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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.

Why the next tech revolution will be about impact

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This is a guest post by Trista Bridges. Its Japanese translation is available on Bridge’s Japanese edition. Trista is a strategy and sustainable business expert, who’s passionate about changing business for good. Strongly believing that sustainable business = smart business, she co-founded Read the Air to shift mindsets, business strategies, and ways of working towards business models that put sustainability at the core. She’s worked across various sectors including in digital media, healthcare, consumer products, and financial services. Trista is co-author of the recently released “Leading Sustainably: The path to sustainable business and how the SDGs changed everything“ By now, you are undoubtedly aware of how sustainability has emerged as the zeitgeist of the moment – ESG investments have grown leaps and bounds in Japan and elsewhere, while the SDGs have been embraced by governments, businesses and individuals alike. Although there is no shortage of “greenwashing” at the moment, it’s undeniable that there’s a fundamental change afoot in respect to our vision of society. There’s widespread awareness that our world has some pretty audacious problems to address – from social equality to climate change and everything in between. The urgency of addressing these issues has increased, but the verdict is…

Trista Bridges
©Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media

This is a guest post by Trista Bridges. Its Japanese translation is available on Bridge’s Japanese edition.

Trista is a strategy and sustainable business expert, who’s passionate about changing business for good. Strongly believing that sustainable business = smart business, she co-founded Read the Air to shift mindsets, business strategies, and ways of working towards business models that put sustainability at the core.

She’s worked across various sectors including in digital media, healthcare, consumer products, and financial services. Trista is co-author of the recently released “Leading Sustainably: The path to sustainable business and how the SDGs changed everything


By now, you are undoubtedly aware of how sustainability has emerged as the zeitgeist of the moment – ESG investments have grown leaps and bounds in Japan and elsewhere, while the SDGs have been embraced by governments, businesses and individuals alike. Although there is no shortage of “greenwashing” at the moment, it’s undeniable that there’s a fundamental change afoot in respect to our vision of society. There’s widespread awareness that our world has some pretty audacious problems to address – from social equality to climate change and everything in between. The urgency of addressing these issues has increased, but the verdict is still out on how to best fix these problems and whose responsibility it is to do so.

Businesses are being asked to do more

In the past, we instinctively turned to the state to fix problems such as these. But we now know that government won’t be able to tackle these challenges on its own. We have transitioned to a multi-stakeholder world, one in which various entities are being compelled to take on a greater role in addressing global challenges. And there are few stakeholders who are being expected to step up more at the moment than business. Companies of all sizes are being asked to embrace a more sustainable business model, namely one that minimizes its negative “impact” on the environment and society and maximizes its positive ones. For example, moves such as Japan’s recent 2050 net zero pledge mean than businesses of all sizes will need to take steps to reduce their carbon emissions. We’ve already seen Apple’s promise to achieve 100% carbon neutrality across its entire supply chain by 2030. Others will need to take similarly bold steps.

This growing importance of impact is a sign that we are in the early stages of recalibrating how we define business value. While financial strength will always be important, there is a growing belief that companies that don’t pay attention to their environment and societal impact, as well as their own governance, are, in fact, putting their success at risk.

Image credit: 401(K) 2012 via Flickr
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The impact revolution coming to tech

Until recently, this has largely been a publicly listed company phenomenon, with tech startup ecosystems generally being left outside of this debate. But now, it’s coming to tech with full force. While the ESG spotlight was first shown on Big Tech, startups, VCs and other ecosystem players are starting to be scrutinized on sustainability factors as never before. But what do innovators and their investors need to be most aware of? Here are some thoughts on how this trend is changing the game for the two core players of the tech ecosystem – VCs and startups:

