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Taiwan’s SkyREC, analytics tool for real stores, wins Slush Asia 2016 pitch finals

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See the original story in Japanese. Slush Asia website casinoceske.com took place on May 13th and 14th at the Makuhari Messe exhibition halls in Chiba. Among 60 nominees fiercely competing during the 2-day event, Taiwan-based SkyREC — which is developing an analytics platform for real stores — won this year’s startup pitch competition. Taiwanese startups won for two consecutive years following Slush Asia 2015 last year. Top award winner: SkyREC (Taiwan) Supplemental awards: Premium support worth 1 million yen from Google, 55,000 miles point from Japan Airlines, legal services worth $15,000 from the law firm Orrick and 1 million yen in cash from Autodesk SkyREC is a Google Analytics for real stores, allows users to understand how many times and also how long wherein the store customers have been gathing at the most. It will demonstrate a great capability in finding customer flow lines, hot-selling items as well as unpopular items with 12 different core analytics solutions. At a certain store in Taiwan, it could improve in-store customer traffic 10% and monthly revenue 18% after three months since implementing the SkyREC solution. Since its launch in December of 2015, the solution has been adopted by 400 stores, planning to be…

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See the original story in Japanese.

Slush Asia

took place on May 13th and 14th at the Makuhari Messe exhibition halls in Chiba. Among 60 nominees fiercely competing during the 2-day event, Taiwan-based SkyREC — which is developing an analytics platform for real stores — won this year’s startup pitch competition. Taiwanese startups won for two consecutive years following Slush Asia 2015 last year.

Top award winner: SkyREC (Taiwan)

Supplemental awards: Premium support worth 1 million yen from Google, 55,000 miles point from Japan Airlines, legal services worth $15,000 from the law firm Orrick and 1 million yen in cash from Autodesk

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SkyREC is a Google Analytics for real stores, allows users to understand how many times and also how long wherein the store customers have been gathing at the most. It will demonstrate a great capability in finding customer flow lines, hot-selling items as well as unpopular items with 12 different core analytics solutions.

At a certain store in Taiwan, it could improve in-store customer traffic 10% and monthly revenue 18% after three months since implementing the SkyREC solution. Since its launch in December of 2015, the solution has been adopted by 400 stores, planning to be deployed into 64,000 stores under 30 brands. This startup was born out of the 11th batch of Taiwan’s AppWorks accelerator.

Recruit Strategic Partners award winner: Giroptic (France)

Supplemental awards: 500,000 yen in cash and one-year free rent until September 2016 of TECH LAB PAAK co-working space in Shibuya, Tokyo

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Giroptic has developed a camera device which enables capture of 360-degree motion pictures with three micro cameras and three microphones but without any software. In addition to Nokia’s Ozo exhibited in the Slush Asia venue at this time, images captured by three cameras are stitched into one 360-degree video stream in real time with an onboard chip. It can be livestreamed via Wi-Fi too.

Typical use cases include projecting images using a virtual reality-enabled head-mounted display (HMD) or browsing on desktop but users can swipe it directly or horizontally towards where they want to look at. It can be also attached to a light bulb socket and work as a 360-degree CCTV camera which enables image transmissions via Wi-Fi in real time. The team has received about 4,000 pre-orders at a Kickstarter campaign in France. Giroptic has 48 employees in France and San Francisco, and is currently funded at $6.1 million.

PR Times award winner: Meleap (Japan)

Supplemental awards: One-year complimentary use of press release distribution from PR Times

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Meleap has developed a sports game environment called Hado, leveraging a combination of several technologies such as spatial perception, smartphone-based HMD and motion sensors. It virtually reproduces decorated rooms and townscapes for up to 10 users upon enjoying games or exercises. They will start with a B2B (business-to-business) model serving leisure and recreational service providers.

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The following two finalists could receive no award but were attracting much attention from an audience and judges:

Vectr (Taiwan)

Vectr is a one-stop graphic design platform that has been integrated with markup editor, prototyping tool and other several functions. With a professional account paying $25 monthly fee, users can use create documents making the most of templates, icons, fonts, stock photos, logs and illustration patterns provided on the platform. It also has editors and libraries for animated content, audios and videos as well.

Users can also sell their templates, icons, fonts, stock photos, logos and illustration patterns to other users through a marketplace. The company will take 30% of the price as a commission when the purchase is made.

MoBagel (Taiwan)

By collecting usage of IoT (Internet of Things) or “connected” home appliances, MoBagel provides consumer electronics manufacturers with business intelligence through a dashboard screen. It will help manufacturers understand usage or customer behaviors of their products. With this solution, manufacturers can grab statistics about how frequently their products are being used or demographics of their user base. Through the analysis, manufacturers can gain user insights that will definitely be useful for future product developments such as considering a suitable lifetime of batteries installed in their products.

Having partnered with Softbank, Philips, Panasonic and other consumer electronics companies, the company also secured $1 million in a seed round from 500 Startups, CyberAgent Ventures, SingTel’s Innov8 incubation initiative and Club Clover.

Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

18 startups from around the world compete at B Dash Camp pitch arena in Fukuoka

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This is a combined abridged version of the first article and the second article. As seen in this year’s theme ‘change,’ B Dash Camp 2016 Spring in Fukuoka was held earlier this month with a program agenda which differs a bit from conventional ones. From this time forward, the selection criteria for preliminary document screening was raised and the selection for finalist was conducted within the main session, while the selection had been conducted in a track behind the main session until last year. In this article, 18 teams including four finalists that all gave pitches at the arena have been described. The top winner was scheduled to be announced earlier this month. The five judges on the selection panel were as follows. Yu Akasaka (CEO, Eureka) Naoki Aoyagi (SVP, Global Operations and Business Development) Yusuke Asakura (Visiting Scholar, Stanford University) Hironao Kunimitsu (CEO, Gumi) Takuya Miyata (General Partner, Scrum Ventures) Award Winners Pitch Arena winner / Paypal Award winner: SmartHR by KUFU (Japan) Supplementary awards: Mentoring on product marketing and development (presented by Google) Amazon Fire Tablet (presented by Amazon Web Services) 1 million yen-worth of ads on Japanese career transition magazine Doda, arranging startup events for free at…

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This is a combined abridged version of the first article and the second article.

As seen in this year’s theme ‘change,’ B Dash Camp 2016 Spring in Fukuoka was held earlier this month with a program agenda which differs a bit from conventional ones. From this time forward, the selection criteria for preliminary document screening was raised and the selection for finalist was conducted within the main session, while the selection had been conducted in a track behind the main session until last year.

In this article, 18 teams including four finalists that all gave pitches at the arena have been described. The top winner was scheduled to be announced earlier this month. The five judges on the selection panel were as follows.

  • Yu Akasaka (CEO, Eureka)
  • Naoki Aoyagi (SVP, Global Operations and Business Development)
  • Yusuke Asakura (Visiting Scholar, Stanford University)
  • Hironao Kunimitsu (CEO, Gumi)
  • Takuya Miyata (General Partner, Scrum Ventures)

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Award Winners

Pitch Arena winner / Paypal Award winner: SmartHR by KUFU (Japan)

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Supplementary awards:

  • Mentoring on product marketing and development (presented by Google)
  • Amazon Fire Tablet (presented by Amazon Web Services)
  • 1 million yen-worth of ads on Japanese career transition magazine Doda, arranging startup events for free at startup community space Dots. in Shibuya (presented by Intelligence)
  • 50,000 bonus miles each for three people (presented by Japan Airlines)
  • 90,000 yen-worth of accommodation for the Atami Sekaie hot spring resort, plus a travel voucher for a two-day one-night trip for each of all team members (presented by Relux)
  • 1 million yen-worth of credits for Paypal transactions or product marketing (Presented by Paypal Japan)

SmartHR is an automation tool of employment insurance or social insurance for SMEs. It has already been adopted at 650 companies in three months since its official launch. It targets 4.19 million SMEs existing in Japan, employing in total 27 million people workers. In early March, the web application function for government office use was also launched upon cooperation with e-Gov API.

In the future, SmartHR aims to establish a health insurance society on its own in order to lower insurance fees on user SMEs. Moreover, it also plans provision of big data to insurance companies or cooperation businesswises with pharmaceutical companies.

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Pitch Arena Runner-up: Gozal by BEC (Japan)

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Supplementary awards:

  • 50,000 bonus miles each for two people (presented by Japan Airlines)

Gozal pursues back office automation for SMEs. Generally, SME managers are said to spend 30 days a year for back office works, yet they wonder uneasily whether the business operation had been carried out appropriately. This tool automates the back office operation utilizing machine learning as a cloud service. Currently, it supports 10 types of procedures online, and has been adopted by 1,000 companies. Gozal aims to enable completion of 100 types of procedures online by 2017.

