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Medication SaaS for pharmacists Musubi wins B Dash Camp’s pitch arena in Fukuoka

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This is part of our coverage of B Dash Camp 2018 Spring in Fukuoka. 18 companies passed the initial screening for the Pitch Arena competition of B Dash Camp 2018 Spring in Fukuoka, a semi-annual startup conference taking place in the western city of Japan, and of those, six companies were chosen as finalists. Kakehashi, the Japanese startup behind a cloud-based medication profiling system for pharmacists called Musubi, walked away with the grand prize. The judges for the final round were as follows: Yusuke Asakura (Signifiant) Yoshinori Fukushima (Gunosy) Shinji Kimura (DAS Capital) Hironao Kunimitsu (Gumi) Genki Shiota (Akatsuki) This article will give a rundown of each company and their pitches. Grand Prize, Caster Biz Special Award winner: Musubi by Kakehashi Musubi, provided by Kakehashi, is a cloud-based medication profiling system for pharmacies and pharmacists. There are 60,000 pharmacies in Japan, outnumbering even convenience stores. Filling out the medication history for each patient is one heavy task of pharmacies. On average, it is said that it takes two hours to fill in the medication history for 40 patients, but by introducing Musubi, this can be compressed down to 15 minutes (⅛). A patient comes to the pharmacy and medication is…

This is part of our coverage of B Dash Camp 2018 Spring in Fukuoka.

18 companies passed the initial screening for the Pitch Arena competition of B Dash Camp 2018 Spring in Fukuoka, a semi-annual startup conference taking place in the western city of Japan, and of those, six companies were chosen as finalists. Kakehashi, the Japanese startup behind a cloud-based medication profiling system for pharmacists called Musubi, walked away with the grand prize.

The judges for the final round were as follows:

  • Yusuke Asakura (Signifiant)
  • Yoshinori Fukushima (Gunosy)
  • Shinji Kimura (DAS Capital)
  • Hironao Kunimitsu (Gumi)
  • Genki Shiota (Akatsuki)

This article will give a rundown of each company and their pitches.

Grand Prize, Caster Biz Special Award winner: Musubi by Kakehashi

Musubi, provided by Kakehashi, is a cloud-based medication profiling system for pharmacies and pharmacists. There are 60,000 pharmacies in Japan, outnumbering even convenience stores. Filling out the medication history for each patient is one heavy task of pharmacies. On average, it is said that it takes two hours to fill in the medication history for 40 patients, but by introducing Musubi, this can be compressed down to 15 minutes (⅛).

A patient comes to the pharmacy and medication is dispensed based on the prescription. After this, the pharmacist instructs the patient about the medication, but with Musubi this medical instruction takes place on a tablet, and according to the buttons pushed by the pharmacist a medication history is recorded. In four months from the start of the service, the company received inquiries from 7,000 stores, accounting for 11% of the 60,000 pharmacies nationwide. In the future, after the ban on offering medication instruction remotely is lifted, the company is also considering offering a drug delivery service.

Special Award winner: Sumaho Hoken by JustInCase

JustInCase is an InsurTech startup founded in 2016 by Kazy Hata (current CEO), who has worked in the actuarial field at Milliman, a leading actuarial consulting firm, along with his team. The company is currently preparing Sumaho Hoken (literally meaning Smartphone Insurance), an insurance service to cover repair costs in the event of a malfunction for smartphone users.  It uses AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms to analyze user behavior patterns, and conducts a risk assessment for each user allowing the company to provide a service with optimum premiums.

Sumaho Hoken is classified as a P2P (peer-to-peer) insurance which applies the concept of a sharing economy to insurance, i.e. friends and groups of users (pools) who are interested in insurance against the same risk pay the insurance premiums, and a system is adopted whereby insurance money is paid out from this pool. To date, the company has raised seed funds from 500 Startups Japan, Naoki Aoyagi (CEO of Marcari’s payments-focused subsidiary Merpay), and others.

HERP by HERP

Herp provides a platform of the same name which automates the many tasks related to office work for recruitment. “Herp” automatically unifies tasks such as the creation of job listings, the creation of information on candidates, the notification of selection results, management of contact to the company, etc. By automating tasks that previously required an assistant employed by the company, employee costs can be reduced by 75% or more. Up to now, 500 companies have pre-registered.

The company believes the reason why recruitment options are not evolving is because platforms are separated by mediums and agents, which limits them. It will make Herp an open adoption marketing SaaS (software as a service) that can cooperate with multiple mediums and agents. In the future, the company plans to provide functions like predictions of investment effectiveness separate from the marketing channel, an automated AB test for job listings, and automated document selection.

LaboNavi by Inner Resource

Research department rules for purchasing are often put in place to ensure fraud prevention and optimization. Purchasing management requires a comparison of delivery prices from multiple vendors through competitive bidding, checking this with multiple people, sharing the results, and before ordering, one of the steps necessary in the process is to physically write it out. While some purchasing management systems have been introduced, the disadvantage remains that they are specialized systems, high in operation costs and difficult for users.

LaboNavi, developed by Inner Resource, is a general-purpose cloud service that enables users to complete business from purchase management to order placement strictly in accordance with the industry flow. Research departments that have introduced LaboNavi have seen workflow streamlined, the number of quotation requests sent to suppliers has been reduced to ⅓, and purchase prices have decreased by 8% on average. The company is backed by Tokyo-based VC firm Anri.

Logikura by NewRevo

NewRevo’s Logikura wants to tackle about $507B US problem of excess inventory at small and medium sized enterprises in Japan. Managers in charge of ordering for companies often place orders based on intuition and experience, which creates excess inventory. In order to deliver a data-driven ordering environment, Logikura provides demand forecasts based on economic trends, weather forecast, competitive analysis, damage rates, and other data.

There are no services in Japan there that offer everything from inventory control to demand forecasts in one package, so Logikura has an advantage in this respect. The company has received inquiries from more than 60 companies so far, and aims to acquire 5,000 companies in 5 years and reduce domestic excess inventory by 30%. It plans to offer the service at a rate of 600,000 yen (about $5,600 US) per year depending on the scale. In the future, NewRevo has plans to offer a marketplace function that allows users to trade excess inventory/stock shortage, as well as a lending function that uses stock as collateral.

