THE BRIDGE

Startups

Kenya’s BNPL startup for motorcycle taxi riders secures $623K from Japanese companies

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Unchorlight Kenya Limited (UKL) is offering a BNPL (Buy Now, Pay Later) service called Zaribee, exclusively for “boda boda” motorcycle taxi riders in the Eastern African country. The company announced on Friday that it has secured 90 million yen (about $623,000 US) from Honda Trading and Skylight Consulting. Honda Trading is a trading company under one of Japan’s major automobile/motorcycle manufacturers while Skylight Consulting is a consulting firm affiliated with Tokyo-based IT outsourcing giant Transcosmos. UKL is a local subsidiary in Kenya of a joint venture established in 2021 by Skylight Consulting and Africa-focused seed-stage VC Uncovered Fund. In Africa, financial services are underdeveloped, making it hard for people to obtain unsecured loans. Cab drivers are particularly unrewarded despite their harsh working environment. UKL provides a Rent-to-Own motorcycle sales service to self-employed motorcycle taxi riders. The service lets several riders form a group, which encourages them to repay on a community-trust basis leveraging the visibility of credit. The rider can own their motorcycle after completing installment payments for 18 months. Since its launched back in September of 2021, UKL has sold motorcycles to more than 250 in the first nine months. The company also sells insurance to riders, introduces mobility…

Image credit: Unchorlight Kenya Limited

Unchorlight Kenya Limited (UKL) is offering a BNPL (Buy Now, Pay Later) service called Zaribee, exclusively for “boda boda” motorcycle taxi riders in the Eastern African country. The company announced on Friday that it has secured 90 million yen (about $623,000 US) from Honda Trading and Skylight Consulting. Honda Trading is a trading company under one of Japan’s major automobile/motorcycle manufacturers while Skylight Consulting is a consulting firm affiliated with Tokyo-based IT outsourcing giant Transcosmos.

UKL is a local subsidiary in Kenya of a joint venture established in 2021 by Skylight Consulting and Africa-focused seed-stage VC Uncovered Fund.

In Africa, financial services are underdeveloped, making it hard for people to obtain unsecured loans. Cab drivers are particularly unrewarded despite their harsh working environment. UKL provides a Rent-to-Own motorcycle sales service to self-employed motorcycle taxi riders. The service lets several riders form a group, which encourages them to repay on a community-trust basis leveraging the visibility of credit. The rider can own their motorcycle after completing installment payments for 18 months.

Since its launched back in September of 2021, UKL has sold motorcycles to more than 250 in the first nine months. The company also sells insurance to riders, introduces mobility service jobs including motorbike taxi as well as conducts educational activities on safe driving.

In this particular niche, Kenya-based Japanese startup Hakki Africa is offering a credit scoring-based finance for used cars for cab drivers, which announces 220 million yen ($1.9 million US in the exchange rate at the time) in a series A round funding back in March. Another startup Moove, offering automobile financing for self-employed workers in sub-Saharan Africa, secured $105 million US in a series A2 round from multiple investors including Japan’s Mitsubishi UFJ Innovation Partners in the same month.

TakeMe raises $2M to help restaurants get ready for tourist surge as Japan reopening borders

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based TakeMe, the startup offering marketing and payments solutions for diners and restaurants in Japan, announced today that it has secured 260 million yen (about $2 million) from Taiwan-based New Economy Ventures and unnamed angel investors in the latest round back in March. As far as we can learn from publicly available information, this follows their $9.2 million funding in July of 2018, which appears to be a series A round. New Economy Ventures has so far invested in Taiwanese crypto infrastructure platform Cybavo (acquired by US Fintech unicorn Circle in 2022), Internet of Energy service provider NextDrive as well as Taiwanese startup XREX offering SaaS (software as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service) for crypto businesses. The firm is focused on supporting regional expansion of startups in East Asia. Previously known as Japan Foodie, TakeMe was founded in December of 2015 by Dong Lu, a Chinese serial entrepreneur from Beijing. After attending a university in Tokyo, he worked at Goldman Sachs and then earned an MBA degree from Stanford University. Subsequently, following working at a consulting firm and a VC, he founded two startups and then sold them out. TakeMe has…