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See also:

Sakura Internet Award winner: Nine by Lip (Japan)

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Supplementary awards:

  • a two-day one-night trip to Sakura Internet’s Ishikari Data Center in Hokkaido for all team members (Presented by Sakura Internet)

Since the Tinder matching app connects people only with profile photos, sometimes it gives matching results that are unbalanced. On the other hand, this Nine works linking with Instagram; extracting the user’s 9 photos from Instagram which were most highly rated, it aims to match by showing his/her daily life or personality to other users. Since each user’s instinctive profile is made automatically by AI (artificial intelligence) from Instagram containing a treasure trove about user personality, a rich stock can be brought in as chat-use topics after matching.

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Finalist

HelloWings by Outland (Taiwan)

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Taiwan-based HelloWings, formerly known as Tixchart, is a price comparison website focusing on LCC (low-cost carrier) tickets. It provides information about ticket prices comparing 3,000 LCC companies in 107 countries in real-time, such as ticket prices on a specific date and time, or the lowest price throughout a year including surcharges.

Compared to similar services like Skyscanner connecting to GDS (global distribution systems) for airline companies, such as Amadeus, Sabre or Galileo, this HelloWings differentiates itself through acquisition of data by directly crawling the airlines’ website. Thus, it proposes the best ticket combination across a plurality of LCC companies only by inputting departure points, destinations, date and time. The team is backed by Kuala Lumpur-based Tune Labs, the startup incubator of Malaysian LCC company AirAsia Group.


The following are 14 teams which unfortunately did not make the final round but had made excellent pitches.

Chikyu (Japan)

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Chikyu provides both CRM (customer relationship management) services focusing on management of customers/negotiations and MA (marketing automation) services focusing on SME-use mail distribution/lead scoring/workflow. Company founder Toshihiro Asai had formerly been involved in product sales for items that faced poor demands at his previous job. After he had conducted various analyses and tried improvement there, the monthly sales scales had increased by 3.6 times, and that made him realize that database marketing could produce results. On the other hand, only 15.9% of companies overall had implemented CRM. Judging that the cause of this poor implementation rate is the absence of simple and effective CRM services, Asai started this business.

Senses by Mazrica (Japan)

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Eiji Kurosa, the founder of Mazrica, formerly had been in charge of supervisory manager of sales, marketing and customer support in UzaBase, the company behind Japanese curated news app Newspicks. In that company, he had keenly realized a problem: every personnel relocation requires handover of business knowledge or procedures, all work came to depend on individual skills of those who had become deeply versed in the work, and that motivated him to develop this business support tool Senses. Managing visit history, communication history or feedbacks by every item unit, it supports business handover or reduction of communication losses, and also links with groupware including Gmail.

SkyRec (Taiwan)

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Taiwan-based SkyRec offers a Google Analytics-like service under the same name for real stores. It allows users to gain information about which spot, how often and how long customers stayed in at stores visually, and especially exhibits powers upon analyzing customer guideline/bestseller products, improving display methods or selecting items for elimination. According to the team, a certain store had shown a 10% improvement for traffic in-store plus an 18% improvement for monthly sales. SkyRec was born out of the 11th batch of AppWorks, a Taiwanese startup acceleration.

Jumpy (Taiwan)

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Jumpy is a smartwatch targeting 5 to 8 year-old kids, installing interactive games pitting parents against children. In addition to being the first in the world, daily schedule notification or messaging functions have been included so that parents can grasp how their children are spending their time via smartwatch. By publishing open SDK (software developer kit), third parties besides development source JoyRay have been launching brand-new apps almost every month. Jumpy was established by Jerry Chang who had been involved in smartphone sector at Taiwanese electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn, and also born out from the 9th batch of AppWorks.

SevenHugs (France)

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France-based IoT startup SevenHugs offers two products named HugOne and SmartRemote. HugOne is an IoT device for sleep tracking and one can purchase it at major retail stores in France. The latter SmartRemote is an easily remote- control device for smart home devices that works just by pointing.

The weakness of typical smarthome devices is the difficulty in intuitive operations which requires an app to be started by mobile devices or tablets. With position and acceleration sensors combined, SmartRemote recognizes where the user is pointing and enables control of targeted devices. Established in 2014 the Gallic firm has fundraised 2.25 million euros (about $2.5 million) for seed funding.

Collabee (Korea)

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Generally, with communication tools such as Slack it is difficult to ascertain what issues are being discussed and if they have been solved, because messages are displayed in chronological order as posted. Collabee, developed by a Korea-based startup having the same name, classifies messages into threads by issues, and the discussion content about each issue are managed in individual windows. Therefore, it becomes easier to fathom states of discussion or progress of the situation. Retrieval function is not only available using keyword or file name but via task, decision or image as well. It can also operate seamlessly with e-mail.

Pocket SuperNova (Japan)

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Pocket SuperNova developed a video edit app for mobile movie creators called PocketVideo. It aims to solve the problem of long tail creators hardly being monetizable due to the shortage of video apps focusing on specified use cases. As of now, 60,000 creators have been registered, and US-based Japanese actor Masi Oka has invested in this service as an angel investor. The post money valuation of the firm is estimated at $20 million, having secured $5 million so far. In addition, one Japanese investment company has also promised to invest $3.5 million.

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Caster (Japan)

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Caster aims to realize at-home dispatching business in order to form a suitable remote work environment. In an environment where the term “staff-shortage bankruptcy” appeared, shorthanded companies have been faced with a severe and critical situation. On the other hand, the number of registration of dispatched workers has been low due to the recently soiled image of conventional dispatching business.

Caster had obtained the online dispatching business license. For three months since launch in last November, the number of registrants has exceeded 1,000. Many of them are women in their 20s to 40s living in provincial towns. The major clients are mainly Japanese IT companies, namely Chartwork or SMS. The team’s goal is to acquire 100 new client companies during 2016, and to realize an environment where 10,000 registrants can make their living just through remote work until 2020.

Nutte by State of Mind (Japan)

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Nutte is an apparel marketplace where one can order manufacturing of one-of-a-kind fashion items. In Japan, there are tens of thousands sewing craftsmen dealing with sample products or costumes for the stage. However, they have few opportunities to take on as work except for introduction from within the industry, so that their incomes are unstable.

Since its launch last February, Nutte has constructed a network of more than 500 craftsmen, and the current agreement rate of transactions exceeds 80%. If contracts are agreed upon, 20% of transaction amount is charged for mediation. 5,000 companies/people have been registered as Nutte users. It responds to not only business use; one can order a stage costume for a pop star, for example.

Ancar (Japan)

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In the used car distribution industry in Japan, 30% of the price is charged as total handling fees from a point of trading-in to resale in stores. Nevertheless, 90% of used cars is distributed without being repaired and maintained. In order to eliminate unnecessary intermediary margins and consumption taxes, Ancar networks with maintenance factories throughout Japan, and has been enhancing the environment for advance evaluation and maintenance. At the moment, the service supports three prefectures in Kanto area including Tokyo.

Although the used car industry is an exclusive field, the founder/CEO of the firm Kazuhiro Joh’s grandfather was a founding member of the industry organization, and that made it possible to start this business smoothly. In addition to used car distribution business, it plans to enter the after-sales service market until 2016. Also it will launch a matching app for maintenance factories named Repea in March, and a business management tool for maintenance factories named BizMart in May.

ST Booking by Hakodate Ventures (Japan)

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ST Booking, started by a former associate of East Ventures Shota Morikawa, is a matching platform for connecting students who desire to study abroad in East/Southeast Asia to Japanese educational institutions. Tying up with 50 language schools or business colleges in Japan, and more than 20 agencies in Thailand or Vietnam, ST Booking approaches with both B2B via agencies and B2C by directly acquiring students.

The recent Japanese government’s effort to attract 300,000 international students a year by 2020 is having a positive impact on the service. It monetizes with a “results reward” model; educational institutions will be charged 15 to 25% commission of the school fees. In the future, it aims to develop a CRM to optimize sponsorship relations with companies for employment after graduation or studying abroad processes. So far it has fundraised from Beenext or If Angel.

ODIN by Panair (Japan)

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Due to liberalizing the electricity retail market this spring in Japan, ODIN supports reduction of operation costs for power companies. As API connection to wide area network became available, Japan’s Panair has developed an operation platform utilizing AI based on Ruby. Automatically gathering electricity consumption data from contractors’ smart meters, it predicts highly precise demand using AI.