The company participated in the 15th batch of Open Network Lab’s Seed Accelerator Program and raised 50 million yen (about $470K US) from Genesia Ventures in a pre-Series A round last December.

Yumerium by Subdream Studios

Yumerium, provided by Subdream Studios, is a platform that uses blockchain to reward users for playing, reviewing, and sharing games. By pouring the concept of the token economy into game players and communities, the company wants to create an ecosystem that will benefit not only game makers but also players and influencers while acquiring popular game titles.

In the meantime, the company will expand its services by producing its own titles and network, and will start to handle third party titles from 2019 onwards. Following this, it is planning to grow as a  crowdfunding platform. So far in its seed round, Subdream Studios has raised $1.6 million US from Genesia Ventures, DeNA, Cognitive Investment, HTC, and others.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japan’s Cyber Security Cloud is expanding cloud firewall solution into Southeast Asia

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Cyber Security Cloud (CSC), the Japanese startup behind a cloud-based web application firewall (WAF) called Shadankun (originally called Kougeki Shadankun in Japanese), announced on Monday that it has partnered with Future Spirits to expand the solution into Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Future Spirits is a Japanese cloud solution company serving Southeast Asian markets through their regional subsidiary Future Spirits Asia, planning to sell the Shadanukun WAF solution in bundle with Future Spirit’s dedicated server or virtual private server solutions. CSC has been specialized in developing cloud-based WAF solutions to secure cloud-based web servers, launching Shadankun in December of 2013. The service has seen a steady increase in clients, including NTT Docomo, ANA (All Nippon Airways) and SBI Securities, and has been adopted by 4,000 websites in about three and a half years since the launch as of September in 2017. In response to our question about the latest trends on cyber attacks, CSC CEO Hikaru Ono told us that more than 1,121 cyber attacks had been detected on Future a Spirits Thailand’s corporate web server in February this year alone. To avoid these attacks, he said more preparation for server management and more…

From left: Hikaru Ono (CEO of Cyber Security Cloud), Takahiro Tani (CEO of Future Spirits)
Image credit: Cyber Security Cloud

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Cyber Security Cloud (CSC), the Japanese startup behind a cloud-based web application firewall (WAF) called Shadankun (originally called Kougeki Shadankun in Japanese), announced on Monday that it has partnered with Future Spirits to expand the solution into Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Future Spirits is a Japanese cloud solution company serving Southeast Asian markets through their regional subsidiary Future Spirits Asia, planning to sell the Shadanukun WAF solution in bundle with Future Spirit’s dedicated server or virtual private server solutions.

CSC has been specialized in developing cloud-based WAF solutions to secure cloud-based web servers, launching Shadankun in December of 2013. The service has seen a steady increase in clients, including NTT Docomo, ANA (All Nippon Airways) and SBI Securities, and has been adopted by 4,000 websites in about three and a half years since the launch as of September in 2017.

In response to our question about the latest trends on cyber attacks, CSC CEO Hikaru Ono told us that more than 1,121 cyber attacks had been detected on Future a Spirits Thailand’s corporate web server in February this year alone. To avoid these attacks, he said more preparation for server management and more secure coding efforts are needed. According to Future Spirits CEO Takahiro Tani, however, his company often receives requests for consulting or advice from Japanese companies in the Southeast Asia region after they face a security issue since many of them have no in-house IT personnel.

The dashboard for “Kougeki Shadan-kun”
Image credit: Cyber Security Cloud

Regarding how to promote global expansion, both companies will focus on expanding into Japanese companies in the aforementioned markets first, subsequently set up local subsidiaries as their users increase. CSC and Future Spirits are planning to promote the Shadankun solution as prevention countermeasure for possible cyber attacks, especially to local subsidiaries of Japanese companies in need of adjusting their security level with that of their headquarters in Japan.

Future Spirits also considering provision of IT infrastructure consulting in addition to proposing security countermeasures with the Shadankun solution. The two are targeting to acquire 500 companies as users out of all 4,800 Japanese companies in the region within two years.

Established in August of 2010 (under the name of Amitie), CSC raised around 100 million yen (about $883K US) from Ambition, Legend Partners, Epsilon Group, Real World and SBI Investment plus other investors in January of 2016. In October of last year, the company launched WafCharm, which uses artificial intelligence to automatically apply a WAF signature (rule set) setting for websites hosted on Amazon Web Services.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda
Edited by “Tex” POmeroy

Ascent Robotics raises $10.3M to accelerate AI development for autonomous driving

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Ascent Robotics, the Japanese startup developing AI (Artificial Intelligence) training software for autonomous driving, announced on Monday that it has raised about 1.1 billion yen (about $10.3 million US) in a series A round. This round was led by SBI Investment with participation from multiple angel investors including Bart Joseph Broadman. Regarding funding from SBI Investment, this is the first investment case from the company’s AI and Blockchain-focused fund. Following this funding, Ascent Robotics will prepare to set up new offices in Japan and the rest of the world to hire prominent researchers as well as engineers globally, aiming to realize PoC (proof-of-concept) on public roads in addition to accelerating R&D activities on their proprietary AI technologies. The firm has been developing autonomous driving software for Level 4 capable-vehicle (fully autonomous driving including steering, acceleration and braking without human input) under the Japanese road environment. The Tokyo company launched a beta version of the Atlas AI learning environment last November. By using both real and pseudo data for learning AI, the learning efficiency is increased to more than 50 times compared to that when using only real data. Utilizing the superiority of Atlas,…

Image credit: Ascent Robotics

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Ascent Robotics, the Japanese startup developing AI (Artificial Intelligence) training software for autonomous driving, announced on Monday that it has raised about 1.1 billion yen (about $10.3 million US) in a series A round. This round was led by SBI Investment with participation from multiple angel investors including Bart Joseph Broadman. Regarding funding from SBI Investment, this is the first investment case from the company’s AI and Blockchain-focused fund.

