robots because there are few robots which can collaboratively work with humans. What is an collaborative robot for the logistic industry? For example, it is the one that brings what you want exactly where…

Image credit: LexxPluss

See the original story in Japanese.

Kawasaki, Kanagawa-based LexxPluss announced on Wednesday that it has secured an undisclosed sum in a seed round from Incubate Fund, SOSV Investments, and Sumitomo Corporation. For the startup, this is the first funding from third-party investors except founders. SOSV and Sumitomo are known for jointly operating HAX Tokyo, the regional chapter of globally renowned hardware startup accelerator HAX, where LexxPlus was incubated in the program’s second batch.

Masaya Aso
Image credit: LexxPluss

LexxPluss was founded in 2020 by Masaya Aso, a former employee of German auto parts giant Bosch. In addition to LexxPluss, he serves as the president for Deep4Drive, an open mobility development community focused on automated driving and reinforcement learning.

LexxPluss is working on automated transport robots for logistics warehouses and manufacturing plants while there are many competing manufacturing automated transport robots in the world including Kiva which is often seen in Amazon’s footage films. According to Aso, about 80% of logistics warehouses in Japan have not even begun considering the use of robots because there are few robots which can collaboratively work with humans.

What is an collaborative robot for the logistic industry? For example, it is the one that brings what you want exactly where you want it. Such a highly-collaborative robot may become a key differentiator in the transport robotics industry because of giving higher safety and efficiency.

Automated transport robots manufacturers can be divided into two roles – hardware developers and software developers – while LexxPluss can deal with both of these functions. In addition, these robots can be categorized into two types – AGV (Automated Guided Vehicle) and AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robot) – while the company’s robot is a hybrid of these functions and can meet all kinds of on-site needs.

Aso says,

From my experience at Bosch, there was no solution to a physical problem that could be solved by software or hardware developer alone. We also found that simply buying and implementing robots developed by manufacturers often did not meet the needs of clients. That’s why we decided to work on both software and hardware aspects in an integrated manner.

In particular, Our AGVs can be controlled to with an error of less than plus or minus one centimeter, which is totally based on our unique technology. Typical AGVs may be out of designated position as they continue to work, but ours can properly work so that this does not happen.

Aso makes a pitch at the Incubate Camp 13th showcase in October of 2020.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

LexxPluss’s business model may be more flexible by providing both hardware and software in an integrated manner. The company aims to build a structure in which automated transport robots are provided to customers at close to the cost of manufacturing and development and then earn revenue from charges for software controlling robots and the cloud for analyzing cost-effectiveness and further efficiency. This is an interesting RaaS (robot as a service) model that does not rely solely on the leveling of implementation costs.

SOSV’s HAX, based in Shenzhen China, has been inviting budding but prominent hardware startups from all around the world. With the latest funding from investors including SOSV, LexxPluss is looking to expand its automated transport robotics business globally. In addition to HAX, SOSV operates biotech-focused accelerator IndieBio (San Francisco), Chinaccelerator (Shanghai, China), mobile-focused accelerator MOX (Taipei), and decentralizzation and blockchain technology-focused accelerator dLab.

Japan’s Agrist secures series A funding round to expand AI-powered harvesting robot

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Updated at 11pm on Wednesday: We learned this round does NOT include debt financing. The title was adjusted while the affected part was deleted. Japanese AgriTecch startup Agrist, based out of Miyazaki on Japan’s Kyushu Island, announced today that it has secured a series A round. Participating investors are Dogan Beta, Miyazaki Taiyo Capital, ENEOS Innovation Partners, Miyagin Venture Capital, Jafco Group (TSE:8595) and Incubate Fund while the startup has received debt financing from an unnamed regional financial institution. This round follows their seed round back in 2019. The company has not disclosed how much they raised in the Series A roundbut it is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of yen, as the company’s post Series A round valuation is estimated over 1.6 billion yen (about $15 million US) according to Japanese startup database Initial. According to the Japanese agricultural ministry, Miyazaki Prefecture accounts for one-fifth of the entire domestic production of green peppers. Agrist was founded in a town of 17,000 people in the prefecture. The company’s founder, Junichi Saito, is well known as a regional revitalization producer having developed lychee production and encouraged many entrepreneurs to move there. The company is an AI-powered harvesting robot…

The L robot recognizes green peppers.
Image credit: Agrist

Updated at 11pm on Wednesday: We learned this round does NOT include debt financing. The title was adjusted while the affected part was deleted.

Japanese AgriTecch startup Agrist, based out of Miyazaki on Japan’s Kyushu Island, announced today that it has secured a series A round. Participating investors are Dogan Beta, Miyazaki Taiyo Capital, ENEOS Innovation Partners, Miyagin Venture Capital, Jafco Group (TSE:8595) and Incubate Fund while the startup has received debt financing from an unnamed regional financial institution.

This round follows their seed round back in 2019. The company has not disclosed how much they raised in the Series A roundbut it is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of yen, as the company’s post Series A round valuation is estimated over 1.6 billion yen (about $15 million US) according to Japanese startup database Initial.

According to the Japanese agricultural ministry, Miyazaki Prefecture accounts for one-fifth of the entire domestic production of green peppers. Agrist was founded in a town of 17,000 people in the prefecture. The company’s founder, Junichi Saito, is well known as a regional revitalization producer having developed lychee production and encouraged many entrepreneurs to move there.