With these dashboards, only one individual can run electric power business. Moreover, Panair also plans to construct “OEM power” chain, so that power companies as users can procure electric power from new major power generation at lower price than conventional power supplies.

Scorer by FutureStandard (Japan)

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Scorer by Japan’s FutureStandard is a cloud service for image analysis automatically in real-time. With normal video cameras on the market, it allows easy analysis on visitors, number of people in procession, moving direction or number of passers near the store. Cooperating with distribution industry or power companies in order to construct camera networks, it has been installing cameras at large scale retailers or utility poles. Analyzing images photographed by one camera, it provides an environment where plural clients can utilize the acquired data for plural uses.

Since the application requires various kinds of image analysis technologies, FutureStandard has prepared a marketplace where third party can provide each technology. For a month since launch, it has been carrying out a trial with six companies. Having secured 130 million yen (about $1.1 million) from Incubate Fund, YJ Capital and Primal Capital, the firm aims at overseas expansion within this year. It was born out from the 8th batch of Incubate Camp.

Styler (Japan)

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In the annual sales of fashion industry marking 180 billion yen (about $1.5 billion), most of these tradings are completed by offline. Styler proposes improvement of the experiences of purchasing fashion items offline. It launched a platform app under the same name for iOS on 10th December, and has achieved 10,000 results matching retailers with potential customers. It has acquired 130 stores registered so far.

At this pitch, STYLER also announced the cooperation with Yahoo Japan. While currently Styler is attracting customers from its owned media named Styler Mag, it will start providing these contents to Yahoo Japan in addition to partnering with Japanese fashion news portal FashionSnap.com. Also it plans business development to the vicinity of China including Taiwan in summer of 2016.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s Yamap raises $1.5M series A funding to develop gamified experiences for hikers

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See the original story in Japanese. Fukuoka-based Sefuri, the Japanese startup that provides the Yamap app for mountain climbers and hikers, announced today that it has fundraised 170 million yen (about $1.5 million) in series A funding round. This round was led by Japanese mobile gaming publisher Colopl (TSE:3668), with participation from Daiwa Corporate Investment and Fukuoka-based VC firm Dogan. Sefuri claims that they will continue being focused on improving their services rather than pursuing profitability for over an year from now at least, so the funds will be used for operation during the period. Yamap is a mobile app that allows users to check where they are without mobile data access as well as provides a platform for sharing posts and updates about mountain climbing and hiking with other users. Since its launch back in March of 2013, the app has acquired 260,000 downloads, 160,000 registered users, 2.2 million photos and 9 million monthly page views to date. In July, the company launched an insurance service for hikers, Yamap Geers (a price comparison site that reviews outdoor gears), and .Hyakkei (an online media site focused on outdoor activities). They recently partnered with manufacturers of camera, smartphones and smartwatches to…

yamap_featuredimage

See the original story in Japanese.

Fukuoka-based Sefuri, the Japanese startup that provides the Yamap app for mountain climbers and hikers, announced today that it has fundraised 170 million yen (about $1.5 million) in series A funding round. This round was led by Japanese mobile gaming publisher Colopl (TSE:3668), with participation from Daiwa Corporate Investment and Fukuoka-based VC firm Dogan. Sefuri claims that they will continue being focused on improving their services rather than pursuing profitability for over an year from now at least, so the funds will be used for operation during the period.

Yamap is a mobile app that allows users to check where they are without mobile data access as well as provides a platform for sharing posts and updates about mountain climbing and hiking with other users. Since its launch back in March of 2013, the app has acquired 260,000 downloads, 160,000 registered users, 2.2 million photos and 9 million monthly page views to date. In July, the company launched an insurance service for hikers, Yamap Geers (a price comparison site that reviews outdoor gears), and .Hyakkei (an online media site focused on outdoor activities). They recently partnered with manufacturers of camera, smartphones and smartwatches to diversify revenue streams.

The user community of the Yamap platform recently participated in a joint development project of camera accessories for outdoor use in association with Olympus’ open-platform camera Air A01(as showcased at CP+ show in Yokohama, for example). In addition, the Yamap app will be pre-installed on Kyocera’s outdoor smartphone Torque and Casio’s smartwatch WSD-F10 (on sale in late March).

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The Yamap app preinstalled on Torque.
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The Yamap app preinstalled on WSD-F10.

Yoshihiko Haruyama, CEO of Sefuri, claims that they have categorized their business development phases into three categories: 1. offering easy-to-use and convenient measures, 2. offering exciting and novel experiences, and 3. becoming a good partner for users. They will be focused on Phase 2 from now on where his team wants to add new functions like giving users stickers upon reaching the top of a mountain or access a FireChat-like streetpass communication among users. We expect that Sefuri will soon add geolocation-based gamified experiences to the app with support from Colopl which is novel in this category.

Furthermore, Sefuri has been conducting a field test in Niseko, a renowned ski resort on the northernmost island of Hokkaido, in partnership with a local tourism association where the company is offering visiting skiers an offline map through the app to prevent them from straying off a set course (especially back country ones) in aaddition to letting them enjoy discovering as to how they may typically enjoy experiences in the resort by leveraging big data analysis. Since these updates are provided in English as well, more than 400 updates have been posted by domestic and inbound overseas visitors.

Upon this funding, The Bridge asked Haruyama about his business exit strategy. He told us that he’s aiming at an IPO by summer of 2020, however he will be exploring other exit options including M&A while considering a way to provide a positive impact on their users and services. He said the company wants to get involved in supporting inbound tourism demands at globally popular destinations in Japan such as another renowned ski resort Hakuba Area and the southern world heritage Yakushima Island.

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Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Project Mistletoe launched – Taizo Son becomes mainstay for young entrepreneurs

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See the original story in Japanese. There will be a new hub being set up within Tokyo’s startup scene. The hub is named Mistletoe and offered by Taizo Son, the remarkable Japanese serial entrepreneur who has survived the chaotic dawn of Japan’s internet industry. Son explained the reason why he has named it so. A mistletoe tree produces a lot of berries, which is an ideal food for birds during winter. Birds eat mistletoe berries and deface the forest, but then new trees will sprout from the ground and expand the forest. It is better not to position the Mistletoe program as an incubation initiative. It’s neither the pure investment efforts we often saw a few decades ago on Japan’s emerging company market nor a seed accelerator inspired by Y Combinator. Son described the project as a vehicle for co-founding businesses but the fact is that it is not so easy to express in simple terms. I recently had a chance to hear more about the new project from Son. Mistletoe program concept The Mistletoe project is not a so-called incubation program for entrepreneurs but operated in the form of co-founding a business with the business founders having a core…

mistletoe_logo

See the original story in Japanese.

There will be a new hub being set up within Tokyo’s startup scene. The hub is named Mistletoe and offered by Taizo Son, the remarkable Japanese serial entrepreneur who has survived the chaotic dawn of Japan’s internet industry.

Son explained the reason why he has named it so.

A mistletoe tree produces a lot of berries, which is an ideal food for birds during winter. Birds eat mistletoe berries and deface the forest, but then new trees will sprout from the ground and expand the forest.

It is better not to position the Mistletoe program as an incubation initiative. It’s neither the pure investment efforts we often saw a few decades ago on Japan’s emerging company market nor a seed accelerator inspired by Y Combinator. Son described the project as a vehicle for co-founding businesses but the fact is that it is not so easy to express in simple terms.

I recently had a chance to hear more about the new project from Son.

Mistletoe program concept

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Taizo Son in the Mistletoe office
Photo by Takeshi Hirano, The Bridge

The Mistletoe project is not a so-called incubation program for entrepreneurs but operated in the form of co-founding a business with the business founders having a core idea or technology. Unlike conventional acceleration programs that typically have a specified time-period or an investment ratio, every project participating in the program will be handled under different case by case criteria.

Son explained:

Under the concept of this program, we will launch a business with its founders together. They need to bring a core technology and idea, but we will found a business with them, set a valuation for it, then work together on product development, fundraising and business development. That’s why we can’t just deal with a few projects per year. If we continue for five years, we would be able to work with more or less around 20 projects at most. […]

We’ll be doing a startup studio business. There’s a startup studio company called Expa in Silicon Valley, which we see as our role model. The company’s founder Garrett Camp is famous for having invested in Uber, and he has curated powerful people leveraging his network to propose the concept: a company which creates new companies.

This method may be close to EIR (entrepreneur-in-residence), intrapreneurship or other similar styles that Japanese tech incubator Beenos (TSE:3328) has adopted, where startups are based in an incubator’s venue and nourished upon receiving mentorship from designers and programmers at the incubator.