Following this funding, Ascent Robotics will prepare to set up new offices in Japan and the rest of the world to hire prominent researchers as well as engineers globally, aiming to realize PoC (proof-of-concept) on public roads in addition to accelerating R&D activities on their proprietary AI technologies. The firm has been developing autonomous driving software for Level 4 capable-vehicle (fully autonomous driving including steering, acceleration and braking without human input) under the Japanese road environment.

The Tokyo company launched a beta version of the Atlas AI learning environment last November. By using both real and pseudo data for learning AI, the learning efficiency is increased to more than 50 times compared to that when using only real data. Utilizing the superiority of Atlas, Ascent Robotics aims to realize Level 4 autonomy by 2020 when market competition is expected to intensify.

Image credit: Ascent Robotics

Since the Japanese or Asian road environment differ considerably from Western ones that DeepMind, Waymo and Uber are dealing with, Ascent Robotics focuses on Level 4 autonomy applicable for narrow streets with much traffic as is the case for conventional Japanese streets, and the team expects to lead the global market in this field. In particular, the industry’s expectation for the company will be increased because of the recent pedestrian fatality due to Uber’s autonomous driving vehicle.

Ascent Robotics was founded in September of 2016 by Fred Almeida, the Canadian engineer who had successively held high-level positions at Salesforce and Pasona Tequila. According to Nikkei Robotics, the firm has already concluded a business contract with one of the major Japanese automakers. Ken Kutaragi, known as the father of PlayStation, has also joined the firm as an Outside Director.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Korea’s braille smartwatch developer Dot wins HackOsaka 2018 pitch competition

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See the original story in Japanese. Osaka City held the annual startup conference HackOsaka 2018 last month, having about 100 participants including investors, entrepreneurs and media from home and abroad. As marking the sixth such event since being started in 2013, their way to introduce trends of global startup ecosystem to entrepreneurs in the Kansai area has become more cultivated. At the last phase of the event, 10 teams comprising domestic or foreign startups gave pitches. The judges for the pitch competition were as follow: Junko Nishimura (Co-founder, Silver Egg Technology) Oko Davaasuren (Regional Director of South East Asia, Techstars) Oscar Kneppers (Founder, Rockstart [Netherland]) Gidi Schmerling (Director of Media Relations, Tel Aviv-Yafo [Israel]) Shan Lu (Founding Partner / CEO, LeaguerX) Allen Miner (CEO, Sunbridge / HackOsaka Supervisor) Peter Rothenberg, Editor-in-Chief in Japan of Tech in Asia / Founder of Best Beer, acted as master of ceremonies. Gold Prize: Dot (Korea) Korea-based Dot developed the braille smartwatch under the same name. It enables the visually-impaired to exchange messages or to understand SNS posts as with general smartwatch. Costing only $290 which is much cheaper than conventional braille keyboards costing about $5,000, it will be welcomed as a gift item. The…

See the original story in Japanese.

Osaka City held the annual startup conference HackOsaka 2018 last month, having about 100 participants including investors, entrepreneurs and media from home and abroad. As marking the sixth such event since being started in 2013, their way to introduce trends of global startup ecosystem to entrepreneurs in the Kansai area has become more cultivated.

At the last phase of the event, 10 teams comprising domestic or foreign startups gave pitches. The judges for the pitch competition were as follow:

  • Junko Nishimura (Co-founder, Silver Egg Technology)
  • Oko Davaasuren (Regional Director of South East Asia, Techstars)
  • Oscar Kneppers (Founder, Rockstart [Netherland])
  • Gidi Schmerling (Director of Media Relations, Tel Aviv-Yafo [Israel])
  • Shan Lu (Founding Partner / CEO, LeaguerX)
  • Allen Miner (CEO, Sunbridge / HackOsaka Supervisor)

Peter Rothenberg, Editor-in-Chief in Japan of Tech in Asia / Founder of Best Beer, acted as master of ceremonies.

Gold Prize: Dot (Korea)

Korea-based Dot developed the braille smartwatch under the same name. It enables the visually-impaired to exchange messages or to understand SNS posts as with general smartwatch. Costing only $290 which is much cheaper than conventional braille keyboards costing about $5,000, it will be welcomed as a gift item. The firm succeeded in downsizing of the display on the face utilizing its 30 patents. The firm won the pitch competition at Slush Tokyo 2017 as well.

Dot also developed the braille tablet Dot Pad ($950), as well as the simplified version Dot Mini ($200, for educational use). The firm plans to distribute several million products in India, where there are 10 million visually-impaired people. In addition, the firm started the development of the braille kiosk as a new project targeting Smart City Project in Dubai and had tested it at PyeongChang Olympics. The firm has currently been doing business in the U.S. and China, and is going to enter the Japanese market soon.

Silver Prize: Eye Control (Israel)

It is estimated there are 160 million patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) having muscle and nerve disorder, and the number of ALS cases has been increasing. The Eye Control team knew the communication device for ALS patients costs too much, and had started developing a wearable device which is cheaper and easier to use than the conventional devices.

Eye Control detects motion of the pupil by mounted camera and sends the data to microcomputer to analyze the meanings that a user wants to transmit. The analyzed content is sent to smartphone via BLE and is read out or controlled. One of the biggest features of this system is to eliminate troublesomeness of using a large display. The team was born out from Startupbootcamp in 2011 and was chosen for Next Future Technology award by Israeli tech media Geektime.

Bronze Prize: Carbyne (Israel)

In emergency calls such as 911 in the US as well as 110 (police) and 119 (fire and ambulance) in Japan, some problems have been arising in recent years: long calling time, fake calling, incorrect location, difficulties in prioritization of multiple calls or nonexistence of images to confirm the situation.

Israel-based Carbyne transmits 110 / 119 emergency calls to its own system, and acquires detailed and well-summarized information including location or images to support prompt rescue or appropriate response. It has already been introduced to the Mexican teleco América Móvil, as well as national projects in Honduras and the Philippines.

