THE BRIDGE

Startups

SmartRyde helps travelers book airport cabs in 150 countries, nabs series A round

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SmartRyde, the Japanese startup behind a global airport transfer marketplace under the same name, announced that it has secured approximately 180 million yen (about $1.6 million) in a Series A round. This round was led by Angel Bridge with participation from SMBC Venture Capital, Hiroshima Venture Capital, SG Incubate, Yamaguchi Capital, Iyogin Capital, Inventum Ventures, Optima Ventures, and two individual investors: Shoji Kodama(Founder and CEO of Laxus Technologies) and Nobuaki Takahashi (Founder of Phil Company, Representative Partner of NOB). For the company, this follows their seed round in December 2019 when Angel Bridge poured cash injection into the startup for the first time. Originally known as DLGP, SmartRyde was founded in March 2017 by founder Sota Kimura, a student at Ritsumeikan University, after he was ripped off by a cab driver on his way from the airport to the city in Thailand. The company has worked with more than 650 airport transfer cab companies in 150 countries, as well as with more than 25 OTAs (online travel agencies) such as Booking.com, Expedia, Trip.com, Traveloka, and Despega. The company offers airport transfer cab sales service to users purchaing airline tickets through OTAs. The service is beneficial to both OTAs and travelers….

SmartRyde, the Japanese startup behind a global airport transfer marketplace under the same name, announced that it has secured approximately 180 million yen (about $1.6 million) in a Series A round. This round was led by Angel Bridge with participation from SMBC Venture Capital, Hiroshima Venture Capital, SG Incubate, Yamaguchi Capital, Iyogin Capital, Inventum Ventures, Optima Ventures, and two individual investors: Shoji Kodama(Founder and CEO of Laxus Technologies) and Nobuaki Takahashi (Founder of Phil Company, Representative Partner of NOB).

For the company, this follows their seed round in December 2019 when Angel Bridge poured cash injection into the startup for the first time.

Originally known as DLGP, SmartRyde was founded in March 2017 by founder Sota Kimura, a student at Ritsumeikan University, after he was ripped off by a cab driver on his way from the airport to the city in Thailand. The company has worked with more than 650 airport transfer cab companies in 150 countries, as well as with more than 25 OTAs (online travel agencies) such as Booking.com, Expedia, Trip.com, Traveloka, and Despega. The company offers airport transfer cab sales service to users purchaing airline tickets through OTAs.

The service is beneficial to both OTAs and travelers. For travelers, it frees them from the hassle of finding transportation to downtown at the airport. You may know Uber, Grab, and other ridehailing services are not allowed to operate to protect the employment of local cab drivers in selected countries. Furthermore, it may be very helpful to have a driver with your name waiting for you in the arrival lobby, and to have a means of transportation in advance in an environment where you may be less familiar with the language in the destination.

Meanwhile, OTAs are a very thin margin business. They are trying to diversify their product lines to car rentals and various activities in addition to airline tickets and accommodations, but price competition among them intensifies as users try to choose the cheapest option by comparing results from multiple OTAs. Furthermore, OTAs can’t sign contract with every single airport cab operator in the world, but having a bundler like SmartRyde simplifies the coordination process and creates an additional revenue stream.

In general, it is difficult to grab the status quo of demographics of visitors because their nationality may differ from their actual place of residence, but SmartRyde asks for a contact phone number at the time of sign-up, and from that country code, they are able to understand which region’s residents are visiting. According to the company, although business travel demand has decreased due to the pandemic, recently there has been an increase in cases of leisure use by families of 4-6 people, and users from the US (19%) and the UK (16%) have been visiting resorts in the Caribbean such as Cancun and Dominica.

The company will use the funds to hire business developers and engineers from around the world, strengthening system integration with OTAs and building a reservation management system for cab operators. In Japan, as you may see from the names of investors participating this round, the company will focus on revitalizing countryside and tourist destinations in collaboration with local cab operators and these VC firms.

