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Japan’s Sagri secures $1.4M to roll out satellite-based solutions for farmers

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See the original story in Japanese. Sagri, the Japanese startup behind a satellite-based agricultural analytics platform under the same name, announced on Wednesday that it has secured 155 million yen (about $1.4 million US) in its latest round. This round is led by Real Tech Fund with participatioin from Minato Capital, Senshu Ikeda Capital, Hiroshima Venture Capital, and Hyogo Kobe Startup Fund (managed by Bonds Investment Group, Hyogo Prefecture, and Kobe City). This is the first investment for Hyogo Kobe Startup Fund. For Sagri, this follows their angel round securing funds from Hiroya Hanafusa (CEO of Alan Products) plus Glocalink back in January of 2019 and another round funding based on the J-KISS scheme back in April of 2010. The gap between their current capital amount and the size of the latest round allows us to estimate how much they have secured in the past rounds. The round stage is considered to be a seed round. Sagri gets soil conditions (corrosion content) using satellite data and updates on farm products and varieties from farmers to create a blockchain-powered database. Putting these altogether, the company tells farmers how to improve soil conditions from biological, chemical and physical viewpoints in addition to…

From left: CTO Takashi Tanaka, CEO Shunsuke Tsuboi, COO Shu Masuda, Real Tech Fund CEO Yukihiro Maru
Image credit: Sagri

See the original story in Japanese.

Sagri, the Japanese startup behind a satellite-based agricultural analytics platform under the same name, announced on Wednesday that it has secured 155 million yen (about $1.4 million US) in its latest round. This round is led by Real Tech Fund with participatioin from Minato Capital, Senshu Ikeda Capital, Hiroshima Venture Capital, and Hyogo Kobe Startup Fund (managed by Bonds Investment Group, Hyogo Prefecture, and Kobe City). This is the first investment for Hyogo Kobe Startup Fund.

For Sagri, this follows their angel round securing funds from Hiroya Hanafusa (CEO of Alan Products) plus Glocalink back in January of 2019 and another round funding based on the J-KISS scheme back in April of 2010. The gap between their current capital amount and the size of the latest round allows us to estimate how much they have secured in the past rounds. The round stage is considered to be a seed round.

CEO Tsuboi delivered a pitch at Demo Day of Rock Thailand 2nd batch in Bangkok in December of 2019.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Sagri gets soil conditions (corrosion content) using satellite data and updates on farm products and varieties from farmers to create a blockchain-powered database. Putting these altogether, the company tells farmers how to improve soil conditions from biological, chemical and physical viewpoints in addition to offering them with accurate measurement to help farmers get more harvest. They have also developed a scoring scheme evaluating farmland by soil conditions data and macro data of corrosion content.

Conventional methods measuring nitrogen in soil were expensive while the company has succeeded in lowering the cost using satellite data. Focused on what, rice and sugar cane, the technology can give farmers harvest prediction and advise them how much fertilizer they should use. By sending all these insights to financial institutions, the company encourages them give loans to local farmers in India while the Japanese government leverages the technology to determine the status of fallow fields to see if then can resume cultivation.

Actaba
Image credit: Sagri

Inspired on their own service rolled out in India, the company has the Actaba platform to help detect abandoned fields. In Japan, local government officials keep visiting and checking their area to find abandoned fields. However, based on the wavelength data obtained from satellites, Sagri’s AI-based technology has improved to determine whether the land is abandoned or not with over 90 percent accuracy, leading to more efficient work. More than 10 city governments all across the country, including Tsukuba, Kobe, Nagoya, and Kaga, are planning to start demonstration tests within this year.

Another pillar of Sagri’s business is the AI polygon to curate and manage accuurate plots of farmlands. In Japan, plots are manually drawn on the lanp map provided by the Agricultural Ministry but inaccurate map data may cause danger for applications such as aerial fertilizer spraying by autonomous drone flight. The company is planning to accelerate its farming business by plotting farmland in various regions in Japan, India, and Thailand. It will use satellite data to obtain data such as carbon, nitrogen content and pH in farmlands, aiming to help improve the efficiency of fertilization process.

Sagri were qualified for the MUFG Digital Accelerator 4th Batch and the 500 Kobe 3rd Batch followed by attending the 2nd batch of Rock Thailand, a cross-border open innovation event organized by the Embassy of Japan in Thailand and CP Group, one of the largest conglomerate in Thailand.