Bronze Prize: Nature Remo (Japan)

Nature develops an IoT product for smart air-conditioner named Nature Remo. The firm secured more than 22 million yen (about $210,000) through three crowdfunding at Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Makuake. It was chosen for 500 Kobe Accelerator, the acceleration program hosted by Kobe City and 500 startups and had recently fundraised 100 million yen (about $940,000) from Daiwa Corporate Investment.

As its development and production system has been established, the firm started selling the product at Amazon, as well as electronics retail stores such as Bic Camera or Kojima, allowing general users other than early adopters to purchase. Through cooperation with Kansai Electric Power, the firm took part in the verification project of Virtual Power Plant, the energy self-sufficient system as a substitute of power resources in the energy peak time by utilization of internet / sensor technologies and diffusion of distributed type power resources.

Bloodhero (Philippines)

The blood transfusion system, required for accidents or surgery, is generally maintained by blood donation from 1% of the total population and yet blood is in short supply. As a result, there are not a few cases that the family of patients who need blood asks for blood donation of specific blood type in social network services. Bloodhero is a social platform of blood donation to solve these problems.

The Bloodhero users can acquire points for every blood donation and are given status according to stored points; the service prepares various privilege such as free ticket of spa in each status level. In a hospital which introduced Bloodhero, the retention rate of blood donors increased by 23%. The firm aims to reach 50,000 blood donations handling by December of 2018.

Ouireward (France)

One million people experience cancellation or delay of flights annually in the world. In Europe, airplane companies are required to compensate passengers for a delay of more than three hours under EU261 Law. Generally, passengers can receive $700 back in cash at the highest but need to negotiate with airplane companies to claim the right. This negotiation requires troublesome processes; they have to submit many documents and wait for several months, and sometimes their requests are refused.

Ouireward provides a simple online form where users can fill within three minutes and performs the negotiation procedure on behalf of them. It charges 25% of cashback money as intermediate fee. Since its launch six months before, the firm has dealt with customer requests from 37 countries, negotiations with 79 airplane companies and has collected $160,000 cashback. Considering cooperation with airplane companies, the firm aims at $2 million fundraising and tie-up with Japanese airplane / insurance companies.

Yiyuan (China)

Yiyuan offers a skin condition diagnosis service that AI (artificial intelligence) evaluates patients’ face photos taken by the mobile app. Making landmarking on specific spots on the face and diagnosing the conditions before and after the treatment using deep learning, it advices patients whether they are recovering nicely or need additional treatments.

In the future, the firm plans to monetize by providing API (Application Program Interface) or SDK (Software Development Kit) for cosmetic retailers or upgrading the telephone support service. It has been given an angel investment from LeaguerX, the accelerator supported by QF Capital and Tsinghua University.

Travelio (Indonesia)

Travelio, approximating the Airbnb in Indonesia, aims to provide a higher-class service than typical vacation rental services. The firm performs property management on behalf of real estate companies, and provides hotel-level services including cleaning and sheets changing to travelers having demands of long-stay, leisure or business.

The firm currently provides the service in 25 cities within Indonesia and handles 3,000 properties. The ratio of domestic / foreign users is 65 : 35. This service is used on average 4.95 nights per stay and is seemingly popular among long-stay travelers who tend to make much of cost performance. Although many buildings have been constructed recently in Jakarta, not a few properties are left unsold. The service also contributes to monetization of these properties for real estate developers.

BackTech (Japan)

The lower back pain improvement app Pocket Therapist, launched by Japan’s BackTech in 2016, suggests the best exercise plans or introduces good clinics for each user based on the lower back pain evaluation algorithm developed by Graduate School of Medicine and Faculty of Medicine, Kyoto University. The firm had raised funds from Cyber Agent.

Lower back pain is one of the common diseases of general workers and is also a severe problem for employers because it causes poor productivity. Pocket Therapist provides an environment where workers can easily receive advice from therapists, and enterprises or insurance companies pay the cost as their employers.

Protectiq (Russia)

Protectiq is a P2P (peer-to-peer) insurance service which applies the sharing economy concept. In developing countries, insurance services have not been improved much and that is one of major causes of death due to tumors or other forms of cancer. This service realized a cheaper charge system by utilizing blockchain technology into the insurance fee payment procedures and clarifying the cashflow.

Specifically, Protectiq users are charged $20 annually, and the insurance fee can be paid by third party donors or companies as a service to society. Targeting young and less wealthy adults in their teens to 40s, the service pays insurance premium of $350,000 at the highest based on users’ declaration.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Multi-functional mobile browser Smooz now on iTunes AppStore, Google Play globally

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Astool has globally launched their multi-functional mobile web browser app Smooz today. iOS and Androd versions are available on iTunes AppStore and Google Play respectively. The app was initially launched only for iOS on the Japanese market back in September of 2016. The company marked 20,000 downloads within as short as one week since that launch, also having driven 200,000 app installs organically to date. Because the app has been continuously adding functions via frequent updates according to user feedback, it has been updated about 40 times within 18 months since the launch. With the aim of “one-handed browsing” being enabled for users, the app has added functions like in-app QR code reading and gesture-based control (ver 1.6), character recognition and automated tab arrangement (ver 1.7), translation and ID/password saving (ver 1.9), bulk article generation from bookmarks (ver 1.16) in addition to three major functions available since the first version: search word prediction making use of artificial intelligence, functionally-thoughtful tab interface and smart bookmarks. The company said it has decided to start global expansion because it got a 4.7 star rating on average from Japanese users who are said to have strict user…

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Astool has globally launched their multi-functional mobile web browser app Smooz today. iOS and Androd versions are available on iTunes AppStore and Google Play respectively. The app was initially launched only for iOS on the Japanese market back in September of 2016. The company marked 20,000 downloads within as short as one week since that launch, also having driven 200,000 app installs organically to date. Because the app has been continuously adding functions via frequent updates according to user feedback, it has been updated about 40 times within 18 months since the launch.