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Son and his team has rented a 1,300 square meters venue to make the studio possible. He said:

Many of the topics we’re dealing with are still in stealth mode so we can’t disclose them. When launching a business, many of us will do something a half step ahead from now, right? VC firms carry things out one step ahead.

However, our Startup Studio wants to work on things 1.5 to 2 steps ahead. For example, Fintech or Adtech businesses are a half step ahead business. Artificial intelligence and robotics are one step ahead. That’s why we must go beyond these.

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The Mistletoe office’s floor plan (upper floor)
Image credit: Mistletoe
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The Mistletoe office’s floor plan (lower floor)
Image credit: Mistletoe

While Son says the program will be processed on an issue-driven basis, I was told that it will address people’s bottom line problems such as global food-supply issues, low birthrate and aging society, in addition to logistics issues.

He continued:

We will support novel ideas and entrepreneurs aiming to solve problems from an oblique angle over a mid- or long-range period. That’s why our main focus will be on the research and development businesses. I think an investment amount per project will be larger here than other typical cases.

These are description in text about the Mistletoe program. It’s obviously interesting as content. However, what’s more important here is that the program is conducted by Taizo Son himself.

How on earth can the team change the world gradually? In order to better understand the core context of their strategies, let’s look back at the roots of the project before it was born.

Indigo and Taizo Son

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Taizo Son and his team at Indigo (From Newsweek’s coverage of Indigo via Taizo Son’s Blog)

Many of our readers may recall how Son started being involved in the startup community. Son encountered Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang when attending the University of Tokyo, which led him to get involved in a project to launch Yahoo Japan. To prepare for it, Son launched a company called Indigo (currently known as Asian Groove) with ten of his classmates in 1996.

Regarding Indigo, Son was quoted in a book covering the early days of Japan’s internet industry back in 1990s to 2000s. He was as young as 27 years old when this book (Bit Valley Beat) was published.

In 2000, Son says “I’ll launch at least 10 companies this year”. Launching venture businesses in a systematic approach is Indigo’s primary business. Not only big companies but also individuals can bring their ideas to the company. Indigo invests their know-how and funds in prominent ideas.

What do you say? Yes, you see that Son started working on somewhat the original form of the Mistletoe program more than ten years ago.

One companies born out of Indigo is Onsale, currently known as Gungho Online Entertainment (TSE:3765). Having experienced the collapse of the dotcom bubble in early 2000s, he revived the business and IPO-ed the company with hugely popular titles like Puzzle & Dragons and Ragnarok Online by uniting efforts with Kazuki Morishita, the current president and CEO of Gungho.

See also:

In my previous interview with Son, he raised Andreessen Horowitz and Alphabet as rivals to Mistletoe. These two companies have a different approach from Mistletoe because they are focused on investment but the three companies have many points in common in terms of illuminating the global community as a new business breeder.

Many of our readers are also familiar with Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, the founders of Andreessen Horowitz, through Ben’s authored book “The Hard Thing about Hard Things.” Netscape and Loudcloud are symbolic entities from the dot-com bubble in the US while Marc and Ben had overcome hardships; meanwhile there is Son in Japan. I can’t help feeling an indescribable charm of life in the fact that these entrepreneurs are working on the same topic at the same period after experiencing the same hardships.

Movida Japan and Taizo Son

An event of Movida Japan in its early days
An event of Movida Japan in its early days
Photo by Takeshi Hirano, The Bridge

Let’s get back to the original topic. Several years have been passed since the launch of Indigo Project where Son and his team were aiming of launching venture businesses successively in a systematic approach. Then he joined his brother’s company Softbank Group, and subsequently got back into the limelight with the launch of Movida Japan in 2011.

See also:

Looking back at the time, Japanese internet giant Digital Garage (TSE:4819) and its affiliate companies launched Open Network Lab advocating the creation of Y Combinator in Japan while several other VC firms were starting similar acceleration programs. Movida Japan was among these and had been providing a several-month intensive incubation program in cohort batches. In an interview with Japanese business magazine Nikkei Business, Son described how he had launched Movida Japan.

I’ve been dashing forward to gain results while looking at my brother Masayoshi and at the people’s sense of values. […] However I suddenly realized I’m already just before 40 years old. Confucius says one has no doubts at forty. However, I had been always puzzled in my busy minute-by-minute schedule. […] What the heck I should do?

Spending two years, my conclusion was transferring my experience to young entrepreneurs. In addition, I decided to form a startup ecosystem surpassing Silicon Valley in East Asia by 2030.

I asked Son what on earth Movida Japan was. He responded:

What’s the most we have learned through it was having a place rather than us just providing mentoring or support young entrepreneurs. That was where people were polishing each others, aiming to go forward and higher. It was big for us to experience something small from the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem. I was working for Softbank Group during the same period where I could gain much experience and build my network.

When we speak with Son, he often uses this diagram (see below). That was so when I interviewed him at the launch of Movida Japan.

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Image credit: Mistoetoe

I’ve been using this diagram before launching Movida Japan. Yet I was wondering what we should start with. But I thought it would sprout out from seeds here (Movida Japan). On the side, in discussions with Fumihara-kun (CEO of Nana Music) over an offline fan meeting, I was conducting billion dollar M&A deals. Such a major gap gave me a great input.

I spent almost three years doing various things from scratch, and could finally organize my thoughts. That’s Mistletoe.

Mistletoe orchestrates innovations

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Image credit: Mistletoe

Looking back at what he had been doing at Indigo and Movida Japan, what he’s trying to do won’t change a lot at Mistletoe neither. That’s to create new power and solve social issues. As he mentioned, his thoughts were well organized and his activities slightly upgraded at Mistletoe, where they will ‘integrate’ entrepreneurs with each others.

Son explained:

Every entrepreneur really needs his or her focus to gain success. But solving a big problem is difficult for a single entrepreneur. That’s why we are planning to integrate their skills in solving problems with each others.

Meta Entrepreneur, a superordinate concept that Son addresses, is called “Orchestrates Innovations” at the Mistletoe program. They aim to solve big problems through “chemical reactions” resulting from combining various technologies and expertise. To make these possible, Mistletoe is to provide human resources, goods and capital.

He continued:

Finally we have fixed onto what we want to do. Two missions, orchestrating innovations and forming an ecosystem to accelerate them — that’s just what we should do.

I believe this approach is now possible because the Japanese startup scene has a deeper talent pool of entrepreneurs and investors who have been nourished by Son and the Japanese market these days.

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Photo by Takeshi Hirano, The Bridge

Son will celebrate his 20th anniversary this year since launching his first company while attending university. Concluding the interview, I asked him if he has anything unchanged since then. He replied:

I’ve been often expressing a “metaball” company. Appears to be like a globular cluster nebula. They are several objects, they look like one cluster when seen from a distance. At my company Indigo, there was no boundary defining inside or outside the team but everyone was located randomly around me and continued working.

Some people have come to us and then sped away like Halley’s Comet, others are still revolving around us. I’m told that’s the form of a company I had beem aiming for. It may not have changed a lot since my early days.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s Kaizen Platform, online experience optimizer, secures $8 million in series B

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This is the abridged version from our original article in Japanese. Japanese startup Kaizen Platform, offering website user interface improvement solutions, announced today it has fundraised $8 million in a series B round. Participating investors are YJ Capital, NTT Docomo Ventures, Saison Ventures, Colpl, Eight Road Ventures Japan (previously known as Fidelity Growth Partners Japan), Gree Ventures, and GMO Venture Partners. Eight Road Ventures Japan, Gree Ventures, and GMO Venture Partners participated in the previous round. With the latest funds, Kaizen Platform has fundraised a total of $17.8 million for three years since launch. The funds will be used to strengthen management foundation, product development and global expansion. Upon announcement at this time, the company announced that their platform for enterprise users, launched back in August 2013, has been adopted by 170 companies and added $200 million in revenue through their websites by optimizing the online experience of website visitors. According to Kaizen Platform CEO Kenji Sudo, the company’s online experience improvement solutions are leveraging more than 2,900 crowdsourced growth hackers worldwide. See also: Japan’s growth hacking startup Kaizen Platform appoints new CFO Japanese growth hacking startup Kaizen Platform raises $5 million Kaizen Platform’s A/B test service wins BDash Camp…

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This is the abridged version from our original article in Japanese.

Japanese startup Kaizen Platform, offering website user interface improvement solutions, announced today it has fundraised $8 million in a series B round. Participating investors are YJ Capital, NTT Docomo Ventures, Saison Ventures, Colpl, Eight Road Ventures Japan (previously known as Fidelity Growth Partners Japan), Gree Ventures, and GMO Venture Partners. Eight Road Ventures Japan, Gree Ventures, and GMO Venture Partners participated in the previous round.