VCs

Adoption of sustainability-oriented principles and practices has been spotty, to say the least, across venture capital. While private equity firms have made strides integrating ESG in recent years and, in some cases, even developing specific impact investment funds (see TPG’s Rise Fund), venture capital funds have been slow to come on-board. European VCs have perhaps seen the best progress to date, with funds like Idinvest/Eurazeo, Atomico, and Balderton being early movers on ESG or making sustainability commitments. More recently, the US venture capital space has seen an uptick in thematic funds around topics such as climate and diversity. Finally, stalwart funds like Sequoia have announced that they are actively investing in sustainability, especially in climate tech. Yet, it’s clear that this is only the beginning and that the VC community still has a ways to go. Nevertheless, there are three key reasons that we should see an acceleration in this area in the coming years:

  1. Risk mitigation: With an increasingly challenging regulatory environment for finance and tech alike, a growing conscious consumer movement, and shifting norms around what constitutes “good business,” it’s an increasingly risky proposition to invest in startups without considering how they’re approaching these issues. Using ESG criteria (at a minimum) to screen investment opportunities gives investors a tangible way to help de-risk their portfolios.
  2. Limited partner (LP) interests: While these entities are still looking for market leading returns from funds, sustainability is also quickly moving up their agendas. In some instances, it’s their stakeholders (shareholders, customers, contributors) who are demanding it. In others, such as family offices, individuals want to reflect their values in how they invest. In the future, it may be difficult for VCs to raise funds from reputable LPs if they don’t integrate ESG principles and practices in their fund operations and investment activities.
  3. Opportunities: Earlier tech waves addressed many first-level problems, such as connectivity, efficiency, and information discovery; the next wave will tackle much more fundamental societal and environmental challenges. Future value is going to be driven by innovations that solve these complex issues.
Image credit: nosita via Pixabay

Startups

When an entrepreneur is trying to build a company with limited resources, generally, the last thing they’re thinking about is the impact their product will have on the environment or society. Understandably, their focus tends to be more towards business fundamentals, such as product-market fit or customer acquisition. However, startups are not building their businesses in a bubble. Many of the societal and environmental dynamics mentioned in this article will impact startups’ success going forward. While there are many more support systems now to help startups scale (funding, training, etc.), the environment they are operating in is, in many ways, more complex and competitive than the one faced by their peers merely a decade ago. And this has been even further complicated by the pandemic. What can startups do to prepare and succeed in this new paradigm?

  1. Anticipate risks and prepare accordingly: Startups today are innovating in areas that their predecessors shunned for fear of overregulation or sheer complexity. While this is commendable, it also presents them with new risks. Taking an approach early on which considers societal and environmental impact will help them avoid potential problems down the road. For example, are entrepreneurs innovating with AI considering potential problems around biases or possible nefarious use of the services they develop? What actions can they take to avoid these potential challenges? Or, are food delivery services thinking about fair labor practices or the environmental impact of mounds of plastic packaging waste? Getting ahead of these issues early on can help avoid potential problems, regulatory, reputational, or otherwise, down the road.
  2. Respond to investors’ shifting priorities: Naturally, as VCs increasingly embrace sustainability, they are going to look to startups that do the same or are willing to do so. As VCs make commitments, they need to demonstrate to their LPs and other stakeholders that their fund and portfolio companies are moving in lock step. It goes without saying that this is a big ask of many startups. To make this work, VCs will need to support startups differently and, often, more proactively than they have in the past.
  3. Lean in to sustainable innovation: Encouragingly, there are endless opportunities for startups in areas like climate tech, food tech, sustainable fashion, fintech, and healthcare. Startups that build products and services that can do things like efficiently and inexpensively capture and store carbon, significantly reduce inequalities in healthcare access, or shore up the resilience of our food systems, will be the next generation of winners. And with burgeoning success stories like Northvolt, Impossible Foods, and Japan’s own Euglena, there’s evidence that this is already coming to pass. Working today on opportunities that drive positive impact will pay dividends tomorrow.

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.