With the aim of “one-handed browsing” being enabled for users, the app has added functions like in-app QR code reading and gesture-based control (ver 1.6), character recognition and automated tab arrangement (ver 1.7), translation and ID/password saving (ver 1.9), bulk article generation from bookmarks (ver 1.16) in addition to three major functions available since the first version: search word prediction making use of artificial intelligence, functionally-thoughtful tab interface and smart bookmarks. The company said it has decided to start global expansion because it got a 4.7 star rating on average from Japanese users who are said to have strict user experience measurements.

The Smooz app targets a power user niche adhering to comfortable user interface rather than becoming mass favorites. In view of FireFox having won 12% market share in Japan despite being non-OS native desktop web browser, Astool is targeting about 2% of the entire global population of 2.2 billion smartphone users.

Astool, as founded back in February of 2016 by Yuichi Kato who was previously managing the Viber app at Rakuten and subsequently developed an AppleWatch for tennis players called TennisCore. The company raised about $140,000 US for a $930,000 valuation from Skyland Ventures and several angel investors back in August of 2016 (seed round), followed by securing about $790,000 US from Fan Communications (TSE:2461) and angel investor Masao Ito (pre-series A round), in addition to having been chosen as a finalist for the Launch Pad pitch competition at Infinity Ventures Summit 2017 Spring last year.

Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s JustInCase snags another seed round to launch P2P insurance for mobile repairs

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based insuretech startup JustInCase announced on Wednesday that it has raised additional seed funding from 500 Startups Japan and Naoki Aoyagi. Aoyagi is the former CFO of Japanese internet giant Gree (TSE:3632) and now the CEO of MerPay, the financial services subsidiary of Japanese C2C commerce unicorn startup Mercari. Aoyagi participated in this round as an angel investor while 500 Startups Japan made a follow-on investment after their participation in the previous seed round. Although JustInCase has not yet clarified the amount of each individual funding, it did confirm that the cumulative funding amount including this follow-on round along with last year’s is 45 million yen (about $414K US). The company is preparing its first product “Sumaho Hoken (Smartphone Insurance)”, an insurance service to cover repair costs in the event of a malfunction for smartphone users. It uses AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms to analyze user behavior patterns, and conducts a risk assessment for each user allowing the company to provide a service with optimum premiums. As a result, it will be cheaper than Apple Care and other major telecom carriers’ insurance fees for smartphone users. In preparation of launching the official Sumaho Hoken service,…

Front row from the left: Hiroo Koizumi (CTO, justInCase), Kazy Hata (CEO, justInCase), Shinnichi Nasukawa (CFO, justInCase)
Back row from the left: James Riney (Head, 500 Startups Japan), Naoki Aoyagi, Yohei Sawayama (Managing Partner, 500 Startups Japan)
Image credit: justInCase

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based insuretech startup JustInCase announced on Wednesday that it has raised additional seed funding from 500 Startups Japan and Naoki Aoyagi. Aoyagi is the former CFO of Japanese internet giant Gree (TSE:3632) and now the CEO of MerPay, the financial services subsidiary of Japanese C2C commerce unicorn startup Mercari. Aoyagi participated in this round as an angel investor while 500 Startups Japan made a follow-on investment after their participation in the previous seed round. Although JustInCase has not yet clarified the amount of each individual funding, it did confirm that the cumulative funding amount including this follow-on round along with last year’s is 45 million yen (about $414K US).

The company is preparing its first product “Sumaho Hoken (Smartphone Insurance)”, an insurance service to cover repair costs in the event of a malfunction for smartphone users. It uses AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms to analyze user behavior patterns, and conducts a risk assessment for each user allowing the company to provide a service with optimum premiums. As a result, it will be cheaper than Apple Care and other major telecom carriers’ insurance fees for smartphone users.

Sumaho Hoken (Smartphone Insurance)
Image credit: JustInCase

In preparation of launching the official Sumaho Hoken service, the company is coordinating with a local bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Finance to register as a small short-term insurance company but prior to the official launch, taking advantage of the exclusion provision of the Insurance Business Law (Article 2 of the Business Law), the company began an invitation-only service for pre-registered users from Wednesday.

Upon completion of the small short-term insurance company registration, the advance service is expected to shift to an official service. Due to the restrictions of applicable laws and the like, there is a possibility that the products and insurance premium conditions of the official service will be different from those of the advance service.

Sumaho Hoken is classified as a “P2P (peer-to-peer) insurance” which applies the concept of a sharing economy to insurance, i.e. friends and groups of users (pools) who are interested in insurance against the same risk pay the insurance premiums, and a system is adopted whereby insurance money is paid out from this pool. P2P insurance has various merits including the risk being easier to calculate compared with conventional insurance, insurance products that were impossible in the past can be easily developed, insurance money fraud and moral hazard problems are less likely to occur, and ex-post facto premiums can be kept cheap (through cash back, etc.).

In this space, we’ve seen emerging P2P insurance startups such as Sure (having raised $10.6M US so far), Lemonade (recently raised $120M US from Softbank, GV or Google Ventures, Sequoia Capital, and Allianz last yearend), and Berlin-based Friendsurance (raised more than $15M US from Horizon Ventures, the investment firm of Hong Kong biliionaire Li Ka-Shing.

Translated by Amanda Amasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japanese hottest unicorn Mercari expands AI research with Sharp and academia leaders

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See the original story in Japanese. Japan’s Mercari, providing the peer-to-peer marketplace app under the same name, announced in December that it has established Mercari R4D, a Research & Development organization with the aim to deploy emerging technologies to the society. Toshiya Kimura, Manager of Engineering Department at Mercari, was appointed the head of the new initiative. The name R4D stands for ‘Research for Development, Design, Deployment and Disruption.’ Mercari has been utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning technologies so far, and the firm will begin projects for social deployment and commercialization of these technologies in cooperation with other enterprises or educational organizations through the initiative. At this time, eight research themes jointly with Sharp and university laboratories have already been chosen, as follows: Communications with multiple locations utilizing 8K TVs with Corporate R&D Business Unit, Sharp Outletless office with wireless power feed system with Kawahara Lab, The University of Tokyo Deep Hashing Network for similar image search with Ochiai Lab, Tsukuba University 3D form estimation from product image posted on the marketplace with Ochiai Lab, Tsukuba University Background auto-specification from product image with Ochiai Lab, Tsukuba University Trust framework using blockchain with Keio University Internet of Things ecosystem…

Mercari CEO Shintaro Yamada introduces in-house AI research initiative Mercari R4D
Image credit: Sekiko Suzuki/The Bridge

See the original story in Japanese.