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 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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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

Japanese entrepreneur to launch meal replacement shakes for pre- and diabetes in US

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I think we should introduce Hiroshi Takatoh as an angel investor. He introduced Japan’s first ad fraud detection service at his own startup Momentum back in 2014, and then sold it in 2017 to Syn. Holdings (now known as Supership Holdings), a subsidiary of Japanese telco KDDI (TSE: 9433). Since then, as far as we know, he has invested in startups that contribute to improving people’s social lives, such as Triple W Japan, Legal Technology, and Holoash. Earlier this year Takatoh took became back to a serial entrepreneur by founding a new startup called to develop foods for for diabetes. It may be unusual for anyone to switch from ad to health food industry, but it seems that his feelings for his wife, who he lost to cancer, are behind his decision. Although it depends on the type of cancer and the location of the onset, there is a lot of scientific evidence that cancer cannot be completely cured by surgical treatment alone, and that it is largely due to diet. Consuming well-balanced nutritious food on a daily basis can lead to prevention, but today’s busy people do not have much time to shop and some of them may not…

Image credit: Teatis

I think we should introduce Hiroshi Takatoh as an angel investor. He introduced Japan’s first ad fraud detection service at his own startup Momentum back in 2014, and then sold it in 2017 to Syn. Holdings (now known as Supership Holdings), a subsidiary of Japanese telco KDDI (TSE: 9433). Since then, as far as we know, he has invested in startups that contribute to improving people’s social lives, such as Triple W Japan, Legal Technology, and Holoash.

Earlier this year Takatoh took became back to a serial entrepreneur by founding a new startup called to develop foods for for diabetes. It may be unusual for anyone to switch from ad to health food industry, but it seems that his feelings for his wife, who he lost to cancer, are behind his decision. Although it depends on the type of cancer and the location of the onset, there is a lot of scientific evidence that cancer cannot be completely cured by surgical treatment alone, and that it is largely due to diet. Consuming well-balanced nutritious food on a daily basis can lead to prevention, but today’s busy people do not have much time to shop and some of them may not have the cooking skills.

Hiroshi Takatoh

This is why Takatoh created meal replacements, or complete nutritious meals that can replace our usual meals. Focusing on diabetes, one of the most common lifestyle-related diseases among people today, he plans to start selling meal replacements, which contain a lot of superfood ingredients such as seaweed polyphenols, in August 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 spikes. Many people in the US have been so far using the protein sheets to manage morning blood sugar spikes.

Dr. Yoshiro Kubota (Director Kikkoman General Hospital, preventive medicine expert Dr. Mitsuo Numata (Umikaze Clinic in Yamaguchi), and Dr. Roman Kalista (CEO, New York-based nutrition-focused AI developer RxDiet) have helped develop the Teatis meal replacement. Ahead of the official launch, about 4,000 pre-registered users have tried the Teatis product, and many of them have given positive feedback that they felt they were able to keep their blood sugar levels under control.

Before the official launch in the US, Teatis revealed that it had raised about 40 million yen ($360,000 US) in funding from several angel investors. The names disclosed include Takuya Noguchi (CEO of Japanese D2C healthcare startup), Tatsuro Shimada (former CTO, mobile Q&A app developer cConnehito), and Yuichi Uchida (Mercari). The company plans to conduct a product market fit first, and then expect to raise funds from a variety of investors around the world to expand to India, China, Japan, and other countries if the market response is good.

Japanese robotics startup Telexistence closes series A round with $40M+

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Tokyo-based Telexistence, the Japanese startup developing remote-controlled robots, announced today that it has secured about 2.2 billion yen (about $20 million US) in a series A2 round. Participating investors include Airbus Ventures, KDDI Open Innovation Fund (KOIF), Deepcore, UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC), and several unnamed investors, in addition to Monoful, a digital transformation-focused subsidiary of global logistics giant GLP. This follows a previous round (estimated to be series A1) in December of 2018 when some of the investors participating in the latest round such as KOIF, UTokyo IPC, Deepcore, and Monoful also participated. With the Series A1 (previous round) and A2 (the latest round) rounds combined, the company has secured about 4.5 billion yen (over $40 million US) in a series A round. Telexistence has been developing tele-controlled robots using a variety of technologies including tele-presence, robotics, communications, virtual reality (VR), haptics, and artificial intelligence (AI). They plan to use the funds to expand its product development team as well as accelerating product development and implementation to the expanding customer base in the retail and logistics sectors. The company has partnered with Monoful to develop the Augmented Workforce Platform (AWP) for logistics facility operations. AWP allows operators to control…

The Model-T robot
Image credit: Telexistence

Tokyo-based Telexistence, the Japanese startup developing remote-controlled robots, announced today that it has secured about 2.2 billion yen (about $20 million US) in a series A2 round. Participating investors include Airbus Ventures, KDDI Open Innovation Fund (KOIF), Deepcore, UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC), and several unnamed investors, in addition to Monoful, a digital transformation-focused subsidiary of global logistics giant GLP.