Japan’s Clear, study notes organizer app, acquired by stationery giant Kokuyo

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See the original story in Japanese. The parts colored in red were updated on 4:30pm, Feb 12th based on our additional coverage. We just learned that Tokyo-based Clear, the Japanese startup behind a study notes organizer app under the same name, has been acquired by Japanese stationery giant Kokuyo (TSE:7984). Since its launch back in 2010, the startup has secured about 400 million yen (about $3.8 million) from investors to date. According to Japanese startup database Initial, they were estimated to be valued at 1.938 billion yen (about $18.5 million) after securing the series C round back in 2018. Clear secured a series D round last year, which brought the company’s funding sum up to 516,748,113 yen (about $4.9 million) according to their website. Initial has not shared Clear’s post series D round valuation. (Not to be confused with Clear, another Japanese startup developing brands and online media portal focused on Japanese sake products.) Clear was founded in October of 2010 under its previous name of Arcterus by Goichiro Arai (CEO) who has held various posts including Resort Business Manager at Japanese resort development / management major Hoshino Resort together with Yoshiki Shiraishi (COO/CFO) who was Arai’s classmate at Keio…

Clear CEO Goichiro Arai
Image credit: EduLab

See the original story in Japanese.

The parts colored in red were updated on 4:30pm, Feb 12th based on our additional coverage.

We just learned that Tokyo-based Clear, the Japanese startup behind a study notes organizer app under the same name, has been acquired by Japanese stationery giant Kokuyo (TSE:7984). Since its launch back in 2010, the startup has secured about 400 million yen (about $3.8 million) from investors to date. According to Japanese startup database Initial, they were estimated to be valued at 1.938 billion yen (about $18.5 million) after securing the series C round back in 2018.

Clear secured a series D round last year, which brought the company’s funding sum up to 516,748,113 yen (about $4.9 million) according to their website. Initial has not shared Clear’s post series D round valuation.

(Not to be confused with Clear, another Japanese startup developing brands and online media portal focused on Japanese sake products.)

Clear was founded in October of 2010 under its previous name of Arcterus by Goichiro Arai (CEO) who has held various posts including Resort Business Manager at Japanese resort development / management major Hoshino Resort together with Yoshiki Shiraishi (COO/CFO) who was Arai’s classmate at Keio Business School. The Clear app, launched in December of 2013, allows notebooks sorted by subject or educational unit to be shared with other users and is available for Android, iOS and web.

Started in Japan, the app has expanded into several markets including Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, China, and Hong Kong. It has acquired 2.3 million (Arai says it has already reached 2.5 million) active users (MAUs) in Japan and 3.5 million MAUs worldwide, suggesting that one out of four middle and high school students in Japan is using the app.

Image credit: Clear

Aiming to help cram schools attract their potential customers and better market themselves in addition to developing learning content, the company has partnered with several companies such as:

  • Zoshinkai Publishing (Z-kai Group), Japanese major in offering online or distance learning for students
  • Asahi Gakusei Shimbun, Japanese major news company’s subsidiary for publication for students
  • Sprix (TSE:7030), developing content for cram schools
  • Lacicu, developing web services and educational video apps for cram schools
  • Manabi Aid, offering online video classes for students
  • Rakuten (TSE:4755), Japanese leading e-commerce giant

In an interview with Bridge, Arai shared how his company has reached the agreement:

In fall of 2019, we had a chance to meet Kokuyo CEO Hidekuni Kuroda and we decided to work together.

Kokuyo has a large market share with the paper notebook brand Campus while we do so with the digital notebook brand Clear. We thought it would be a good partnership to utilize the respective brand power each other.

In terms of overseas development, for example, Kokuyo has expanded into Mainland China, while Clear has about 800,000 users of their app in Thailand alone. By sending customers to each other’s strong geographical markets, there would be a possibility of increasing the market share of both brands in respective markets. Having not yet decided on the specifics, Clear may be able to add new functions to the app by bridging the paper and digital gap.