Japan’s Mercari, providing the peer-to-peer marketplace app under the same name, announced in December that it has established Mercari R4D, a Research & Development organization with the aim to deploy emerging technologies to the society. Toshiya Kimura, Manager of Engineering Department at Mercari, was appointed the head of the new initiative.

The name R4D stands for ‘Research for Development, Design, Deployment and Disruption.’ Mercari has been utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning technologies so far, and the firm will begin projects for social deployment and commercialization of these technologies in cooperation with other enterprises or educational organizations through the initiative. At this time, eight research themes jointly with Sharp and university laboratories have already been chosen, as follows:

  • Communications with multiple locations utilizing 8K TVs with Corporate R&D Business Unit, Sharp
  • Outletless office with wireless power feed system with Kawahara Lab, The University of Tokyo
  • Deep Hashing Network for similar image search with Ochiai Lab, Tsukuba University
  • 3D form estimation from product image posted on the marketplace with Ochiai Lab, Tsukuba University
  • Background auto-specification from product image with Ochiai Lab, Tsukuba University
  • Trust framework using blockchain with Keio University
  • Internet of Things ecosystem with Cross-tech Design Lab, Kyoto University of Art & Design
  • Application of quantum annealing technology to art field with Ohzeki Lab, Tohoku University

According to Mercari CEO Shintaro Yamada, the investment amount to these research activities has not been clearly set yet, but it will be at several hundred millions of yen (several millions of dollars)-scale next year. The research themes are chosen from mid-to long-term plans requiring 3 to 5 years, as well as ones utilizing IoT or blockchain technologies having application possibility of social infrastructure.

Research is already being undertaken in the above eight themes and more themes will possibly be added. The commercialization and deployment of research results may be brought about as a Mercari product in the future. Yamada explains the background to the foundation of R4D:

Mercari achieved 100 million downloads just the other day. Meanwhile, we have implemented the wrongful exhibit detection system utilizing AI technology or the auto-estimation of weight of items to the app for the U.S.. One of our purposes is to differentiate the app by technologies through R&D.

The firm plans to enhance its engineer structure to 1000-staffer organization from current 100-staffer one. In addition, it started establishment of an organization capable of scaling by micronizing each function. Kimura explains the firm’s future vision:

As Fujifilm engaged in development of cosmetics, we may start different business in the future and are considering how to make good use of our owned technologies.

As the Japanese artist Sputniko!, a renowned British/Japanese artist and designer, who joined the team as Senior Producer, various direction of deployment can be seen, for example utilizing technologies which are hard to deploy immediately into a form of design or art. The firm focuses on research as well as commercialization and visualization of technology jointly with external research organizations.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japanese startup unveils AI-powered rule sets solution to secure AWS-hosted websites

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Cyber Security Cloud, the Japanese startup behind a cloud-based web application firewall (WAF) called Kogeki Shadan-kun, unveiled a new product called WafCharm earlier this month. WafCharm uses artificial intelligence to automatically apply a WAF signature (rule set) setting for websites hosted on Amazon Web Services. It can be used for free until the end of January 2018. By introducing WafCharm, the information systems division of a company operating a cloud-based web server on AWS can automate the complicated tasks of selecting and applying optimal signatures for defense against attacks. Typical WAF systems can be categorized into software-based, appliance-based, and cloud-based ones. Cyber Security Cloud has been specialized in developing cloud-based WAF solutions to secure cloud-based web servers, launched Kogeki Shadan-kun in December of 2013. Since then, the service has seen a steady increase in clients, including NTT Docomo, ANA (All Nippon Airways), and SBI Securities, and has been adopted by 4,000 websites in about three and a half years since the launch. The monthly report that the dashboard outputs can be easily used for meetings within a company, and in the event of damage, insurance of up to 10 million yen (about $88.2K…

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Cyber Security Cloud, the Japanese startup behind a cloud-based web application firewall (WAF) called Kogeki Shadan-kun, unveiled a new product called WafCharm earlier this month. WafCharm uses artificial intelligence to automatically apply a WAF signature (rule set) setting for websites hosted on Amazon Web Services. It can be used for free until the end of January 2018. By introducing WafCharm, the information systems division of a company operating a cloud-based web server on AWS can automate the complicated tasks of selecting and applying optimal signatures for defense against attacks.

Typical WAF systems can be categorized into software-based, appliance-based, and cloud-based ones. Cyber Security Cloud has been specialized in developing cloud-based WAF solutions to secure cloud-based web servers, launched Kogeki Shadan-kun in December of 2013. Since then, the service has seen a steady increase in clients, including NTT Docomo, ANA (All Nippon Airways), and SBI Securities, and has been adopted by 4,000 websites in about three and a half years since the launch. The monthly report that the dashboard outputs can be easily used for meetings within a company, and in the event of damage, insurance of up to 10 million yen (about $88.2K US) is accompanied (for the moment, there have been no applicable cases). The fact that compensation of up to 10 million yen can be granted may also be a factor in the growth of the company.

The dashboard for “Kougeki Shadan-kun”
Image credit: Cyber Security Cloud

Cyber Security Cloud collects tendencies of web attacks and security defense from Kougeki Shadan-Kun, and based on the findings obtained, then WafCharm applies optimal rule sets to user instances leveraging artificial intelligence (AI). The application of rule sets according to the software stack, supporting the OWASP Top 10 security risks, and the speedy addition of new rule sets in response to new weaknesses are all automatically done for user instances on AWS.