This follows a previous round (estimated to be series A1) in December of 2018 when some of the investors participating in the latest round such as KOIF, UTokyo IPC, Deepcore, and Monoful also participated. With the Series A1 (previous round) and A2 (the latest round) rounds combined, the company has secured about 4.5 billion yen (over $40 million US) in a series A round.

Telexistence has been developing tele-controlled robots using a variety of technologies including tele-presence, robotics, communications, virtual reality (VR), haptics, and artificial intelligence (AI). They plan to use the funds to expand its product development team as well as accelerating product development and implementation to the expanding customer base in the retail and logistics sectors.

The company has partnered with Monoful to develop the Augmented Workforce Platform (AWP) for logistics facility operations. AWP allows operators to control robots installed in warehouses via the Internet and participate in tasks such as loading and unloading pallets while operators are working from home.

The company also announced that it has tied up with Japanese office furniture giant Okamura Corporation (TSE:7984) for joint research and development of fixture products optimized for carrying and displaying by robots.

Wakaze, bringing Japanese sake from Paris brewery, nabs $3M for Europe, US expansion

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese sake brewing startup Wakaze announced on Wednesday that it has secured 330 million yen (about $3 million US) in a series A round. Participating investors in this round are Jafco Group (TSE:8595), Nissay Capital, Makuake (TSE:4479), and Makoto Capital. This follows a pre-series A round in June 2019 (which we reported as a series A round at the time). For Makuake, one of Japan’s leading crowdfunding platform, this follows their second investment followed by their previous investment in Tokyo-based chocolate direct-to-consumer startup Bace earlier this year. Wakaze aims to bring the wave of craft sake and D2C to the world of sake. Prior to founding the company back in 2016, CEO Takuma Inagawa studied at the École Centrale Paris as a French government scholarship student and then worked as a business strategy consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. In addition to developing new sake brewing recipes in Tokyo and Japan’s eastern prefecture of Yamagata, the company established a sake brewery called Kura Grand Paris in Suburban Paris back in November of 2019 to offer locally brewed Japanese sake for the French market. Since its launch in France back in February of 2020, the…

Wakaze sake bottles
Image credit: Wakaze

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese sake brewing startup Wakaze announced on Wednesday that it has secured 330 million yen (about $3 million US) in a series A round. Participating investors in this round are Jafco Group (TSE:8595), Nissay Capital, Makuake (TSE:4479), and Makoto Capital. This follows a pre-series A round in June 2019 (which we reported as a series A round at the time). For Makuake, one of Japan’s leading crowdfunding platform, this follows their second investment followed by their previous investment in Tokyo-based chocolate direct-to-consumer startup Bace earlier this year.

Wakaze aims to bring the wave of craft sake and D2C to the world of sake. Prior to founding the company back in 2016, CEO Takuma Inagawa studied at the École Centrale Paris as a French government scholarship student and then worked as a business strategy consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. In addition to developing new sake brewing recipes in Tokyo and Japan’s eastern prefecture of Yamagata, the company established a sake brewery called Kura Grand Paris in Suburban Paris back in November of 2019 to offer locally brewed Japanese sake for the French market.

Wakaze CEO Takuma Inagawa
Image credit: Wakaze

Since its launch in France back in February of 2020, the sake brand had been distributed to 50 restaurants in the country but demand suddenly plummeted to almost zero due to the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, sales got back to growing steadily as they could rebrand their products to fit the demand for the direct-to-consumer model rather than offering through restaurants. The company has recently partnered with Nicolas, one of the largest wine store chain with 500 locations in France and 7 countries. The funding is expected to contribute to expanding production capacity to meet the increasing demand.