With the latest funds, Kaizen Platform has fundraised a total of $17.8 million for three years since launch. The funds will be used to strengthen management foundation, product development and global expansion.

Upon announcement at this time, the company announced that their platform for enterprise users, launched back in August 2013, has been adopted by 170 companies and added $200 million in revenue through their websites by optimizing the online experience of website visitors. According to Kaizen Platform CEO Kenji Sudo, the company’s online experience improvement solutions are leveraging more than 2,900 crowdsourced growth hackers worldwide.

See also:

Translated by Masaru Ikeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Startups show improvement after joining Heart Catch, UX mentoring initiative in Tokyo

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See the original story in Japanese. There are many startups that develop great technologies and have a great team spirit, yet fail to promote their products or services because they lack user experience (UX) or good marketing skills. The Heart Catch program helps those foundering startups by matchmaking professional designers and marketers as their mentors during a period of two months. On this very first showcasing event organized by the program, five participating startups presented their results. On stage, each team gave a pitch of their improvement by comparing their project before and after the mentoring sessions. Then, team members discussed in detail the mentoring process with their mentors. In this article, I summarized how each team improved through this program (Hotaru, one of these five teams, is excluded because they are still in a stealth mode as of this writing). Mana.bo Mana.bo provides a private tutoring service via smartphones or tablets. Students can ask questions on their platform, which will be answered by tutors. In this way, students can take charge of their learning by asking freely what they don’t understand, which would be difficult to do in a classroom where teachers usually teach many students in their own…

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See the original story in Japanese.

There are many startups that develop great technologies and have a great team spirit, yet fail to promote their products or services because they lack user experience (UX) or good marketing skills. The Heart Catch program helps those foundering startups by matchmaking professional designers and marketers as their mentors during a period of two months. On this very first showcasing event organized by the program, five participating startups presented their results.

On stage, each team gave a pitch of their improvement by comparing their project before and after the mentoring sessions. Then, team members discussed in detail the mentoring process with their mentors. In this article, I summarized how each team improved through this program (Hotaru, one of these five teams, is excluded because they are still in a stealth mode as of this writing).

Mana.bo

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Mana.bo CFO Koichi Tsunoda

Mana.bo provides a private tutoring service via smartphones or tablets. Students can ask questions on their platform, which will be answered by tutors. In this way, students can take charge of their learning by asking freely what they don’t understand, which would be difficult to do in a classroom where teachers usually teach many students in their own pace. In order for this project to succeed, it would be crucial for student users to ask many questions on the platform.

See also:

Mentors asked the Mana.bo team to redefine whom the target users are and what kind of message they wish to convey. After some reflection, they realized that although all users are students, their true targets are their mothers who make the final decision of paying for this service. Therefore, while creating an attractive interface to students, the team needs to convince their mothers that this is a solid service that helps their children.

Then, the team made one-year, three-year and five-year plans concerning what kind of service they want to provide, whether they should provide business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) service, and the estimated conversion rates. Breaking down these steps helped them understand how to improve user interface (UI). As a result, one important factor of key performance indicator (KPI) concerning the probability of trial users to ask the first question has increased from 25% to 64%; the probability improved 2.5 times. It contributed directly to users’ conversion to the service, since once a question is asked it will lead to second and third questions.

heart-catch-2015-mana.bo-newui2Mentors:

  • Yasuhiro Yano (CEO, Bloom & Co.)
  • Takayuki Fukatsu (Interactive Designer, The Guild)

Sommnie by Neurospace

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Neurospace CEO Takanori Kobayashi

Neurospace is a startup specializing in sleep. In order to stay healthy, we need to eat well, exercise and have a good night’s sleep. We usually ask nutritionists about what kind of food we should eat or ask gym instructors for efficient exercise programs. Yet we don’t often ask specialists about how to sleep well. In fact, there are various methods available for measuring how much food is consumed or how much exercise is done. If we wish to measure how long and how deep one sleeps, on the other hand, we need an electroencephalograph (EEG) to measure brainwaves, which is not easy to do.

Specializing in EEG technologies, Neurospace has teamed up with Tsukuba University to develop an easy-to-use portable EEG for commercialization. By allowing users to record brainwave data on their smartphone or on the cloud, the team started developing a service for observing and improving the sleeping habit without any help of sleeping pills.

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Prior to the mentoring program, the company contemplated marketing this service to taxi companies for improving sleeping habits of drivers. They also thought that professional athletes would need their service for improving their performances by sleeping better. After investigating during the Heart Catch program, they discovered that there are other potential marketing B2B and B2C targets. In fact, IT companies are consciously worried about the lack of sleep for its employees due to huge workloads. Companies in the restaurant industry have a hard time recruiting due to its negative image of irregular shift hours. Furthermore, career-oriented working women around 30 also suffer from sleep deprivation, especially if they are team leaders or managers at a company.

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With this new information about other potential targets, the team concluded that a device has to be wearable and comfortable. As a result, they have successfully developed the prototype of a wearable EEG device in the form of a nightcap. From now on, they will provide services to companies by creating online support systems for improving sleeping habits of employees, by asking about and analyzing their sleeping problems. As soon as the nightcap supply logistics is settled, they will also start providing services to individual customers.

Mentors:

  • Futaba Maehara, (Managing Director, Quantum Makers, TBWA\HAKUHODO\QUANTUM)
  • Tomoki Harada (Group Creative Director, TBWA\HAKUHODO\QUANTUM)
  • Rosa Uchima (Product Designer, TBWA\HAKUHODO\QUANTUM)
  • Nobu Takenaka (Marketing, TBWA\HAKUHODO\QUANTUM)

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D Free by Triple W Japan

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Triple W Japan “Organizer” Atsushi Nakanishi

After successfully launching a crowdfunding campaign in Japan this year, Triple W Japan will start shipping its wearable device which predicts the timing of bowel movement, called D Free, from next year. The company’s “organizer” Atsushi Nakanishi told us that he didn’t know how to promote this product that has so many potential applications.

See also:

They started by elucidating three problems to be solved: 1. Price range, 2. Wearability and 3. Potential use cases.

First of all, according to some studies, 62.5% of all seniors, living alone or living under assisted conditions, have experienced bowel control issues. For those potential customers, the estimated price range of around 20,000 yen (about $170) is affordable. They are contemplating other types of sales plans, including monthly subscriptions.

Second, wearability is an important UX aspect upon marketing the device. The company has concluded that the actual form of the device won’t bother seniors both who are actively living and who need assistance. On the other hand, the device must have “cool” design, if they are to expand their market to the beauty, health and sport industries.

Third of all, potential target user base may include women seeking not only outer beauty but also inner beauty in addition to elderly people, as the company expands to the beauty, health, and sport industries as mentioned above. Since many women suffer from constipation, the company envisages the possibility of using the device to propose bowel improvement plans, by generating healthy and natural digestive habits without taking laxatives or suppliments.

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As D Free has many potential applications, mentors suggested that it would help companies to clarify the context by pondering whose life they wish to improve with this product. Nakanishi said that he was reminded of how important designing and marketing is for business through this program.

Mentors:

  • Hiroto Ebata (CMO, IMJ – Professor, Graduate School of Project Design – Ambassador, World Marketing Summit)
  • Mie Hommura (The Guild – Sleepytiger)
  • Yukiya Okuda (ALUMICAN.NET –  IROZA – Part-time instructor, Tama Art University – Designer and Programmer)

heart-catch-2015-d-free-mentors

Quiver

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Quiver producer Jessop Petroski

Originally from New Zealand, this startup first appeared on The Bridge during B Dash Camp Osaka in 2013. Relocating the base to Japan, which is one of the Quiver’s biggest markets, the company has steadily gained in reputation by attending international events and obtaining media coverage. Since they don’t know the Japanese market well enough, they have always worried whether their products fits into the Japanese market. By participating in the Heart Catch program, they succeeded in evolving their products by implementing Japanese users’ voices.

Quiver (formally known as colAR) created an augmented reality (AR) tool that allows any colored drawing to be changed into 3D animation, just by taking a picture on the Quiver app using a smartphone or tablet. Developing this idea, they also created a technology to combine real objects with 3D animation by putting markers on the object. As one possibility of the business plan of this product, they propose collaborating with airline companies to create special services for children to play on airplanes with a tablet. This product has promising potentials in the children’s market.