Image credit: TakeMe

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based TakeMe, the startup offering marketing and payments solutions for diners and restaurants in Japan, announced today that it has secured 260 million yen (about $2 million) from Taiwan-based New Economy Ventures and unnamed angel investors in the latest round back in March. As far as we can learn from publicly available information, this follows their $9.2 million funding in July of 2018, which appears to be a series A round.

New Economy Ventures has so far invested in Taiwanese crypto infrastructure platform Cybavo (acquired by US Fintech unicorn Circle in 2022), Internet of Energy service provider NextDrive as well as Taiwanese startup XREX offering SaaS (software as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service) for crypto businesses. The firm is focused on supporting regional expansion of startups in East Asia.

Previously known as Japan Foodie, TakeMe was founded in December of 2015 by Dong Lu, a Chinese serial entrepreneur from Beijing. After attending a university in Tokyo, he worked at Goldman Sachs and then earned an MBA degree from Stanford University. Subsequently, following working at a consulting firm and a VC, he founded two startups and then sold them out. TakeMe has been so far backed by multiple renowned angel investors: Ikuo Nishioka, Xiao-Hang Yuan, Koutaro Chiba, Naoki Shimada, Yusuke Tanaka, and Legend Partners (Tomohito Ebine’s fund).

TakeMe was also hit hard by the pandemic. For more than three and a half years, TakeMe has been focused on offering digital transformation (DX) solutions for F&B businesses. The initiative includes offering Shopify-like solutions so that restaurants can easily build a take-out and delivery ordering site as well as developing API integrations with online travel agencies (OTAs) and restaurant booking services.

The TakeMe order plaform is adopted by over 50 restaurant chain brands in Japan.
Image credit: TakeMe

In addition to providing restaurants with most of the payment methods used by Japanese consumers and inbound travelers, TakeMe also acts as an intermediary between OTAs and restaurant reservation services, guiding customers to the most suitable restaurants they desire. The platform has been integrated with OTAs like Alibaba’s Fliggy, Hong Kong-based Klook as well as the TableCheck restaurant customer management system.

In July, TakeMe was integrated with the Camel order aggregation platform, which enables restaurants to manage orders from various food delivery services such as UberEats, menu, Wolt, and Demae-can. The integration means that the TakeMe platfom alone allows restaurants to manage bookings from sending local consumers and inbound visitors to accepting orders from food delivery services. Some restaurants are now using the platform for managing even in-store orders.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced last week that his country would lift up the COVID-19-related travel ban on October 19th, exempting foreign visitors to Japan from visa requirements. With the recent weaker Yen trend, the tourism and restaurant industries have high expectations for the revival of inbound visitors’ demand. TakeMe plans to use the funds to enhance its TakeMe Order management system and to accelerate developing functions for inbound visitors.

Minto secures $5M+; partners with Kakao Piccoma to boost web3, webtoon businesses

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Our readers may recall that Japanese sticker character production Quan has merged with cartoonist agency Wwwaap to launch a new company called Minto. We reported that this merger will allow Quan to distribute Wwwaap’s creators’ works and third-party content 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. We wrote that the wave of webtoons originating in Korea had spread to the Japanese market, and that Kakao Japan (rebranded into Kakao Piccoma in November of 2021), the company behind the Piccoma digital comics platform, has surpassed 800 billion yen valuation (over $6 billion US) based on the success seizing that trend. It wasn’t clear whether Kakao Piccoma was a competitor or a friend for Minto as of that writing, but now it appears that the two companies have decided to join forces. Minto annoounced today that it has raised secured 660 million yen (over $500 million US) from Kakao Piccoma in addition to existing investors like Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Capital, Mizuho Capital, and OLM Ventures (the investment arm of Imagica Group)….