In an interview with Bridge, Inagawa told us how much French people loves the locally brewed Japanese sake brand,

In view of its local production for local consumption, Wakaze has succeeded to attract eco-conscious consumers at Nicolas. To meet the demand, we’ll increase our production capacity to about three times by fall. Our marketing strategy is working well, which grabs first-time customers with a variety of popular products and increases repeat customers with rare ones.

Sake brewing at Kura Grand Paris
Image credit: Wakaze

Going forward, Wakaze hopes to expand its sales and marketing area beyond France to the UK and Germany, as well as to the US where the company hopes to target early adopters and the Asian population on the West Coast. The company also plans to use the funds to strengthen hiring its human resources in both France and Japan, including sake brewers, marketers, customer support representatives, and business managers.

Among the investors in the latest round, Makoto Capital is focused on investing in startups and entrepreneurs from Japan’s northerneastern region of Tohoku. Headquartered there, Wakaze met Makoto Capital at the Sendai for Startups (SFS) startup event, which led to the latest funding. Makuake (then known as CyberAgent Crowdfunding) participated in SFS in 2017, and it is believed that Wakaze’s encounter with Makuake’s CEO Ryotaro Nakayama led to the subsequent launch of the crowdfunding campaign and the latest investment.

Japan’s Axelspace nabs $24M series C, all set to put 10 nanosats into orbits

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Axelspace Holdings, the parent company of nano-satellite developer Axelspace, announced on Friday that it has secured approximately 2.58 billion yen (about $23.6 million US) in a Series C round. Participating invesotors are Sparx Innovation for Future, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Investment, JP Investment, 31 Ventures-Global Brain Growth I LLC (jointly operated by Mitsui Fudosan and Global Brain), Kyocera, and Mitsubishi UFJ Capital. For the satellite startup, this follows their Series A round in September 2015 and Series B round in December 2018. The 31 Ventures-Global Brain-Growth I fund participated in the series B round as well. The latest round brought the company’s total funding sum to date up to more than 7 billion yen (about $64 million US). Axelspace was spun off from the University of Tokyo and incorporated as a company in 2008. The company has been developing small and inexpensive satellites weighing some 60 kilograms, and launched satellites outsourced from Japanese weather company Weathernews (TSE:4825). Leveraging these low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites, Axelspace plans to collect weather and terrain data to sell to governmental organizations and private businesses. Launching a conventional satellite usually costs tens of millions of dollars, but the cost of a nano-satellites can be reduced to less…

The Axelspace management team. From left: CTO Naoki Miyashita, CSO Yoshihiro Ohta, CBO Yasunori Yamazaki, CEO Tomoya Nakamura, CPO Yusuke Nakanishi, and CFO / CHORO Hiroki Aomoto
Image credit: Axelspace

Axelspace Holdings, the parent company of nano-satellite developer Axelspace, announced on Friday that it has secured approximately 2.58 billion yen (about $23.6 million US) in a Series C round. Participating invesotors are Sparx Innovation for Future, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Investment, JP Investment, 31 Ventures-Global Brain Growth I LLC (jointly operated by Mitsui Fudosan and Global Brain), Kyocera, and Mitsubishi UFJ Capital.

For the satellite startup, this follows their Series A round in September 2015 and Series B round in December 2018. The 31 Ventures-Global Brain-Growth I fund participated in the series B round as well. The latest round brought the company’s total funding sum to date up to more than 7 billion yen (about $64 million US).

Axelspace was spun off from the University of Tokyo and incorporated as a company in 2008. The company has been developing small and inexpensive satellites weighing some 60 kilograms, and launched satellites outsourced from Japanese weather company Weathernews (TSE:4825). Leveraging these low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites, Axelspace plans to collect weather and terrain data to sell to governmental organizations and private businesses. Launching a conventional satellite usually costs tens of millions of dollars, but the cost of a nano-satellites can be reduced to less than $10 million, making it possible to build a constellation system for earth observation with multiple nano-satellites.

In 2015 the company announced AxelGlobe, the earth observation infrastructure which will provide imagery of more than half of the planet’s dry land once every single day. The infrastructure is composed of several nano-satellites, five of which have already been launched, and the goal is to have ten in the future. Since the latest round has paved the way for the initial target of 10 satellites, the company established the AxelGlobe Business Unit to promote the widespread use of satellite data and implement it into many aspects of our society.