In addition to the notebook mobile app, Clear offers two other key services:

  • Meets – helps cram schools in recruiting students, jointly operated with Education Network and Sprix. Educatiional Network is a subsidiary of aforementioned Zoshinkai Publishing.
  • Shinro Erabi (career choice) – helps high school students find their best career path with resources on universities, jointly operated with Shoei Koho, a subsidiary of after-mentioned CHIeru.

Arai says the partnership with these companies will continue even after his company was acquired.

In March of last year, Clear partnered with CHIeru (TSE:3933), the classroom management solutions provider for schools. CHIeru has a subsidiary focused on helping universities promote, and the partnership helps universities market their entrance exam briefing even in a virtual format during the pandemic with the help of Clear.

Clear won the second prize at Startup Asia Jakarta 2014, while also being selected as a finalist at ASIABEAT 2016 in Xiamen, obtaining international spotlight. They won the Japan preliminary round of The Global EdTech Startup Awards (GESA), and then won the global finals in London in 2018.

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Japanese skills marketplace Coconala files for IPO valued at over $207M

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Coconala, the startup behind an online platform under the same name where you can buy and sell knowledge, skills and, experience from users who are willing to teach, announced on Wedneday that that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on March 19 of 2021 with plans to offer 100,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 1,813,000 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 11,092,900 shares. The underwriting will be co-led by Mizuho Securities and Credit Suisse while Coconala’s ticker code will be 4176. Based on the estimated issue price of 1,000 yen (about $9.56) and total number of issued shares (21,474,000), the company will be valued at 21.7 billion yen (about $207 million). Its share price range will be released on March 3 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on march 4 and pricing on March 10. According to the consolidated statement as of August 2020, they posted revenue of 1,775.6 million yen ($17 million) with an ordinary loss of 83.8 million yen ($800,000). Coconala was established under its previous name of Welself in February 2012 by…

Image credit: Coconala

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Coconala, the startup behind an online platform under the same name where you can buy and sell knowledge, skills and, experience from users who are willing to teach, announced on Wedneday that that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on March 19 of 2021 with plans to offer 100,000 shares for public subscription and to sell 1,813,000 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 11,092,900 shares. The underwriting will be co-led by Mizuho Securities and Credit Suisse while Coconala’s ticker code will be 4176.

Based on the estimated issue price of 1,000 yen (about $9.56) and total number of issued shares (21,474,000), the company will be valued at 21.7 billion yen (about $207 million). Its share price range will be released on March 3 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on march 4 and pricing on March 10. According to the consolidated statement as of August 2020, they posted revenue of 1,775.6 million yen ($17 million) with an ordinary loss of 83.8 million yen ($800,000).

Coconala was established under its previous name of Welself in February 2012 by Akiyuki Minami who formerly worked at Sumitomo Mitsui Bank and Japanese private equity fund Advantage Partners. Our readers may recall that he shared his story behind launching the startup at a lecture event for entrepreneurs we previously covered. After graduating from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, he was involved in launchiing two NPOs in Japan, which led him to the experience that offering his skills and abilities to someone else can lead to self-confidence and growth for himself as well.

More than 1.8 million users have been registered by last year while the number is likely to hit 2 million some time this year. With the increase in the number of registered users, the percentage of paying users has been gradually decreasing to around 5-6% for the past one to two years. Their Average Revenue Per Paying User (ARPPU) is on the rise, indicating that users who recognize the value of Coconala are paying more than before. Aiming to upsell, the company launched derivative services such as Coconala Legal Advice in 2016 and Coconala Meets in 2019.

Led by Jafco (15.34%), the company’s main shareholders include Jafco (15.34%), CEO Akiyuki Minami (13.13%), co-founder and director Sato Shinmyo (11.70%), Nissay Capital (11.39% from multiple funds combined), Fidelity (9.72% from multiple funds combined), Mistletoe Japan (7.72%), ImproVista (4.18%), COO Ayumu Suzuki (3.82%), employee Akie Sawayama (2.70%), Environment and Energy Investment (2.34%), and DBJ Capital (2.34%).