Piccoma mobile comic app, Minto Characters
Image credit: Kakao Piccoma, Minto

Our readers may recall that Japanese sticker character production Quan has merged with cartoonist agency Wwwaap to launch a new company called Minto. We reported that this merger will allow Quan to distribute Wwwaap’s creators’ works and third-party content 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.

We wrote that the wave of webtoons originating in Korea had spread to the Japanese market, and that Kakao Japan (rebranded into Kakao Piccoma in November of 2021), the company behind the Piccoma digital comics platform, has surpassed 800 billion yen valuation (over $6 billion US) based on the success seizing that trend. It wasn’t clear whether Kakao Piccoma was a competitor or a friend for Minto as of that writing, but now it appears that the two companies have decided to join forces.

Minto annoounced today that it has raised secured 660 million yen (over $500 million US) from Kakao Piccoma in addition to existing investors like Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Capital, Mizuho Capital, and OLM Ventures (the investment arm of Imagica Group). This follows Minto’s previous round (probably a Series B round) back in February of 2010, and brought their funding sum up to date to 1.46 billion yen ($11.2 million US).

When Minto was born after the acquisition, some readers may have sensed the possibility that the company would expand into the Web3 business from their new brand. In February, the company appointed Minoru Yanai, who has been involved in several Web3 businesses, as a business development manager. For Minto, the funding will allow them to more closely work with Kakao Piccoma not only in webtoon but also many Web3 business development because the latter’s parent company has more than a few web3 subsidiaries in Korea such as Meta Bora (developing Web3 protocol Bora) and Ground X (developing the Klaytn blockchain).

Minto started collaborating with Kakao Piccoma five years ago to distribute Minto’s stickers on the KakaoTalk messaging app, which later led to the great success of Minto’s characters in Korea. Minto has also begun co-producing webtoons with Kakao Piccoma. Also, in advertising and marketing using webtoons, Minto’s former wwwaap team’s ability to use comics for social networking marketing will be well served.

Minto has been selling original NFTs, collaborating with the company’s CryptoCrystal NFT project, and exhibiting NFTs created from the company’s creator network on the Sandbox metaverse platform since last year. In April, the company also started selling NFTs featuring their original characters as well as other content from popular creators on the LINE NFT marketplace.

In this particular space, some of our readers may recall Tokyo-based Rocket Staff, acquired by anime retail giant Animate last year, has been developing webtoon businesses in the Japanese market.

double jump.tokyo raises $23M to accelerate blockchain game development

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based double jump.tokyo, the Japanese startup developing blockchain games and NFT business, announced on Thursday that it has secured approximately 3 billion yen (about $23.1 million) to develop blockchain games and to strengthen human resources to develop games leveraging intellectual properties (IP). Investors participating in this round include: Access Ventures Amber Group Arriba Studio Circle Ventures Com2uS Group Dentsu Ventures Fenbushi Capital Infinity Ventures Crypto JAFCO Jump Crypto Next Web capital PKO Investments Polygon Ventures Protocol Labs Wemade Venture Capital Z Venture Capital The company is well known for its global smash-hit blockchain game title My Crypto Heroes. Since its launch back in April of 2018, the company has been promoting blockchain game development support programs, cross-sector projects with various domestic and international NFT-related businesses as well as leading discussions with regulatory authorities in Japan. In March, the company announced its investment in and business partnership with ForN, the company behind YGG Japan, the Japanese entity of the NFT (non-fungible token)-based global game guild DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) Yield Guild Games (YGG). Our readers may recall that the company successfully sold two street NFTs from Japanese comic title Eren the Southpaw for as much…

Hironobu Ueno, CEO of double.jump.tokyo

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based double jump.tokyo, the Japanese startup developing blockchain games and NFT business, announced on Thursday that it has secured approximately 3 billion yen (about $23.1 million) to develop blockchain games and to strengthen human resources to develop games leveraging intellectual properties (IP).