DeepTech hub launched in Okinawa, offering over $4M to startups from around the globe

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The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) and Beyond Next Ventures announced today that they have reached a partnership aiming to strengthen investments in and building an innovation ecosystem of DeepTech startups in Okinawa. Following the partnership, the two parties are launching the OIST-BNV Innovation Hub, or OBI-Hub for short. It aims to provide DeepTech startups from around the world with investment opportunities and other services to implement their innovations into society. OIST will provide technology, a network of industry experts, and on-campus incubation facilities, while BNV will provide funding and hands-on support for startups. Applications for joining the platform will be accepted online starting on June 1. OBI-Hub plans to invest up to 500 million yen ($4.6 million US) in qualified startups over the next two years. Founded back in 2016, BNV is a Tokyo-based VC firm focused on startups on life sciences and technology seeds. The firm runs the BRAVE acceleration program as well as the Beyond BioLAB TOKYO shared lab in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. OIST operates an on-campus accelerator and incubator called iSquare, also collaborating with the Okinawa Startup Program, a startup support program run by local enterprises in Okinawa. BNV joined the seed round of an…

The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST)
Image credit: OIST

The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) and Beyond Next Ventures announced today that they have reached a partnership aiming to strengthen investments in and building an innovation ecosystem of DeepTech startups in Okinawa. Following the partnership, the two parties are launching the OIST-BNV Innovation Hub, or OBI-Hub for short. It aims to provide DeepTech startups from around the world with investment opportunities and other services to implement their innovations into society.

OIST will provide technology, a network of industry experts, and on-campus incubation facilities, while BNV will provide funding and hands-on support for startups. Applications for joining the platform will be accepted online starting on June 1. OBI-Hub plans to invest up to 500 million yen ($4.6 million US) in qualified startups over the next two years.

Founded back in 2016, BNV is a Tokyo-based VC firm focused on startups on life sciences and technology seeds. The firm runs the BRAVE acceleration program as well as the Beyond BioLAB TOKYO shared lab in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. OIST operates an on-campus accelerator and incubator called iSquare, also collaborating with the Okinawa Startup Program, a startup support program run by local enterprises in Okinawa. BNV joined the seed round of an OIST startup EF Polymer last month.

HRTech startup SmartHR becomes Japan’s 6th unicorn after raising $110M+: Nikkei

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Nikkei reported on Friday Japanese HRTech startup SmartHR has secured about 12.5 billion yen (about $115 million US) in the latest series D round, which brought their valuation up to 170 billion yen ($1.6 billion US) and let them join the Unicorn Club. According to CB Insights, Japan has now five unicorns including Paidy joining the club earlier this year, and SmartHR will be the 6th unicorn for the country. Founded back in 2013 as Kufu, SmartHR automates procedures related to social insurance and unemployment insurance. It was developed to free up managers or human resources representatives from tiresome and time-consuming personnel management. According to the figures as far as we could add up the amounts of funding in the past, the company has apparently secured over $185 million US to date. See also: Japanese HRTech startup SmartHR secures $13M series B from Tokio Marine, Nissen Japan’s cloud-based personnel management tool SmartHR secures $5M from WiL, others Japan’s SmartHR, cloud-based personnel management platform, secures seed round

SmartHR Founder and CEO Shoji Miyata

Nikkei reported on Friday Japanese HRTech startup SmartHR has secured about 12.5 billion yen (about $115 million US) in the latest series D round, which brought their valuation up to 170 billion yen ($1.6 billion US) and let them join the Unicorn Club. According to CB Insights, Japan has now five unicorns including Paidy joining the club earlier this year, and SmartHR will be the 6th unicorn for the country.

Founded back in 2013 as Kufu, SmartHR automates procedures related to social insurance and unemployment insurance. It was developed to free up managers or human resources representatives from tiresome and time-consuming personnel management. According to the figures as far as we could add up the amounts of funding in the past, the company has apparently secured over $185 million US to date.