AWS also provides 11 rule sets by five security vendors (as of December, 2017) as WAF Managed Rules. This is intended to make it easier to operate even for users less familiar with security measures while customized setting is difficult because detailed settings are black-boxed. Having said that, it is a painstaking task to manually set rule sets one by one. WafCharm aims at solving this pain point.

Cyber Security Cloud CEO Hikaru Ono says:

AWS has 34% market share in the global cloud user base. To reach one-third of all cloud users (by offering the WAF optimization service for AWS) would be a great opportunity. I think that WafCharm could set these cloud users free from security risks.

In 2016, two years after the service launch, Kougeki Shadan-kun won the largest share in the cloud-based WAF market in Japan. By introducing the new product WafCharm, Cyber Security Cloud has its sights set on the number one position in the global automated WAF operation sector. As a short-term goal the company is looking to sign with 10,000 companies in 2018. While looking at future user trends, it is also considering deploying services to other cloud platforms such as GCP (Google Cloud Platform) and Microsoft Azure.

Cyber Security Cloud was established in August of 2010 (under the name of Amitie). The company raised around 100 million yen (about $883K US) from Ambition, Legend Partners, Epsilon Group, Real World, SBI Investment and other investors in January of 2016.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s Cognitee raises $1.3M to help firms analyze and visualize employees sales pitch

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Cognitee announced last week that it had raised 150 million yen (about $1.3 million) in its pre-series B round. The lead investor was Global Brain this time and Mitsui Fudosan (TSE:8801) joined anew as an investor. This follows their series A round conducted in 2016 having investors including Global Brain, Alps Electric, beBit UCD Ventures, Glocalink (affiliated by Leave a Nest), Active and Company, plus SMBC-VC. Cognitee has fundraised 280 million yen (about $2.5 million) in total since its angel round. With this investment, the firm will strengthen its organization system by hiring additional core members and prepare for overseas development which will take place next year and beyond. Additionally, the firm announced it invited Kazuhiro Kondo as COO; he has careers as Corporate Officer of DeNA and VP of DeNA West (subsidiary of DeNA covering the West) after serving Sony, Sony Ericsson and DeNA where he engaged in development of social game platform. Visualization of communication Cognitee was founded in 2013 by CEO Rie Kawano who formerly worked at business strategy department in Sony or DeNA and also experienced startup in her university days. The firm develops and provides UpSighter, enabling employee…

L to R: Cognitee CEO Rie Kawano, COO Kazuhiro Kondo
Image credit: Cognitee

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Cognitee announced last week that it had raised 150 million yen (about $1.3 million) in its pre-series B round. The lead investor was Global Brain this time and Mitsui Fudosan (TSE:8801) joined anew as an investor. This follows their series A round conducted in 2016 having investors including Global Brain, Alps Electric, beBit UCD Ventures, Glocalink (affiliated by Leave a Nest), Active and Company, plus SMBC-VC.

Cognitee has fundraised 280 million yen (about $2.5 million) in total since its angel round. With this investment, the firm will strengthen its organization system by hiring additional core members and prepare for overseas development which will take place next year and beyond. Additionally, the firm announced it invited Kazuhiro Kondo as COO; he has careers as Corporate Officer of DeNA and VP of DeNA West (subsidiary of DeNA covering the West) after serving Sony, Sony Ericsson and DeNA where he engaged in development of social game platform.

Visualization of communication

UpSighter
Image credit: Cognitee

Cognitee was founded in 2013 by CEO Rie Kawano who formerly worked at business strategy department in Sony or DeNA and also experienced startup in her university days. The firm develops and provides UpSighter, enabling employee training / monitoring excluding cognitive bias targeting enterprise users. The service offers easier communication methods for conveying meaning by analyzing and digitizing speech, sales talk or presentation. Kawano demonstrated the service:

For example, we picked up five Steve Jobs’ speeches and five Japanese politicians’ speeches and then calculated the mean number of topics incorporated into these speeches. In the Jobs’ speeches, topics referring the background of the launch or the reason for the size of the product accounted for 40% of the whole story. On the other hand, as you can see, each politician made mentions of some different topic in one speech and it includes too many content.

Cognitee had initially tackled ‘visualization of thinking’ through a provision of services for meeting efficacy improvement / brainstorming support / planning correction. However, the firm pivoted its approach later; with the basic concept as it was, it changed the application field to ‘visualization of communication’ and then succeeded in gaining strong supports from major enterprises that conventionally had to depend on external consultants for human resource development such as training of salespersons.

Kouno continued:

Taking pharmaceutical companies as an example, MRs (medical representatives) have to learn about clinical trial data and give presentation to doctors to sell new drugs. You may think they should show a larger amount of data, but too much data will not result in good sales. Our analysis revealed that the MRs who spare much time to present specific data about efficacy, benefit and especially risk of the drug are more likely to be in the high-ranking group.

The same can be said of settlement negotiation with non-life insurance companies. UpSighter figures out modeling of communication style that leads to good negotiation. By applying it to each practical negotiation case and distributing assessment sheets, staffers in charge of these cases can compare their own methods with the model case. For enterprises, operation improvement can be achieved without requiring instructions cost.

Implementation of UpSighter will benefit enterprises in reduction of instructions cost, as well as the fact that each staff can grasp unnecessary / insufficient factors in his / her own speeches quantitatively. The Cognitee team consists of several members including Kawano and Kondo, and they do not carry out outbound marketing so actively but often receive inquiries from top executives of major enterprises who intend bottom-up of internal human resources.

Pursuing scalability without AI

Part of Output sample of UpSighter
Image credit: Cognitee

The firm’s name ‘Cognitee’ and its service contents — analysis / digitization of speech is somehow associated with artificial intelligence (AI), but no general AI is used in UpSighter services at this time.All processes required for the service provision of UpSighter are contributed by 150 remote workers in and out of Japan. They carry on transcription of speech, subdividing of the contents, and analysis / evaluation of subordinate relationship of the contents. It is like a form of Factory Automation (FA) for  intelligent labor driven by Internet; by dividing its process thoroughly and assigning each small process unit to individual workers, the factory-like quality control and production management is realized.