Investors participating in this round include:

  • Access Ventures
  • Amber Group
  • Arriba Studio
  • Circle Ventures
  • Com2uS Group
  • Dentsu Ventures
  • Fenbushi Capital
  • Infinity Ventures Crypto
  • JAFCO
  • Jump Crypto
  • Next Web capital
  • PKO Investments
  • Polygon Ventures
  • Protocol Labs
  • Wemade Venture Capital
  • Z Venture Capital

The company is well known for its global smash-hit blockchain game title My Crypto Heroes. Since its launch back in April of 2018, the company has been promoting blockchain game development support programs, cross-sector projects with various domestic and international NFT-related businesses as well as leading discussions with regulatory authorities in Japan.

In March, the company announced its investment in and business partnership with ForN, the company behind YGG Japan, the Japanese entity of the NFT (non-fungible token)-based global game guild DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) Yield Guild Games (YGG). Our readers may recall that the company successfully sold two street NFTs from Japanese comic title Eren the Southpaw for as much as 332,300 ASTR (approximately $64,000) last week.

Regarding the latest funding, their CEO Hironobu Ueno says in his company’s statement,

This funding is a manifestation of our investors’ appreciation and expectation for our steady accumulation of the large-scale achievement in blockchain games and IP-based NFT content since the dawn of time in this space.

To promote the joint development of IP-based blockchain games with major game companies, the funds will be used to invest in products, partners, and DAO projects, which help strengthen and grow our group in the upcoming mass adoption phase of the blockchain game market.

Commmune, customer success support platform from Japan, announces US expansion

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Tokyo-based Commmune, the Japanese startup behind a customer success support platform under the same name, revealed on Friday that it is expanding into the US market. The company has raised funds from several investors, including DNX Ventures, in Series A and Series B rounds. Yuya Takada, founder and CEO of Commmune, plans to move to the U.S. himself and start operations at DNX Ventures’ Silicon Valley office in San Mateo, CA. The specific timing of the start of activities has not yet been determined due to logistical arrangements but is expected to be early next year. Commmune was founded in May of 2018 by Yuya Takada (CEO) and Shota Hashimoto (initially COO, now CPO), both of whom graduated from the University of Tokyo and had previously worked in the U.S. prior to the startup. Commmune currently has about 100 employees and contractors working in its Japan office. After the announcement, Takada will focus on decision making and market fit effort for the US market while Hashimoto will supervise team building in the Japan office. The startup offers companies with a online community environment to improve their user engagement, enabling them to get their words out as well as receiving responses…

Yuya Takada, Founder and CEO of Commmune
Image credit: Commmune

Tokyo-based Commmune, the Japanese startup behind a customer success support platform under the same name, revealed on Friday that it is expanding into the US market. The company has raised funds from several investors, including DNX Ventures, in Series A and Series B rounds. Yuya Takada, founder and CEO of Commmune, plans to move to the U.S. himself and start operations at DNX Ventures’ Silicon Valley office in San Mateo, CA. The specific timing of the start of activities has not yet been determined due to logistical arrangements but is expected to be early next year.

Commmune was founded in May of 2018 by Yuya Takada (CEO) and Shota Hashimoto (initially COO, now CPO), both of whom graduated from the University of Tokyo and had previously worked in the U.S. prior to the startup. Commmune currently has about 100 employees and contractors working in its Japan office. After the announcement, Takada will focus on decision making and market fit effort for the US market while Hashimoto will supervise team building in the Japan office.

The startup offers companies with a online community environment to improve their user engagement, enabling them to get their words out as well as receiving responses from users, which is quite challenging with conventional communication channels like blogs and other platforms like Medium.com. For companies managing online accounts for their users, the platform allows them to integrate their member database to enable single sign-on login. The startup’s user base of enterprises is growing as the pandemic has forced various companies to keep in touch with their customers in a digital manner.