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Secai Marche nabs $1.4M to extend food supply chain connecting farmers with F&B in Asia

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Tokyo- / Kuala Lumpur-based Secai Marche, the Japanese startup behind a shared food supply chain for the Southeast Asian market under the same name, announced on Tuesday that it has secured 150 million yen (about $1.4 million US) from Beyond Next Ventures and Rakuten Ventures. The company plans to use the funds to strengthen its fresh food fulfillment service, hire new talents, and enhance its marketing effort. Since its launch back in July of 2018, the company has been offering a cold supply chain connecting farmers and food producers with F&B businesses in the Southeast Asian market, especially optimized for the delivery of low-volume and high-mix orders. Supply chains for fresh produce in the region is usually operated by the supplier side, which are optimized for bulk deliveries and therefore difficult to use it for small restaurants which typically ask for small orders or niche needs. The company wants to solve the problem by building a shared supply chain allowing several different food suppliers to use for delivery. The company says more than 100 farmers and food producers in Japan and ASEAN as well as more than 300 restaurants and hotels are using the 20-month-old platform. In view of optimized…

The Secai Marche team
Image credit: Secai Marche

Tokyo- / Kuala Lumpur-based Secai Marche, the Japanese startup behind a shared food supply chain for the Southeast Asian market under the same name, announced on Tuesday that it has secured 150 million yen (about $1.4 million US) from Beyond Next Ventures and Rakuten Ventures. The company plans to use the funds to strengthen its fresh food fulfillment service, hire new talents, and enhance its marketing effort.

Since its launch back in July of 2018, the company has been offering a cold supply chain connecting farmers and food producers with F&B businesses in the Southeast Asian market, especially optimized for the delivery of low-volume and high-mix orders.

Supply chains for fresh produce in the region is usually operated by the supplier side, which are optimized for bulk deliveries and therefore difficult to use it for small restaurants which typically ask for small orders or niche needs. The company wants to solve the problem by building a shared supply chain allowing several different food suppliers to use for delivery.

The company says more than 100 farmers and food producers in Japan and ASEAN as well as more than 300 restaurants and hotels are using the 20-month-old platform.

In view of optimized fresh food supply chain startups in the region, Thailand’s Freshket raised US$3 million in a Series A round last year, Y Combinator Alumni Eden Farm from Indonesia won a pre-Series A round in March this year, and Singapore-based Glife raised US$1.18 million in a seed round in 2019.

via PR Times

One Capital’s first fund holds final close at $145M, invests in 8 startups

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Tokyo-based VC firm One Capital announced on Tuesday that it has reached the final close of its first fund at 16 billion yen (about $145 million US), more than three times oversubscribed from its original target 5 billion yen ($45.8 million US). According to Preqin, data resource for the alternative asset industry, the fund is the largest-ever single one managed by an independent firm in Japan. One Capital was established in April last year by Shinji Asada, the former head of Salesforce Ventures Japan, and Wataru Sakakura, former managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group. Asada and Sasakura serves the firm as CEO and COO, respectively. The firm says 70% of the fund’s amount would be targeted to enterprise software startups that can help realize the Future of Work”. In addition to the investors joining the fund by the time of the first close last year, the firm introducecd medical kit maker Hogi Medical, a medical kit maker, the Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, Japan (SME), En Japan (TSE:4849), Z venture capital (foremerly known as YJ Capital), and gas and power distribution company Saisan as new limited partners. Given that overseas individual and corporate investors…

Image credit: One Capital

Tokyo-based VC firm One Capital announced on Tuesday that it has reached the final close of its first fund at 16 billion yen (about $145 million US), more than three times oversubscribed from its original target 5 billion yen ($45.8 million US). According to Preqin, data resource for the alternative asset industry, the fund is the largest-ever single one managed by an independent firm in Japan.

One Capital was established in April last year by Shinji Asada, the former head of Salesforce Ventures Japan, and Wataru Sakakura, former managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group. Asada and Sasakura serves the firm as CEO and COO, respectively. The firm says 70% of the fund’s amount would be targeted to enterprise software startups that can help realize the Future of Work”.

In addition to the investors joining the fund by the time of the first close last year, the firm introducecd medical kit maker Hogi Medical, a medical kit maker, the Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation, Japan (SME), En Japan (TSE:4849), Z venture capital (foremerly known as YJ Capital), and gas and power distribution company Saisan as new limited partners. Given that overseas individual and corporate investors account for over 40% of the fund’s investors, Asada told Bridge that it indicates overseas investors’ unparalleled expectations for the Japanese market.