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Quiver possesses high technology of recognizing 2D drawing pictures and turning them into 3D animation. Like D Free introduced above, this technology also has many application potentials. Therefore it’s important to clarify what kind of UX the company wants to provide and who their potential marketing targets are. As Quiver can easily promote this product to adults beyond children, they will more need to cultivate potential use cases.

Mentors:

  • Nobu Takenaka (Marketing, TBWA\HAKUHODO\QUANTUM)
  • Niya Sherif (Interactive Designer)

heart-catch-2015-puteko-mentorsTranslated by Moto Tsujino via Mother First
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy and Masaru Ikeda

From Infinity Ventures Summit in Kyoto: 14 startups pitch at Launch Pad competition

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This is part of our coverage of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2015 Fall in Kyoto, Japan. See the original story in Japanese. Infinity Venture Partners, a Tokyo-based global investment fund, organized its semi-annual startup showcasing event in Kyoto earlier this month, where 14 startups exhibited their products to investors and entrepreneurs. Hokkaido-based Agri Info Design won the top prize with their mobile app solution called AgriBus-Navi. Here’s a quick rundown of the top five winners and finalists. 1st prize winner: AgriBus-NAVI (by Agri Info Design) AgriBus-NAVI is a mobile app for installation on farm machinery like tractors, crop harvesters, and self-propelled sprayers for checkrow planting. One of the utmost difficulties in farmwork is confirmation as to agrochemical spraying having  been performed properly because rough chemical spraying causes fertilizers to be wasted. This mobile app replaces conventional GPS-based systems that have been used to solve such issues. 2nd prize winner: Nutte (by State of Mind) Nutte is a crowdsourced platform of seamstresses, receiving orders for all manufacturing processes for creation of clothing, from design to sewing. Differentiating from similar Japanese services like Sitateru, Nutte allows users to order their originally designed clothing or items using an image sketch. See also: Sitateru:…

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This is part of our coverage of the Infinity Ventures Summit 2015 Fall in Kyoto, Japan.

See the original story in Japanese.

Infinity Venture Partners, a Tokyo-based global investment fund, organized its semi-annual startup showcasing event in Kyoto earlier this month, where 14 startups exhibited their products to investors and entrepreneurs. Hokkaido-based Agri Info Design won the top prize with their mobile app solution called AgriBus-Navi.

Here’s a quick rundown of the top five winners and finalists.

1st prize winner: AgriBus-NAVI (by Agri Info Design)

ivs-2015-fall-kyoto-launchpad-agribus-navi

AgriBus-NAVI is a mobile app for installation on farm machinery like tractors, crop harvesters, and self-propelled sprayers for checkrow planting.

One of the utmost difficulties in farmwork is confirmation as to agrochemical spraying having  been performed properly because rough chemical spraying causes fertilizers to be wasted. This mobile app replaces conventional GPS-based systems that have been used to solve such issues.

2nd prize winner: Nutte (by State of Mind)

ivs-2015-fall-kyoto-launchpad-nutte

Nutte is a crowdsourced platform of seamstresses, receiving orders for all manufacturing processes for creation of clothing, from design to sewing. Differentiating from similar Japanese services like Sitateru, Nutte allows users to order their originally designed clothing or items using an image sketch.

See also:

3rd prize winner: CloudSign (by Bengo4.com)

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Bengo4.com Taichiro Motoe

Bengo4.com, the company behind Japan’s foremost legal portal under the same name, was listed on the TSE Mothers Market in December 2014. The company recently launched an online contract signing platform called CloudSign.

Using the CloudSign platform, a sender of a contract is requested to upload an agreement form in PDF format designating which part of the form should be filled by a recipient. Then the recipient will receive an e-mail containing a unique URL to browse the form. As the recipient signs the form with a digital signature, the finalized version of the form will be shared on both sides by each other via the platform.

See also:

4th prize winner: Anyca (by Anyca)

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Anyca is a car-sharing platform for individuals. When a user books a car registered on the platform, the owner of the car will be requested to approve the use. Upon the approval, both parties can arrange a delivery place of the car each other. The user will be requested to return the car to the owner after the use. Allowing users to apply for a car insurance by the day, the service is aimed to secure both easiness and safety. The service is a provided by a group company of DeNA (TSE:2432), a Japanese leading mobile gaming company.

5th prize winner: Repro (by Repro)

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Repro is a startup behind a mobile app analysis and marketing tool, having won pitch competitions at startup events like our Mixer Tokyo and B Dash Camp.
In addition to quantitative analysis, this tool provides mobile developers with qualitative analysis visualizing user behaviors on screen by using movies. It also allows the developers to send push notifications or in-app messages to their users.

Adopted by and implemented into 1,025 apps from 17 countries worldwide, paying mobile developers comprise 5.6% in the entire user base of the analysis platform. The company fundraised 1 million yen (about $820,000) from DG Incubation and other companies in April.

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See also:

Below are the startups selected as finalists.


Wizpra NPS (by Wizpra)

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Founded in March 2013, Wizpra has been providing a user experience management platform called Wizpra NPS and an employee experience management (EEM) platform called Wizpra Card. Wizpra NPS has been adopted by more than 1,000 retailers in Japan including fitness gyms in the six months since launch.

The company fundraised a total of 230 million yen (about $1.9 million) from Gree Ventures, Mobile Internet Capital, SMBC Venture Capital and Mizuho Capital in January.

See also:

LiveConnect (by Z-Works)

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Z-Works has developed a home gateway device, a cloud platform and mobile app leveraging sensors corresponding to the Z-wave standard, a wireless communication specification for home automation. Amongst their products, LiveConnect is an IoT (Internet of Things) service for home security.

Aiming to support care for the elderly, for instance, their smart lock solution allows caregivers to lock a room using a mobile app and a motion sensor by detecting the sign of wandering behaviors of their charges.

Medicine Delivery (by Minacolor)

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Minacolor has been offering advice on medicines and treatments by pharmacists online. The company started an on-demand medicine delivery service in November of 2013.

Using the service, a pharmacist from the company will choose an appropriate medicine according to one’s symptom and their deliverer will bring it to the door of one’s home within the shortest delivery time of 30 minutes after receiving the order. The service is currently available in the central district of Tokyo, or the southern part of the area surrounded by Yamanote Loop Line.

Users will need to place an order using a mobile app so that it will record their order history upon considering multiple drug intake or future ordering convenience. The company takes about 5,000 yen (or about $41) on average from each order with an average profitability of 10%, aiming to crowdsource jobs to 80,000 qualified pharmacists who want to work at home.

Popcorn (by Coubic)

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Coubic is a startup known for a freemium scheduling and appointment booking solution under the same name. The company provides a mobile app offering special deals on last-minute bookings for beauty and massage salons, called Popcorn. Available only for booking up to 15 minutes prior to receiving, the app adopts advance payment to reduce the risk of cancellation for salon owners. These salon owners can use the Coubic platform to better manage customers.

See also:

Spectee (by Spectee)

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Spectee shows users critical incidents and events happening now in an easier manner by curating updates from social media and sorts them based on geotags or keywords contained in every tweet or message post. About 60 locations across Japan are set in the app where users can see what is happening in real time in every location.

See also:

Fitty (by Scala International)

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Fitty is a mobile app that helps women find the proper fit for lingerie pieces. By entering several selections like bra size or body shape into the app, it will suggest users the best-fit selection of bras. In order to enable presentation of best suggestions to users, the company has been collecting up-to-date product profiles from fashion retailers and manufacturers to incorporate them into the app.

As an extension of the recommendation result, the app will give users a link so that they can purchase bra items online. The company is considering launch of a business which provides statistical data of bra wearers to lingerie manufacturers.

Partee (by g&h)

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Partee is a mobile app that allows users to create a T-shirt or smartphone cases using their favorite pictures. Users can also create it using pictures uploaded by not only them but also their friends. When one’s picture is used by other users, some revenue will be shared with the owner of the picture.

Monomy (by Fun Up)

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Monomy is an iOS app that offers an online marketplace for creatives, allowing people to make accessories they like with ease using smartphones. The platform was launched in August by Fun Up, the Tokyo-based company which has been running several online services since 2011.

The difference between trendy marketplaces for handmade goods and Monomy is that users only need to design the accessories they want. What happens is that Monomy takes care of the whole process from receiving orders through production in their own workshop. They can take large orders such as orders for 1,000 items and make them all in their workshop, with the accessories being made by experienced craftspeople by hand.

See also:

LaFabric (by LifeStyle Design)

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LaFabric is a made-to-order fashion e-commerce site. Since its launch back in February of 2014, starting with custom-made business suits and shirts, they have expanded to jeans and other casual fashion items to cover people’s needs.