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Japanese car subscription startup Nyle secures up to $50M via equity and loans

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Nyle, the company behind a car subscription service called Carmo, announced on Monday that it has secured about 3.7 billion yen (about $35.7 million) in the latest funding round. Participating investors are Dimension (investment arm of Dream Incubator), JIC Venture Growth Investments (JIC-VGI), Environmental Energy Investment, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, SBI Group, Nippon Venture Capital, Gree Ventures, Digital Advertising Consortium, and unnamed individual investors. The company also announced that it has signed loan agreements with several financial institutions for a total of up to 1.3 billion yen (about $12.5 million). Prior to this round, the company raised about 1.5 billion yen from several investors including Sparks Group (TSE:8739), SBI Group, and Aoki Group back in April of 2019. The latest round raied the company’s cum of funding (without loans) to date up to 5.57 billion yen (about $53.7 million) Carmo is completely offered online and allows users to use a new car for as little as the 10,000 yen-range (starting at $96 approx.) per month. It has received 45,000 applications from users for three years since its launch back in January of 2018. Using the funds, Nile plans to strengthen its marketing activities,…

Image credit: Nyle

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Nyle, the company behind a car subscription service called Carmo, announced on Monday that it has secured about 3.7 billion yen (about $35.7 million) in the latest funding round.

Participating investors are Dimension (investment arm of Dream Incubator), JIC Venture Growth Investments (JIC-VGI), Environmental Energy Investment, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, SBI Group, Nippon Venture Capital, Gree Ventures, Digital Advertising Consortium, and unnamed individual investors. The company also announced that it has signed loan agreements with several financial institutions for a total of up to 1.3 billion yen (about $12.5 million).

Prior to this round, the company raised about 1.5 billion yen from several investors including Sparks Group (TSE:8739), SBI Group, and Aoki Group back in April of 2019. The latest round raied the company’s cum of funding (without loans) to date up to 5.57 billion yen (about $53.7 million)

Carmo is completely offered online and allows users to use a new car for as little as the 10,000 yen-range (starting at $96 approx.) per month. It has received 45,000 applications from users for three years since its launch back in January of 2018.

Using the funds, Nile plans to strengthen its marketing activities, strengthen alliances with auto repair shops, auto dealers, and gas stations while considering merge and acquire companies with potential synergies.

via PR Times

Rocket Staff, startup behind free manga apps, acquired by Japan’s largest anime retailer

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Rocket Staff, known for its “all-you-can-read for free manga” app called Manga King ( iOS / Android ), was confirmed that it has been acquired by Japanese largest anime retail chain Animate. The amount of the acquisition has not been disclosed but we learned that Animate will take a 70% stake of Rocket Staff’s Japanese and South Korean business entities, making Rocket Staff a consolidated subsidiary of Animate. Following this acquisition, Animate CEO Ryu Takahashi and several of its directors are expected to join the board of directors at Rocket Staff’s Japanese and South Korean companies. Kou Youngwook, the founder of Rocket Staff, will continue serving his company as the CEO, and there will be no major changes in their business. Animate made 65 billion yen in an annual group sales and accounted for a third of the entire Japanese anime market which is estimated to be worth 240 billion yen. Having about 30 group companies under their wing, the anime giant is considered active in corporate acquisitions. As one residing in the Japanese startup community, it is still fresh in our minds that Pixiv, the Japanese startup behind a social illustration service…

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons / Rocket Staff

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Rocket Staff, known for its “all-you-can-read for free manga” app called Manga King ( iOS / Android ), was confirmed that it has been acquired by Japanese largest anime retail chain Animate. The amount of the acquisition has not been disclosed but we learned that Animate will take a 70% stake of Rocket Staff’s Japanese and South Korean business entities, making Rocket Staff a consolidated subsidiary of Animate.

Following this acquisition, Animate CEO Ryu Takahashi and several of its directors are expected to join the board of directors at Rocket Staff’s Japanese and South Korean companies. Kou Youngwook, the founder of Rocket Staff, will continue serving his company as the CEO, and there will be no major changes in their business.