Image credit: One Capital

One of One Capital’s symbolic investment policies is to focus on the SaaS vertical. Bessember Venture Partners, a long-established VC firm in the US known for having helped over 120 companies IPO, create an index from the stock prices of NASDAQ-listed SaaS companies and publishes it as EMCLOUD. Inspired by this, One Capital also started sharing an index based on the stock prices of listed SaaS companies in Japan, which clearly shows them growing more steadily than other stocks categorized in Nikkei 225 or Mothers.

Of the $10 billion enterprise software market in Japan (according to IDC Japan’s “Domestic Enterprise IT Market Forecast”, May 2020), SaaS businesses account for only 6%, at $5.5 billion (according to Fuji Chimera Research Institute’s “Software Business New Market 2020 Edition”). Rather than conventional packaged software, more and more companies prefer to use SaaS platforms where functions are constantly improved even after installation, and the Japanese market, with its large growth potential, is attractive to foreign investors, Asada says.

One Capital has has invested in the following eight companies from the first fund so far:

  • Beatrust (Employee Search Engine)
  • Boulder (Employee Success Tool)
  • Tonari (life-size video conferencing system)
  • ROXX (Reference Checking Tool)
  • oVice (Virtual Office)
  • Nota (FAQ system)
  • Spir(Calendly-like appointment scheduling tool)
  • Oura (ring-shaped IoT healthcare device)

The last of these, Oura, is unique in the list because it is a Finnish and also IoT startup. It can be also seen as a SaaS startup in terms of offering a dashboard to collect and analyze data from IoT devices. Furethermore, since it allocates a certain percentage of its first fund to investing in overseas startups aiming to enter the Japanese market, which encouraged the firm to join the Series C round of Oura.

UTokyo-related VC firm UTEC raises $275M fifth fund, launches acceleration program

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The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC) announced on Monday that it has launched its fifth fund. The firm made the first close of the fund which is eventually expected to secure up to 30 billion yen (about $275 million US). The fund’s investors have not been disclosed but Nikkei says the majority of them are institutional investors including sovereign wealth funds from Southeast Asia. The fund’s ticket size is up to 2.5 billion yen ($22.9 million US) per investment and company. Since its launch back in 2004, UTEC has been running five funds worth 85 billion yen ($780 million US) in the total commitment amount. It has invested in more than 110 companies, 13 of which have IPO-ed and 12 of which have been acquired by other companies. The total market cap of the IPO-ed 13 companies reached 1.5 trillion yen ($13.7 billion US) as of December 2020. The fund can invest in startups at various stages while we may recall recent funding from the fund such as Startbahn (blockchain-based certificate issuing for art) and Kuzen (no-code interactive AI platform). UTEC also announced that it has launched the UTEC Founders Program (UFP), an open-ended support program for startups…

The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC) announced on Monday that it has launched its fifth fund. The firm made the first close of the fund which is eventually expected to secure up to 30 billion yen (about $275 million US). The fund’s investors have not been disclosed but Nikkei says the majority of them are institutional investors including sovereign wealth funds from Southeast Asia. The fund’s ticket size is up to 2.5 billion yen ($22.9 million US) per investment and company.

Since its launch back in 2004, UTEC has been running five funds worth 85 billion yen ($780 million US) in the total commitment amount. It has invested in more than 110 companies, 13 of which have IPO-ed and 12 of which have been acquired by other companies. The total market cap of the IPO-ed 13 companies reached 1.5 trillion yen ($13.7 billion US) as of December 2020. The fund can invest in startups at various stages while we may recall recent funding from the fund such as Startbahn (blockchain-based certificate issuing for art) and Kuzen (no-code interactive AI platform).

UTEC also announced that it has launched the UTEC Founders Program (UFP), an open-ended support program for startups in the science and technology fields. The program consists of two tracks: the Equity Track, which provides up to 100 million yen in equity investment, and the Grant Track, which provides up to 5 million yen in grant. Equity Track applications are accepted at all times while Grant Track ones will be accepted from June 15 to July 31.