LifeStyle Design, the company behind the service, fundraised about 100 million yen (or about $830,000) from Nissay Capital in May.

Translated by Moto Tsujino via Mother First
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy and Masaru Ikeda

Real-time e-commerce analytics startup Plaid of Japan secures $4 million funding

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Plaid, a startup developing a real-time analytics platform for e-commerce sites called Karte, announced last week that it has fundraised 500 million yen (about $4 million) from Fidelity Growth Partners Japan and Femto Growth Capital. David Milstein, Head of Japan for Fidelity Growth Partners, will join the team as its outside director. Femto Growth Capital invested about $1.5 million in the startup during the previous round. Karte allows e-commerce site owners to grasp their visitors’ demographics just by adding a few lines of codes to their websites. In addition to analyzing the behaviors of e-commerce site visitors in real time, the service allows the owners to send out promotional campaigns to potential buyers in form of message notifications or pop-up windows. Plaid CEO Kenta Kurahashi explained how Karte came into being: It had been difficult for e-commerce sites to treat their visitors according to their status or behaviors as sales representatives do at real retailers. We have developed a technology that enables e-commerce site owners to provide such a hospitality and a new customer experience for their visitors. While existing platforms conduct analysis based on metrics from the past, such as pageviews, unique…

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Plaid CEO Kenta Kurahashi

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Plaid, a startup developing a real-time analytics platform for e-commerce sites called Karte, announced last week that it has fundraised 500 million yen (about $4 million) from Fidelity Growth Partners Japan and Femto Growth Capital. David Milstein, Head of Japan for Fidelity Growth Partners, will join the team as its outside director. Femto Growth Capital invested about $1.5 million in the startup during the previous round.

Karte allows e-commerce site owners to grasp their visitors’ demographics just by adding a few lines of codes to their websites. In addition to analyzing the behaviors of e-commerce site visitors in real time, the service allows the owners to send out promotional campaigns to potential buyers in form of message notifications or pop-up windows.

Plaid CEO Kenta Kurahashi explained how Karte came into being:

It had been difficult for e-commerce sites to treat their visitors according to their status or behaviors as sales representatives do at real retailers. We have developed a technology that enables e-commerce site owners to provide such a hospitality and a new customer experience for their visitors. While existing platforms conduct analysis based on metrics from the past, such as pageviews, unique users and residence time, Karte uses real-time access data and enables website owners to take appropriate measures to their visitors on the spot.

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Karte’s dashboard for website owners

E-commerce sites, typically collecting private information on users to enable item purchases, can associate the real-time response from Karte with their customer database so that site owners can easily specify who is visiting their website and how he/she is behaving there, regardless of which browsing device he/she is using.

Karte allows users to customize how the platform responds to each of their visitors upon demographics and behaviors. For instance, an e-commerce company uses Karte to improve the awareness of their anniversary campaign, letting a banner sign pop up upon check-out to encourage their visitors to buy more; as such they can take a give-away if the purchases add up to a certain amount.

In cases of other use, for customers who are interested in a certain product category but have not decided which item to buy, some e-commerce site owners take them to a comparison chart of similar items with details. We were told that many site owners have succeeded in improving conversion rates by leveraging the platform.

Kurahashi added:

In addition to e-commerce sites, our solution allows recruiting sites to present a banner to their users seeking a position in a specific business category. Meanwhile it lets real estate companies show a pop-up message to visitors who are searching properties in a certain area or a specific type of room layout. Our product is used by many businesses including hotels and English conversation schools. Thus our clients can create a fully customized service corresponding to their business so that it can help building unique types of royalty with every single customer.

What kind of information will better work to motivate what kind of user? Kurahashi told us that’s what users have to be focused on figuring out leveraging their imagination while the Karte engine semi-automates the analyzing process of web access statistics.

Kurahashi concluded:

We hope our solution supports designing a true user experience, which is not just a customer experience but that tailored for each individual user.

We were told that the latest investment will be used to help hiring engineers, improving a user support structure for users as well as launching consulting services. They will also polish their product, developing additional functions and integration with other third-party services such as online shopping cart providers, online marketing tools, chat tools and online survey tools.

Upon solidifying its market share in Japan by expanding its market reach to enterprises and SMEs in addition to local retailers, the company is looking to expand globally.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by Masaru Ikeda and “Tex” Pomeroy

Viibar partners with Yahoo Japan, looking to help companies produce attractive video content

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Viibar, the Japanese startup focused on a crowdsourced video production service, announced on Monday that it has fundraised from 700 million yen (about $5.8 million) from Yahoo Japan, Globis Capital Partners (GCP), and Gree Ventures. GCP and Gree Ventures also participated in the previous funding round. In tandem with the funding, Viibar partnered with Yahoo Japan and invited Osamu Aranami, Corporate Officer and President of Yahoo Japan’s marketing solution company, to its board of management, aiming to develop new services/video advertising businesses by offering video production resources to the top-tier Japanese internet portal. See also: Japanese crowdsourcing platform for video production raises $3M Viibar wins OnLab demo day with crowdsourced video production solution Viibar has acquired over 2,000 crowdsourced video creators to date. According to the company’s CEO Yuta Kamisaka, the main purpose of the funding at this time is to strengthen human resources, planning to enhance their 40-person team to 100 people including contract-based workers. In addition to human resources with prowess in crowdsourced video production services, the company will more focus on hiring data analysts, adtech engineers and other experts who will work on joint efforts with Yahoo Japan. What’s extremely interesting about this funding is that Yahoo Japan didn’t take a large…

viibar_featuredimage

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Viibar, the Japanese startup focused on a crowdsourced video production service, announced on Monday that it has fundraised from 700 million yen (about $5.8 million) from Yahoo JapanGlobis Capital Partners (GCP), and Gree Ventures. GCP and Gree Ventures also participated in the previous funding round.

In tandem with the funding, Viibar partnered with Yahoo Japan and invited Osamu Aranami, Corporate Officer and President of Yahoo Japan’s marketing solution company, to its board of management, aiming to develop new services/video advertising businesses by offering video production resources to the top-tier Japanese internet portal.

See also:

Viibar has acquired over 2,000 crowdsourced video creators to date. According to the company’s CEO Yuta Kamisaka, the main purpose of the funding at this time is to strengthen human resources, planning to enhance their 40-person team to 100 people including contract-based workers. In addition to human resources with prowess in crowdsourced video production services, the company will more focus on hiring data analysts, adtech engineers and other experts who will work on joint efforts with Yahoo Japan.

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From the right: Viibar CEO Yuta Kamisaka and CTO Takeshi Matsuoka. Matsuoka is former CTO of Japanese internet giant Mixi.

What’s extremely interesting about this funding is that Yahoo Japan didn’t take a large stake in Viibar, despite that fact that this kind of minority investment is usually made by YJ Capital, the investment arm of Yahoo Japan, rather than Yahoo Japan itself. Kamisaka said he couldn’t yet disclose details about what the two companies are planning to do but they will hold a press briefing to unveil it in the near future.

However, I would like to make a few predictions concerning what will happen to Viibar, based on our interviews with Kamisaka. His phrase “data-driven video production” provided a clue. He explained:

Since our business has become profitable, we will use up the funds in a relatively short-term – maybe in two years – to establish a structure for an IPO. Details will be announced at a press briefing later on, but we plan to aggregate data from Yahoo Japan and other partners, associating them with video creatives via online dashboard so that advertisers can improve on performance for online promotion campaigns.

Upon hearing of combined data analytics and video, if you come up with the concept of distributed content model, you should be proud to count yourself among the media geeks. Under this concept, content publishers don’t intend to invite readers to their sites but rather measure its influence by consolidating engagements through such leading social media as Facebook and Twitter.

Visual content in the form of videos and images is considered to carry a great influence in distributed content sites so even NowThis News shut down its website and lives exclusively on live social media platform activities.

As a result, news media sites focused on the distributed content model are now forced to explore more efficient means of posting a content item instead of a website containing it. They will need to take more care about when to publish a content item, how to write a catchy headline, and how to replace it, such as with a new, more suitable types of content that match each of the multiple social media platforms.

In view of the process exploring the most efficient types of content to attract viewers, I think they need to adopt a similar approach to what typical adtech solution providers have been offering. Like A/B testing in developing an attractive banner ad, the distributed type content sites will need to produce many types of content and test them out.

In addition to crowdsourced video production platforms if Viibar had provided an automated marketing solution that allows media sites to see which social media platforms, when and what visual content should be distributed to attract viewers the most, it would be useful to propose efficient video ads for clients.