Animate made 65 billion yen in an annual group sales and accounted for a third of the entire Japanese anime market which is estimated to be worth 240 billion yen. Having about 30 group companies under their wing, the anime giant is considered active in corporate acquisitions. As one residing in the Japanese startup community, it is still fresh in our minds that Pixiv, the Japanese startup behind a social illustration service under the same name, was acquired by the Animate group in 2015.

CEO and Founder Kou Yongwook (left and front) and some of his team at Rocket Staff.
Image credit: Rocket Staff

Kou came to Japan alone from South Korea 20 years ago at his age of 20. After working at a TV station based out of Tokyo, he established Rocket Staff in November of 2010. Making the most of his Korean background, he developed apps across Japan and South Korea, coordinated app marketing for both markets, and served as a correspondent reporting on the state of technology in Japan for an IT-focused TV channel in South Korea. Some of his notable apps include Peppermeet, which allows users to chat and share photos with others nearby, and Ad&Joy, which allows users to earn points by watching ads.

In 2018, Rocket Staff launched a blockchain-powered decentralized ad network called ACA Network, but this did not work out and was subsequently forced to shut down. The company’s core business is currently Manga King, which turns manga titles published in a printed form in the past into the mobile app format so that they can share revenue from ads placed alongside manga episodes with manga publishers. There are more than 50,000 manga episodes available on the mobile app now, and users have downloaded these episodes over 300 million times to date.

Rocket Staff’s joining the Animate group is expected to help accelerate the latter’s digital transformation initiative. In our previous interview with Kou, he revealed his vision such as partnering with popular manga artist teams in Taiwan and South Korea, building a new distribution system for manga using blockchain, and working with publishers and other organizations to create a unique ecosystem where fans’ evaluations can lead to creators’ motivation and income.

Stay tuned for our further coverage reporting their business development details after the acquisition.

AnyMind Group acquires Tokyo-based cross-border marketing firm Engawa

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See the original story in Japanese. AnyMind Group (previously known as AdAsia Holdings), the startup developing and offering AI-based marketing solutions in Japan and other Asian countries, announced on Friday that it will take a full stake in cross-border marketing company Engawa, a subsidiary of Japanese PR and marketing firm Sunny Side Up (TSE: 2180). The price of the acquisition is not disclosed. Upon this, Engawa’s president and CEO Takanobu Ushiyama join the board of directors of AnyMind’s Japanese subsidiary AnyMind Japan. For Anymind, this will be the seven startup acquisition. Engawa was established in 2015 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Sunny Side Up, and then secured funding form Japanese ad production company TYO (subsequently merged with other ad production company AOI Pro. back in 2017). Engawa has been consisted of the team of Tokyo Weekender, an English-language news publication founded back in 1970, and the members from Sunny Side Up. The company has been helping SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) rooted in local regions through partnership with local governments across Japan. According to Japanese company database Initial, Engawa was valued at 680 million yen (about $6 million) as of the post-series A round back in September of 2018….

From left: AnyMind Group CEO Kosuke Sogo, Engawa CEO Takanobu Ushiyama
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

See the original story in Japanese.

AnyMind Group (previously known as AdAsia Holdings), the startup developing and offering AI-based marketing solutions in Japan and other Asian countries, announced on Friday that it will take a full stake in cross-border marketing company Engawa, a subsidiary of Japanese PR and marketing firm Sunny Side Up (TSE: 2180). The price of the acquisition is not disclosed. Upon this, Engawa’s president and CEO Takanobu Ushiyama join the board of directors of AnyMind’s Japanese subsidiary AnyMind Japan. For Anymind, this will be the seven startup acquisition.

Engawa was established in 2015 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Sunny Side Up, and then secured funding form Japanese ad production company TYO (subsequently merged with other ad production company AOI Pro. back in 2017). Engawa has been consisted of the team of Tokyo Weekender, an English-language news publication founded back in 1970, and the members from Sunny Side Up. The company has been helping SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) rooted in local regions through partnership with local governments across Japan. According to Japanese company database Initial, Engawa was valued at 680 million yen (about $6 million) as of the post-series A round back in September of 2018.