Japan’s Brazil Venture Capital announces first close of $9M second fund

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In 2020, startup investment in Brazil reached US$3.5 billion, up 30% from the previous year, while the number of unicorns in 2020 increased by 3 to 14. Meanwhile, that in Japan reached US$4.32 billion, and the number of unicorns increased by Spider alone to 7 during the same period. This indicates that Brazil has produced unicorns at about twice the rate of Japan so far and last year despite having experienced one of the worst pandemic situation in the world. Mitsuru Nakayama, founder and CEO of Brazil Venture Capital (BVC) has been forced to stay inside Japan due to the pandemic but been busy to remotely support startups which are typically located on the other sdide of the planet. Thanks to the efforts of newly joined partners and associates in Brazil and Peru, the firm’s investment activities are keeping going well. BVC announced its second fund with a targeted final size of 1 billion yen in December, and has reached its first close and disclosed the names of their investors and two invested startups. Most of the fund’s investors are angels in Japan as follows (except for those who don’t want to be named): Shintaro Okuno — Managing Partner and…

BVC’s Mitsuru Nakayama
Image credit: BVC

In 2020, startup investment in Brazil reached US$3.5 billion, up 30% from the previous year, while the number of unicorns in 2020 increased by 3 to 14. Meanwhile, that in Japan reached US$4.32 billion, and the number of unicorns increased by Spider alone to 7 during the same period. This indicates that Brazil has produced unicorns at about twice the rate of Japan so far and last year despite having experienced one of the worst pandemic situation in the world.

Mitsuru Nakayama, founder and CEO of Brazil Venture Capital (BVC) has been forced to stay inside Japan due to the pandemic but been busy to remotely support startups which are typically located on the other sdide of the planet. Thanks to the efforts of newly joined partners and associates in Brazil and Peru, the firm’s investment activities are keeping going well. BVC announced its second fund with a targeted final size of 1 billion yen in December, and has reached its first close and disclosed the names of their investors and two invested startups.

Most of the fund’s investors are angels in Japan as follows (except for those who don’t want to be named):

  • Shintaro Okuno — Managing Partner and Head of Tokyo, Bain & Company
  • Haruo Amano — Executive Vice President, Hennge
  • Soki Ohmae — Co-Founder and Representative Partner, Drone Fund
  • Ken Soga — President, SGcapital
  • Shota Kawaminami — Executive Officer, HENNGE
  • Tatsuya Matsuoka — President, Japan Medical Support Institute
  • Nobuaki Takahashi — Founder, Phil Company / PHALs

Second Fund’s portfolio 1: Digital Restaurants sees a spree.

Image credit: Digital Restaurants

In late April, Europe-based Taster announced it has secured 27 million euros. The startup wants to call themselves a digital restaurant brand rather than a ghost restaurant or a cloud kitchen operator because they dare not just providing cooking resources behind third-party brands but trying to build new brands themselves. The sales in Paris of Europe’s leading food delivery operator Deliveroo recently showed a consolidation of Taster brands was ranked in third place following McDonald’s and Burger King.

Pedro Neira Ferrand, a four-time serial entrepreneur from Peru, launched Digital Restaurants. Approved to join renowned entrepreneur support networks like Endeavor and Founders Network, he had been running a Latin America-focused dating app called MiMediaManzana (already shut down) prior to the current startup.

Digital Restaurants has partnered with MCK Hospitality, an operator behind the Japanese-Peruvian restaurant chain Osaka being operated in major Latin American cities, and is now operating several digital restaurant brands like Lucky’s Crispy Chicken, Poke for the People and Black Burger. Currently, the company is only serving Peru but it may be easier for them to expand into other markets in South America where MCK has been running their operations.

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Second Fund’s portfolio 2: Mono is an Colombian answer to neobank.

Image credit: Mono

In our previous interview with Nakayama, he said that many local people are experiencing fewer access to financial services in Latin America while financial infrastructure is in place. If any startup can use the infrastructure to provide innovative services which are too cumbersome for conventional banksto provide, it could be a huge market out there. One example is ContaSimples, an investee from BVC’s first fund. The Brazilian startup currently serves 13,000 customers, planning to triple it by the end of the year. In late last year, they secured a US$2.5 million funding led by Brazil’s FinTech-focused VC firm Quartz.

We can guess that Mono is a Colombian answer to ContaSimples. It’s seeing a high growth by issuing credit cards to entrepreneurs and sole proprietors with no credit history but high demand for card payments in their business. All four of Mono’s founders have previously worked at fintech startups, including the two who has been selected in a Y Combinator-qualified startup (tpaga, selected for the YC S17 batch).