Junichi Saito
Image credit: Agrist

The company is an AI-powered harvesting robot called “L” to solve the labor shortage in agriculture. Aiming to develop a practical system rather than an expensive robot with flawless performance, the team has worked with local pepper farmers to develop the robot that can move around using aerial wires rather than over uneven soil in a vinyl greenhouse. The robot uses computer vision to fully automate the harvesting process.

This year, the company will start developing Agriss, an operating system to increase the harvest rate of agricultural products. In an interview with Bridge, Saito told us that his team hopes to make the robot a data-driven one by integrating with the operation system.

We want to increase the harvest rate of agriculture around the world, and this can be done by collecting data from all over the world as more and more farmers adopt our robot and use it to further improve their harvesting methods.

In the future, we would like to roll out the system not only in Japan but also in China, Africa, and other regions suffering from food production problems. There have not been many examples of Japanese agriculture changing the world’s agriculture, and the source of this change has been produced near vinyl houses in rural areas (like us).

Agrist is collaborating with Japanese petroleum giant Eneos Holdings (TSE: 5020, formerly known as JXTG Holdings), the parent company of ENEOS Innovation Partners, one of the investors in this round, on the development of a farming and power generation package. This aims to develop the one in which solar power generation equipment is installed in the upper space of crop production areas, and AI automatically increases the harvest rate while also generating electricity. It is expected to contribute to agriculture in off-grid areas as well as to the development of SDG businesses.

The team won the third place in the IVS 2020 Online “LaunchPad”, and has been selected for the FY2020 “Smart Agriculture Demonstration Project by Japanese Agricultural Ministry” for an operational demonstration with six farmers and six harvesting robots. In addition to the launch of an experiment of automated harvesting robots in Kamisu City, Ibaraki Prefecture, which is also well known for green pepper production, the company won the Deep Valley Agritech Award sponsored by Fukaya City, Saitama Prefecture, planning to introduce automatic cucumber harvesting robots in the city. It was also selected for the second batch of Japan Agricultural Cooperatives’ accelerator program.

Japan’s Uncovered Fund forms $14M+ Africa-focused seed fund, unveils 5 investments

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It’s been almost three years since young Japanese investor Takuma Terakubo announced the launch of his sub-Saharan Africa-focused Leapfrog Ventures. It has since been rebranded into the Samurai Africa Fund, and its management has been taken over by Samurai Incubate, the Tokyo-based VC firm that Terakubo previously worked for. After Leapfrog Ventures (also known as Samurai Africa Fund I) finished its investment activities, Terakubo apparently moved on to establish a new fund. We just learned that he established Uncovered Fund in July last year, named it after regions or areas where backing entrepreneurs is considered insufficient, with a targeted total of 1.5 billion yen (about $14.2 million). It has secured funds from institutional investors as well as Japanese footballer Keisuke Honda’s KSK Angel Fund. The fund is expected to invest in early-stage startups in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and other East African countries, as well as larget market such as Nigeria and South Africa. It will be focused on retail, fintech, healthtech, logistics, MaaS, agritech/foodtech, and smart city verticals, with an eye on “Africa in 2030” when the fund will mature. Its ticket size is ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 US. The fund also announced investments in five companies: SkyGarden…

Uncovered Fund’s Takuma Terakubo stands in the middle.
Image credit: Uncovered Fund

It’s been almost three years since young Japanese investor Takuma Terakubo announced the launch of his sub-Saharan Africa-focused Leapfrog Ventures. It has since been rebranded into the Samurai Africa Fund, and its management has been taken over by Samurai Incubate, the Tokyo-based VC firm that Terakubo previously worked for.

After Leapfrog Ventures (also known as Samurai Africa Fund I) finished its investment activities, Terakubo apparently moved on to establish a new fund. We just learned that he established Uncovered Fund in July last year, named it after regions or areas where backing entrepreneurs is considered insufficient, with a targeted total of 1.5 billion yen (about $14.2 million). It has secured funds from institutional investors as well as Japanese footballer Keisuke Honda’s KSK Angel Fund.

The fund is expected to invest in early-stage startups in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and other East African countries, as well as larget market such as Nigeria and South Africa. It will be focused on retail, fintech, healthtech, logistics, MaaS, agritech/foodtech, and smart city verticals, with an eye on “Africa in 2030” when the fund will mature. Its ticket size is ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 US.

Uncovered Fund’s portfolio startups at the moment
Image credit: Uncovered Fund

The fund also announced investments in five companies:

  • SkyGarden (Kenya), helping retail stores digitize offline and online sales
  • Rxall (Nigeria), building a safe drug distribution infrastructure leveraging a fake drugs detection system
  • LipaLater (Kenya), enabling postpaid payments at e-commerce stores in East African countries
  • Gozem (Togo), offering a car-hailing service in West African countries.
  • Send (Nigeria), a digital freight forwarder and customs broker, expected to grow as the AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) was launched last month

Apart from Uncovered Fund, there are an increasing number of funds from Japan investing in African startups. In addition to the aforementioned Samurai Incubate, Double Feather Partners, Asia Africa Investment & Consulting (AAIC), Kepple Africa Ventures are active these days.