In the process from original speech content (the input) to analyzed / digitized assessment sheet (the output), more than 10 remote workers relay intermediate products in succession. A worker understands what to do with his / her own task but does not need to have knowledge about the other tasks. With this system, UpSighter needs no consultants with specialized knowledge but can leave all works to housewife workers who passed the test after one-month training.

Kouno said:

We did not even know what tendency exists until we stored data about 1,500 matters. However, the details of analysis gradually dawned on us and we have been applying patents relating to our rule or framework in Japan, the U.S and EU countries.

Kondo added:

Typical AI learning require Big Data. Moreover, I think it is impossible to trust what human does not understand to AI.

As AI is applied to everything these days, the firm’s approach appears quite fresh. Even AI takes certain cost and time for implementing or tuning, and above all, training data is necessary. UpSighter can extract model case if only it has data about three cases (for example, speeches by three high-achieving salespersons) no matter what kind of business type / condition they are, and assess other speeches based on it.

In general, it is difficult to secure scalability in tasks depending on the person, but there is no limit on the business development of UpSighter which implemented the concepts of FA or remote workers in its work process. As a larger amount of data is accumulated, the Cognitee can replace from man to AI in some process units partially as needed.

Currently, UpSighter is mainly used in sales department that tends to invest a large amount of budget into human resource development in enterprise, but the firm will positively explore the possibility of application or implementation into other departments in the future.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

2018 predictions from insightful international investors

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This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. Years ago I started publishing an annual list of technology predictions from global venture capitalists. By design, I deliberately chose VCs beyond the usual American household names, whose voices were not necessarily heard on the world stage. Last year all of the tech prognostications came from women VCs. Even (especially?) by Silicon Valley standards, this felt quite unique and I’m proud of that. For this season’s set of predictions, I am again pleased to be able to give the floor to an all-female cast of investors, this time a collection of insightful VCs from Asia. I’ve had the honour of interacting with each of these individuals and encourage all readers to take note of them. Their already noteworthy accomplishments will likely continue to grow. May 2018 bring us further enlightenment. Happy holidays! Kanako Honda –…

mark-bivens_portraitThis guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


Image credit: nk2549 / 123RF

Years ago I started publishing an annual list of technology predictions from global venture capitalists. By design, I deliberately chose VCs beyond the usual American household names, whose voices were not necessarily heard on the world stage.

Last year all of the tech prognostications came from women VCs. Even (especially?) by Silicon Valley standards, this felt quite unique and I’m proud of that.

For this season’s set of predictions, I am again pleased to be able to give the floor to an all-female cast of investors, this time a collection of insightful VCs from Asia. I’ve had the honour of interacting with each of these individuals and encourage all readers to take note of them. Their already noteworthy accomplishments will likely continue to grow.
May 2018 bring us further enlightenment. Happy holidays!

Kanako Honda – DCM Ventures, Japan

From a high-level perspective, data analytics combined with delivering value proposition that will ultimately result in monetization will become even more important in 2018. In the recent 1-2 years, startups were able to gather large funds from VCs and concentrated on growing the user base by putting short term economics aside. As these startups, such as Uber, LimeBike, Wework etc, successfully built sizable audience and became a platform, there will be companies that will utilize big startup’s network effect and deliver various values to each touchpoint and create monetization model that doesn’t require large funding.

From a geopolitical view, edtech in Japan will start to rise as education is becoming one of the hottest topic of national policy. Although edtech has been considered as a niche, slow and unprofitable market for startups to jump in for quite a while, companies are starting to learn from the past and coming up with ways to build sustainable business within this sector. I hope 2018 will be the dawn of edtech era in Japan.

Vorawan “Michelle” Wangpanitkul – Digital Ventures, Thailand

I recall 2016 being at the height of the blockchain buzz. Blockchain pretty much intercepted every use case in and out of fintech. While I am a big believer in blockchain, I believe there will only be a few blockchain-powered use cases that survive to commercialization, ones that require an immutable distributed ledger to tackle its pain point (and there aren’t many!).

Beyond payments & remittance, the next one should be KYC. Identity is at the foundation of banking, and getting it right is crucial and win-win for everyone. I personally think blockchain-powered KYC is an agenda that regulators need to push forward, and with Singapore and India’s regulators already testing this, 2018 might be the year blockchain-KYC gets adopted mainstream, and other regulators follow in.

Geographically speaking, I think there will be a lot of interesting things coming out of India. RBI has pushed forward e-KYC and successfully captured biometrics data in 99% of its adult population. With a 1.3billion population, fragmented market, huge engineering talent pool, and a lot of financial & infrastructural barriers being tackled at a state level, India is the country ripe for innovation and transformation. My 2018 prediction – lots of capital flooding into India.

Joanna Cheung – HBCC Investment and TUS International, China

The paradigm will continue to shift from ‘made in China’ to ‘created in China’. The giants of innovative technology that are emerging today are original Chinese innovations. Increasingly, we will see these original and successful companies expand abroad, notably to the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Innovations in deep tech, such as artificial intelligence, clean technology, robotics, RPA, are areas we’re particularly excited about.

Mayu Morishima – Beyond Next Ventures, Japan

In Japan, more attention is being paid to technology-centric startups originating from startups, centered on the biotechnology and medical sectors thanks to government-backed initiatives. Meanwhile, due to the global trend of personalized medicine, the mainstream of technology development is expected to shift to startups which can adapt quickly to new circumstances. In addition, we are seeing the trend that (non-healthcare) enterprises enter the healthcare sector to acquire innovation from the outside. In light of all these findings, we can expect technology-centric startups centered on biotechnology, healthcare and medical device sectors will remain hot in the future.

Particularly in Japan, trending sectors will include regenerative medicine such as iPS cell research, digital health where therapeutic apps based on medical evidence are emerging to the market while telemedicine businesses are more active prior to the planned revision of the Japanese medical payment system in FY2018. However, I believe that one of the best thrills of VC investments is to create the next trends by investing in heretic technologies which are too new for us to know how to call them. Therefore, I expect innovations that do not belong to any sector in 2018.