A growing number of startups from the fintech industry are joining the unicorn club in Latin America, including local neobanks like Brazil’s Nubank and Argentina’s Uala we well as payments startups like Uruguay’s dLocal and Mexico’s Clip. What is more, many of these unicorns have common in terms of having got SoftBank Vision Fund as an investor. SoftBank tends to invest in the middle or later stage, it is interesting to note that BVC is able to reach out to potential unicorns in the early stage.


BVC has also informally agreed with four Brazilian startups to invest in them from its second fund shortly. The first fund, launched in August 2016, has invested in 12 companies so far, and Nakayama told us that they would see some exits from that portfolio pretty soon. The first fund’s portfolio includes bxblue (automated payroll loans), ContaSimples, ARPAC (drone technology for efficient pesticide spraying).

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Dentsu launches second $91M startup-focused fund

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Dentsu Group (TSE:4324) has recently launched Dentsu Ventures Fund II, the second fund worth 10 billion yen (about $91 million) by its corporate venture capital arm Dentsu Ventures. Combining with the Fund I launched back in April of 2015, they now have 20 billion yen (about $184 million) cash for startup investments. According to the arm’s Managing Partner Kotaro Sasamoto, the second fund will be focused on investing in both Japanese and foreign startups with exploring potential synergy while the first fund was more focused on investing in mid- and later-stage foreign startups planning to enter the Japanese market. From its first fund, Dentsu Ventures had invested in about 40 startups, mainly in the US, and been targeting mid- and later-stage startups in the bioscience and healthcare industries which are less likely to work with Dentsu’s primary business. Their remarkable investees from the first fund include Nextbit (the developer of the Robin cloud-optimized smartphone, acquired by Razer), Cheddar (a video news service for millennials, acquired by Altice USA), and Twist Bioscience (DNA synthesis startup, IPOed). Sasamoto says, From our first fund, more than 30 out of 40 invested startups are from the overseas, with an eye on potential synergy with…

The Dentsu Ventures team
Image credit: Dentsu Ventures

Dentsu Group (TSE:4324) has recently launched Dentsu Ventures Fund II, the second fund worth 10 billion yen (about $91 million) by its corporate venture capital arm Dentsu Ventures. Combining with the Fund I launched back in April of 2015, they now have 20 billion yen (about $184 million) cash for startup investments. According to the arm’s Managing Partner Kotaro Sasamoto, the second fund will be focused on investing in both Japanese and foreign startups with exploring potential synergy while the first fund was more focused on investing in mid- and later-stage foreign startups planning to enter the Japanese market.

From its first fund, Dentsu Ventures had invested in about 40 startups, mainly in the US, and been targeting mid- and later-stage startups in the bioscience and healthcare industries which are less likely to work with Dentsu’s primary business. Their remarkable investees from the first fund include Nextbit (the developer of the Robin cloud-optimized smartphone, acquired by Razer), Cheddar (a video news service for millennials, acquired by Altice USA), and Twist Bioscience (DNA synthesis startup, IPOed).

Sasamoto says,

From our first fund, more than 30 out of 40 invested startups are from the overseas, with an eye on potential synergy with Dentsu’s future business domain in 5 to 10 years from now. We had invested in very few Japanese startups such as Alp (developing the Scalebase platform helping subscription businesses maximize revenue) and Kakehashi (SaaS for pharmacists).

From the second fund, we would like to more work with Japanese startups in collaboration with Dentsu Innovation Initiative (DII), especially focused on investing in the areas a little bit closer to our core business such as MarTech, SalesTech, retail, commerce, media, and community. We expect to co-create new business with them.

Dentsu Ventures’ portfolio
Image credit: Dentsu Ventures

DII is Dentsu’s R&D arm with the mission of “creating the future businesses that only Dentsu can create”, promoting investment in and business development with promising global startups and technology companies with an aim to create the business infrastructure for the future. It has recently been offering internships with business development in mind. Dentsu Ventures intends to strengthen its investment efforts with an eye to have startups co-create not only with the Dentsu Group and its affiliated companies but also with their clients.

Compared to the first fund, the COVID-19 pandemic has apparently influenced to changing the policy of the second fund because it is no longer possible for investors to hop around foreign destinations for sourcing startups and their due diligence. On the other hand, six years have been passed since the launch of Dentsu Ventures, they are getting better recognized in the startup landscape, which may be partly due to the fact that it is now more likely to be able to lead or co-lead investment deals in the seed stage, both in Japan and overseas.