In August 2019, AnyMind established a joint venture and Asia-focused influencer marketing agency called AnyUp with Sunny Side Up’s subsidiary Sunny Side Partners. AnyMind says potential synergies in business and human resources encouraged them to acquire Engawa. For the time being, it is expected that the acquisition will help AnyMind better reach their solutions to Engawa’s more than 700 clients such as small manufacturers and local producers across the country.

In an interview with Bridge, Engawa’s Ushiyama says,

When we think about how to maximize the potential for business growth in cross-border marketing, we believe that AnyMind is an ideal partner because of its huge digital assets. Since the further growth of Engawa is beneficial to our former parent company Sunny Side Up, the acquisition talks went went smoothly.

Kosuke Sogo, CEO of AnyMind, added,

AnyMind has a growing client base among large enterprises, but we have not yet been able to reach out to local governments and manufacturers in Japan where you will typically need a long-term and face-to-face-based sales effort. Engawa has many clients from small manufacturers and local producers across the country, which is extremely attractive for us.

In the field of influencer marketing, both AnyMind and Engawa have their own influencer network in Southeast Asia and China, respectively, and will be able to operate them in an integrated manner and add them to each other’s client proposal menus. AnyMind Japan, the Japanese subsidiary of AnyMind, has more than 100 employees, and Ushiyama’s addition to AnyMind Japan’s board of two managing directors (CEO Sogo plus Junki Kitajima, CEO of Grove, whose company was acquired by AnyMind earlier last year) is expected to strengthen the management structure.

Last year, AnyMind launched its out-of-home (OOH) ad business by rolling out digital signage across Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, which will be the first milestone to build a network of digital signage in regional airports across the country. In view of helping strengthen the promotion and marketing solutions for local companies through Engawa, the expansion of this digital signage ad network all across regional airports in Japan will be also a tail wind for both companies.

Japan’s biotech firm Spiber secures $240M to build polymer production facility in US

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Spiber has been developing plant-based artificial protein fiber material called Brewed Protein. The Japanese startup announced on Wednesday that it has secured 25 billion yen (about $240 million) utilizing a value securitization structure. This funding round uses the company’s tangible and intangible assets as collateral to solicit funds from a wide range of investors, which allows them to get funds without making choices like debt financing or third-party allocation of shares which is likely to take time to negotiate with lenders or cause equity dilution. This round was arranged by Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities with participation from The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ as the initial lender and a credit investor while the names of the other investors participating have not been disclosed. Spiber signed a collaboration agreement with US-based grain producing major Archer-Daniels Linseed Company (NYSE:ADM) in September. The funds will be used to build a mass production system for brewed protein in the US in addition to research and development of new materials scheduled to launch in several years. Spiber was founded in 2007 as a spin-off from the Institute for Advanced Biosciences at Keio University in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture. Since its incorporating, the company has to…

Brewed Protein
Image credit: Spiber

Spiber has been developing plant-based artificial protein fiber material called Brewed Protein. The Japanese startup announced on Wednesday that it has secured 25 billion yen (about $240 million) utilizing a value securitization structure. This funding round uses the company’s tangible and intangible assets as collateral to solicit funds from a wide range of investors, which allows them to get funds without making choices like debt financing or third-party allocation of shares which is likely to take time to negotiate with lenders or cause equity dilution.

This round was arranged by Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities with participation from The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ as the initial lender and a credit investor while the names of the other investors participating have not been disclosed. Spiber signed a collaboration agreement with US-based grain producing major Archer-Daniels Linseed Company (NYSE:ADM) in September. The funds will be used to build a mass production system for brewed protein in the US in addition to research and development of new materials scheduled to launch in several years.