Commmune
Image credit: Commmune

This enterprise need is not limited to Japan, but is likely to exist in Western markets that pursue a good customer journey. However, Takada says platforms like Commmune do not yet exist in the Western market, and some services with similar functions are not sufficiently recognized and are small in scale. Given that there must be a market there, Takada expressed his determination to go to SF Bay Area and take on the global market before other startups from Europe and the US do it.

Takada says,

We know a Dutch startup called inSided. In contrast to our platform mainly serving B2C startups, they have more B2C services as users and their scale is still small. Some people say we have to dominate the Japanese market and IPO here first before expanding into the US market. However, I thought that we might not stand a chance if we do that after IPO. It will be too late because US startups grow at least three times faster than Japanese startups.

He continued,

We know a Dutch startup called inSided. In contrast to our platform mainly serving B2C startups, they have more B2C services as users and their scale is still small. Some people say we have to dominate the Japanese market and IPO here first before expanding into the US market. However, I thought that we might not stand a chance if we do that after IPO. It will be too late because US startups grow at least three times faster than Japanese startups.

Looking at the Japanese market, major tools in CRM (Customer Relationship Management), MA (Marketing Automation), SFA (Sales Force Automation), and among others are all provided by foreign firms. Commmune is solving a problem that is not dependent on the culture of a particular country. Even in the areas of customer success and community management, history tells us that we will eventually see strong players from outside the country if we don’t make a global expansion. We have no choice but to go now.

One of the reasons why Takada could make this decision was probably due to the changing perspective of Japanese investors. In the past, both entrepreneurs and investors used to prioritize the Japanese market which has a reasonably large domestic demand. More foreign institutional investors pouring larger sums of cash into Japanese VC firms, making it easier for them to understand the need to expand into the global market in terms of maximizing growth potential. A good recent example is Snkrdunk (pronounced as Sneaker Dunk), which secured funds from SoftBank Vision Fund 2 earlier this month and announced its full-scale expansion into the Asian market.

Takada does not believe that their product in Japan will work in the US without tailoring to the local context. It will need certain time to reach product-market fit. For this reason, he will appoint no country manager but hire and manage several local employees during the initial stage of market development because he hasn’t yet fixed what it looks like they want to offer to US businesses.

Japan music marketplace Audiostock secures $5.8M for global subscription service

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Okayama, Japan-based Audiostock, the Japanese startup behind a marketplace for music composers and sound creators under the same name, has secured 670 million yen (about $5.8 million) in its latest round, according to Nikkei’s report on Wednesday. Participating investors include Susquehanna International Group, Ceres (TSE:3696), and HBCC Technology Investment. This follows the company’s series B round back in July of 2020 and previous funding from Link-U and CiP Council in April of 2020 as well as previous rounds in March of 2018 and October of 2012. The company has partnered with overseas companies to sell foreign-branded background music and sound effects to the Japanese market. With the latest round, the company is planning to sell Japanese music and sound effects to the global market on a subscription basis. Previously known as Cleoguga, Audiostock was founded in October of 2007 and subsequently launched the music marketplace in 2013. The company claims that it has attracted over 10,000 amateur composers and has helped promote games and music artists.

Image credit: Audiostock

Okayama, Japan-based Audiostock, the Japanese startup behind a marketplace for music composers and sound creators under the same name, has secured 670 million yen (about $5.8 million) in its latest round, according to Nikkei’s report on Wednesday. Participating investors include Susquehanna International Group, Ceres (TSE:3696), and HBCC Technology Investment.

This follows the company’s series B round back in July of 2020 and previous funding from Link-U and CiP Council in April of 2020 as well as previous rounds in March of 2018 and October of 2012.

The company has partnered with overseas companies to sell foreign-branded background music and sound effects to the Japanese market. With the latest round, the company is planning to sell Japanese music and sound effects to the global market on a subscription basis.

Previously known as Cleoguga, Audiostock was founded in October of 2007 and subsequently launched the music marketplace in 2013. The company claims that it has attracted over 10,000 amateur composers and has helped promote games and music artists.

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.

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.