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.

UTokyo-backed fund sizes up to $220M+, works with other univs to help more startups

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UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC), a VC firm backed by the University of Tokyo, has agreed with the University of Tsukuba, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, and Tokyo Institute of Technology to operate together the firm-led entrepreneurship support program called 1st Round. This means four national universities in the Tokyo metropolitan area join forces in sourcing more budding startup teams to help nurture and fund. The 1st Round program was originally launched in 2017 and then rebranded as the current name in 2019. Inspired by Stanford University-backed StartX, the program helps graduates, faculty members, and students who are looking to start their own businesses, as well as university-related seed startups that have not yet raised funds, with up to 10 million yen (about $100,000 US) in funding and hands-on support for six months. Selected startups will receive a variety of resource support for PoC (proof of concept), collaboration, and commercialization from the program’s partners. Fuyo General Lease, JR East Japan Startup, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, PCA, Mitsui Fudosan, Nippon Life Insurance, Toyota Motor, Yamato Holdings, and Yaskawa Electric are joining the latest batch, the fifth of its kind, as partners. The program has turned out 34 startups to…

The UTokyo IPC team
Image credit: UTokyo IPC

UTokyo Innovation Platform (UTokyo IPC), a VC firm backed by the University of Tokyo, has agreed with the University of Tsukuba, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, and Tokyo Institute of Technology to operate together the firm-led entrepreneurship support program called 1st Round. This means four national universities in the Tokyo metropolitan area join forces in sourcing more budding startup teams to help nurture and fund.

The 1st Round program was originally launched in 2017 and then rebranded as the current name in 2019. Inspired by Stanford University-backed StartX, the program helps graduates, faculty members, and students who are looking to start their own businesses, as well as university-related seed startups that have not yet raised funds, with up to 10 million yen (about $100,000 US) in funding and hands-on support for six months.

Selected startups will receive a variety of resource support for PoC (proof of concept), collaboration, and commercialization from the program’s partners. Fuyo General Lease, JR East Japan Startup, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, PCA, Mitsui Fudosan, Nippon Life Insurance, Toyota Motor, Yamato Holdings, and Yaskawa Electric are joining the latest batch, the fifth of its kind, as partners.

The program has turned out 34 startups to date. Among the alumni, our readers may recall interesting startups which have secured funds from UTokyo IPC, such as HarvestX (from the 3rd round, developing automated pollination and harvesting of strawberries), ARAV (from the 3rd round), developing remote control and autonomous drive of construction machinery), as well as Sonus (from the 4th round, developing the power-saving multi-hop wireless network technology). 90% of the teams graduated from the program have successfully secured VC funding.

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UTokyo IPC revealed that it has significantly enlarge the size of the firm’s AOI Fund (named after Accelerating Open Innovation) which was introduced announced last May. Worth 2.75 billion yen (about $25 million) at the time, it has now grown up to 24 billion yen (about $219 million). In addition to conventional investors like Mitsubishi UFJ Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Bank, SBI Group, Daikin Industries, Development Bank of Japan Group, Hakuhodo, Fuyo General Lease, and Mitsubishi Estate have newly invested in the fund as limited partners.

The disclosed six startups which have secured investments from the AOI fund are:

  • Fimecs …… research and development of novel drugs based on proteolysis induction (carve-out from Takeda Pharmaceutical)
  • Onedot …… operating the Chinese childcare media Babily and helping Japanese e-commerce companies make digital strategies and marketing efforts for the Chinese market (carve-out from Unicharm and BCG Digital Ventures)
  • Bird Initiative …… Offering consulting services for solving company issues through digital transformation as well as prototyping services for expanding R&D functions (joint venture with NEC and others)
  • UrbanX Technologies …… building a real-time Digital Twin for road inspections and urban infrastructure management
  • HarvestX …… developing automated pollination and harvesting of strawberries
  • ARAV …… developing remote control and autonomous drive of construction machinery

UTokyo IPC plans to more actively invest in startups from these universities. As the fund has become larger, it is now able to handle ticket sizes ranging from a seed investment worth tens of millions of yen to a large-scale one worth more than 2 billion yen, according to the firm.