Spiber was founded in 2007 as a spin-off from the Institute for Advanced Biosciences at Keio University in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture. Since its incorporating, the company has to date secured an estimated amount of over 35 billion yen (about $340 million). In April of 2019, the company secured 5 billion yen ($48.4 million) in syndicated loans from The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Yamagata Bank, Shonai Bank, and Tsuruoka Shinkin Bank to develop a huge world-class plant for protein fermentation and purification operations in eastern Thailand (Rayong Province). The company is reportedly valued at over 111.5 yen ($1.08 billion).

Initially focused on spider silk which is said to be the strongest material on earth, the company had been developing a man-made synthetic fiber material called Qmonos. However, although the protein fibroin in spider silk is strong, it causes super shrinkage when wet, making it difficult to maintain the dimensional stability of products made from the material. Subsequently the startup succeeded to develop a protein fiber with high dimensional stability by removing the amino acid sequence features causing shrinkage from the fibroin gene, and rebranded Qmonos into Brewed Protein.

The new material is produced by microbial fermentation from plant-based sugars such as glucose and sucrose, which does not require any petroleum-derived material at all. It attracts huge attention because of many use cases: a microplastic-free and non-animal-derived material in the apparel industry, contributing to weight reduction in the logistics industry, a next-generation core material for artificial hair in the medical industry.

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Japan’s QD Laser, developer of retinal scanning displays, files for IPO

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Japanese startup QD Laser, the developer of retinal scanning displays called the Retissa series, announced on Monday that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on February 5 of 2021 with plans to offer 9,451,800 shares for public subscription and to sell 2,033,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 4,107,600 shares. The underwriting will be led by SMBC Nikko securities while QD Laser’s ticker code will be 6613. Based on the estimated issue price of 275 yen (about $2.65), the company will be valued at 9.51 billion yen (about $91.7 million). Its share price range will be released on January 20 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on January 21 and pricing on January 27. According to the consolidated statement as of March 2020, they posted revenue of 756.63 million yen ($7.3 million) with an ordinary loss of 1.23 billion yen ($11.8 million). QD Laser was established in 2006 as a spin-off from Fujitsu Laboratories where QD Laser’s founder and CEO Mitsuru Sugawara was previously quantum dot lasers. Using the company’s technology, images can be directly delivered onto the device wearer’s retina from a laser…

Retissa Display II
Image credit: QD Laser

Japanese startup QD Laser, the developer of retinal scanning displays called the Retissa series, announced on Monday that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on February 5 of 2021 with plans to offer 9,451,800 shares for public subscription and to sell 2,033,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 4,107,600 shares. The underwriting will be led by SMBC Nikko securities while QD Laser’s ticker code will be 6613.

Based on the estimated issue price of 275 yen (about $2.65), the company will be valued at 9.51 billion yen (about $91.7 million). Its share price range will be released on January 20 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on January 21 and pricing on January 27. According to the consolidated statement as of March 2020, they posted revenue of 756.63 million yen ($7.3 million) with an ordinary loss of 1.23 billion yen ($11.8 million).

QD Laser was established in 2006 as a spin-off from Fujitsu Laboratories where QD Laser’s founder and CEO Mitsuru Sugawara was previously quantum dot lasers. Using the company’s technology, images can be directly delivered onto the device wearer’s retina from a laser projector built inside the frame, and has the potential to improve the quality of life (QoL) of the visually impaired who are not totally blind but are forced to live in a blurred world. It is also expected to be applied to augmented reality and smart glasses.

Led by Japanese computer manufacturing giant Fujitsu (26.64% through their three funds, TSE:6702), the company’s major shareholders include Tokyo Century (TSE:8439, 13.02%), Mitsui & Co. Global Investment (12.45%), Axa Life Insurance (6.80%), QD Laser’s Sugawara (5.17%), Beyond Next Ventures (2.67%), Daiichi Life Insurance, Realtech Fund (2.66%), DG Ventures (2.36%), and Nikko-SBI Innovation Fund (2.36%).

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