If my predictions come true, Yahoo’s intense interest in and high valuation for Viibar now makes good sense. In a recent interview, Kamisaka didn’t explicitly tell us anything about this but provided the following comment:

Until now, video production have been an all-or-nothing bet for companies in terms of what taste attracts users. However, Viibar will open up the world of video productions to the bottom-up approach from the creator side. So our platform will enable companies to implement a rapid PDCA (plan-do-check-action) cycle upon online video campaigning.

Translated by Conyac crowdsourced translation service
Edited by Masaru Ikeda and “Tex” Pomeroy

IBM BlueHub holds demo day, showcases five teams from its first accelerator batch

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See the original story in Japanese. IBM BlueHub, IBM Japan’s startup accelerator program in association with Tokyo-based incubator Samurai Incubate, held a demo day for its first batch earlier this week, showcasing five teams graduated from the recent three-month program starting in December. According to Catherine Solazzo, Director for Performance Marketing at IBM, who leads the accelerator program, the best team from the first batch will be selected upon voting at IBM XCITE Spring 2015, which will take place in Tokyo on 19 and 20 of May. As I wrote when the first batch was started, IBM Japan is expecting to help these startups foster their services as the one representing the Japanese tech industry by the year of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games. So Norihiko Nakabayashi, big data and analytics architect at IBM Japan, who also leads the acceleration initiative, confirmed that the company will keep supporting these startups even after their graduation from the batch. Yoshiaki Ishii, Director of New Business Policy Office, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, delivered a guest speech in the beginning of the event, where he claimed that the Japanese government wants to massively support a global company like IBM conducting…

ibm-bluehub-1st-batch_featuredimage

See the original story in Japanese.

IBM BlueHub, IBM Japan’s startup accelerator program in association with Tokyo-based incubator Samurai Incubate, held a demo day for its first batch earlier this week, showcasing five teams graduated from the recent three-month program starting in December.

According to Catherine Solazzo, Director for Performance Marketing at IBM, who leads the accelerator program, the best team from the first batch will be selected upon voting at IBM XCITE Spring 2015, which will take place in Tokyo on 19 and 20 of May.

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Catherine Solazzo, IBM BlueHub

As I wrote when the first batch was started, IBM Japan is expecting to help these startups foster their services as the one representing the Japanese tech industry by the year of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games. So Norihiko Nakabayashi, big data and analytics architect at IBM Japan, who also leads the acceleration initiative, confirmed that the company will keep supporting these startups even after their graduation from the batch.

Yoshiaki Ishii, Director of New Business Policy Office, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, delivered a guest speech in the beginning of the event, where he claimed that the Japanese government wants to massively support a global company like IBM conducting such an activity in the country.

So now let’s have a quick look down about how the participating startups have been advanced in the last three months.

Gene Quest

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From the left: Gene Quest’s Shoko Takahashi, her mentor IBM BluHub’s Norihiko Nakabayashi

Gene Quest provides a large-scale human genome analytics service for consumers via the Internet. The company’s personal genome service can detect the largest variety of detectable potential diseases in Japan, which can be adopted to many areas including disease prevention, custom-made medical treatment, avoiding from prescribing medicines which may cause a side effect for a patient by learning his/her genetic risk beforehand.

When you ask for analyze your genome sample using a genetic inspection kit, your ‘my page’ will be provided on the company’s website where precautions for your health are provided in addition to continuously updating when a new medical or pharmaceutical update comes in.

Gene Quest analyzes and anonymizes genetic data collected from users, planning to provide the analytics to pharmaceutical companies and clinical research organizations with the aim of contributing to the invention of new medicines and the development of medical industry. As differentiation from competitors, the company can offer the service on a white-brand basis, so they have been partnering with the Health Data Lab service on Yahoo Japan since last October.

Shoko Takashi, who leads the company, has been majored in molecular biology at the graduate school of the University of Tokyo. She shared her passion that her team wants to contribute to society by providing feedback to the medical and pharmaceutical research rather than pursuing profitability.

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Brand Pit

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From the Left: BrandPit’s T. T. Chu, his mentor Samurai Incubate’s Mariko Yazawa

About 1.8 billion photos are being posted on social media every day, but 80% of them has no text profiles such as hash tag. Brand Pit analyzes visual context in these photos, helps brand managers understand consumer behaviors and learn new markets that they consider to expanding into. Brand Pit CEO T. T. Chu showed the audience a sample data as an example, which was acquired using Dutch beer brand Heineken as a keyword (see below [in Japanese]).

Brand Pit has already partnered with global big companies such as health care manufacturer Unilever and marketing agency Ogilvy & Mather. The company offers customer-made reporting and online dashboard for brand managers on a monthly charging but an annual subscription basis. Their technology can recognize context in still images for now, considering to advance it to motion images.

See also:

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Terrace Mile

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Terrace Mile CEO Yuichi Ikoma

While it is said that farmer’s earnings are decreasing every year, the Japanese market is still as big as valued at 8 trillion yen ($67.3 billion) in agriculture, seeing a 100 trillion yen ($841 billion) market if consolidated with the food industry. Yuichi Ikoma, CEO of Terrace Mile, believes that they can help farmers make their business more profitably by offering them a data-driven agriculture methodology. Upon a series of interviews with more than 200 people farming 100 different types of crops, Ikoma has been devoted to developing the solution which helps farmer better run their business with visualized management system, sales forecast, and metrics showing how supply chains work.

The company has developed an iOS app called TeraScope during the accelerator program, which will be released in late April. With the app, farmers can visualize data about their business just only by entering the amount of harvested crops to be shipped or produced. TeraScope was developed aiming to increase a farmer’s income to 140% for the current state.

The company intends to offer the service consisting of the mobile app and the crowd service for free for three years from now. They will also provide an analytics service called TeraReport for JA Zen-noh(Japan’s National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations) and local governments, giving them three-times detailed metrics for the one-third cost of other conventional services. They will participate in Jump Start Nippon, the entrepreneurship encouragement program by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), from April to further polish up the service.

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Link Sports

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From the left: Link Sports’ Shinya Koizumi, his mentor Samurai Incubate’s Mariko Yazawa

People enjoying sports in a casual way tend to have a common problem. When they have a team match with other teams, they typically have the following problems:

  • Hard to share updates and adjust schedules among team members because more than a half of them still use feature phones.
  • Hard to record and manage scores. 95% of amateur sports players record scores on paper, copy them to an Excel file to share with other team members.
  • Hard to collect money or for splitting  the bills for match venue rent and drinking party after the match.

Link Sports has developed a mobile app to solve all these issues, which will be released in late April. When a manager posts updates like the schedule of an upcoming team match game, it will be delivered via push notification from the app, in-app alert as well as e-mail so as to enable even feature phone users updates to be kept.

Planned monetization streams include crowd storage for sport-training movies, paywalled features, recruiting supplementary members for a game match as well as sales of sports items, uniforms, and sports insurance. Based on assumption that 5% of all sports teams in Japan use the service, Link Sports expects to generate a 150 million yen ($1.26 million) monthly sales in the future.

The company has already partnered with Nihon University, Waseda University, Japan’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports, Bluetag.jp (online athlete supporting platform), Mizuno (sports equipment and sportswear company), YKK Group (manufacturing company famous for making zippers), and Jognote (cloud-based exercise tracking platform).

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Yamap

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From the left: Yoshihiko Haruyama, his mentor Samurai Incubate’s Ryo Tamaki

Yamap is a mobile app that lets users find where they are even when outside mobile telephony range. The app was to develop a system to prevent mountain climbers, anglers and outdoor-goers from getting lost.

Since it launched back in March 2013, the app has acquired 100,000 downloads while map data for the app have surpassed 430,000 downloads. The app will hit the 300,000 downloads and 1 million map downloads milestone in 2015, where more than 1 million photos are uploaded by users onto the app’s social network function.

Going forward, Sefuri, the company behind the app, expects to generate annual sales of 100 million yen ($841,000) sales from premium membership and that of 600 million yen ($5 million) from Yamap Gears, a planned price comparison site that reviews mountain climbers and outdoor gears. Our readers may recall that the company won a pitch competition at B Dash Camp 2015 Spring in Fukuoka last week.

See also:


Following a series of these pitches, Samurai Incubate’s CEO Kentaro Sakakibara delivered a closing speech to participating startups and the audience. In relation to his current base in Israel, he joked that IBM has started this accelerator program in Japan as the second market following Israel.

He sent hearty cheers to the graduating teams and explained that Samurai Incubate join forces with IBM because he thought leveraging the power that such a huge global company has would definitely help startups better gain the potential in making their business more successful.

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Samurai Incubate CEO Kentaro Sakakibara (left)

Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy