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Japanese AI startup Cinnamon closes series B round with $13.7M in funding

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese startup Cinnamon, developing a document reading engine and a voice recognition solution leveraging their proprietary AI technologies, announced it has closed a series B round. The total amount of funding in this round has reached about 1.5 billion yen (about $13.7 million). In addition to the investors revealed in the previous announcement, Mirai Creation Fund, Nomura Holdings, Sumitomo Corporation, SMBC Venture Capital (SMBC-VC), Sachio Semmoto (Co-founder of KDDI), Fujiyo Ishiguro (President of Netyear Group) participated in this round. All the investments including the one from SMBC-VC intend strategic partnerships. Flax Scanner, the RPA (robotics process automation) class 2 solution using the company’s own document reading engine Cinnamon AI, is widely used for handling documents such as contracts, resumes, sales progress reports, medical charts, handwritten application forms, real estate property information, receipts, etc. Rossa Voice, another flagship product from the company, is a voice dictation solution based on an automated word correction technology used for Flax Scanner. Among all the investors revealed at this time, it appears that Nomura Holdings will use Rossa Voice to streamline the call center operations at their brokerage services. Aiming to improve their service quality and prevent possible defects,…

The Cinnamon team
Image credit: Cinnamon

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese startup Cinnamon, developing a document reading engine and a voice recognition solution leveraging their proprietary AI technologies, announced it has closed a series B round. The total amount of funding in this round has reached about 1.5 billion yen (about $13.7 million). In addition to the investors revealed in the previous announcement, Mirai Creation Fund, Nomura Holdings, Sumitomo Corporation, SMBC Venture Capital (SMBC-VC), Sachio Semmoto (Co-founder of KDDI), Fujiyo Ishiguro (President of Netyear Group) participated in this round. All the investments including the one from SMBC-VC intend strategic partnerships.

Flax Scanner, the RPA (robotics process automation) class 2 solution using the company’s own document reading engine Cinnamon AI, is widely used for handling documents such as contracts, resumes, sales progress reports, medical charts, handwritten application forms, real estate property information, receipts, etc. Rossa Voice, another flagship product from the company, is a voice dictation solution based on an automated word correction technology used for Flax Scanner.

Among all the investors revealed at this time, it appears that Nomura Holdings will use Rossa Voice to streamline the call center operations at their brokerage services. Aiming to improve their service quality and prevent possible defects, many brokerage firms record phone interactions between their agents and customers regarding deals. However, it would be impossible for humans to monitor in real-time or review all records. Rossa Voice can make these processes more efficient and labor-saving.

Through cooperation with Cinnamon, Sumitomo Corporatation aims to strengthen their Digital Transformation effort in the entire company. SMBC-VC, the investment arm of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, aims to improve the efficiency of the group’s financial subsidiaries including Sumitomo Mitsui Bank while Mirai Creation Fund (operated by Sparx Group, funded by Toyota Motor and Mitsui Sumitomo Bank) expects contribution to streamlining operations at Toyota.

Takeshi Niinami

With the latest funding, Cinnamon will be more focused on global expansion. In addition to AI development centers in Vietnam and Taiwan, the Tokyo-based startup will set up an office in the San Francisco Bay Area to expand into the US market. Since Rossa Voice has succeeded in attracting US companies through introduction at InsureTech conferences there, they have made up their mind to expand into the US which has higher demand than other markets.

In addition, the company announced it will appoint Takeshi Niinami, President of Suntory Holdings, as an advisor as of February 1st. With the help of Niinami who has demonstrated leadership at Japanese renowned companies like Mitsubishi Corporation and convenience store giant Lawson, Cinnamon expects to strengthen the structure of their team which is rapidly expanding. Going forward, the company plans to strengthen hiring representatives for business development, delivering AI solutions, and senior AI researchers.

Robotics process automation startup Cinnamon secures $8.3M in series B round

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese startup Cinnamon, developing a document reading engine for “white collar” businesses, announced today that it has secured 800 million yen (about $7.4 million) in a series B round funding and 100 million yen (about $926,000) in loans. The latest round is led by SBI Investment with participation from FFG Venture Business Partners, Itochu Techno-Solutions, Sony Innovation Fund and TIS. Loans were secured from Mizuho Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Bank this time. The latest round follows the previous funding from multiple institutional and individual investors back in January this year (the announcement was made in February). The sum of funding in the previous round has not been disclosed but Cinnamon revealed that it was part of a series A round in an interview with The Bridge. When Cinnamon changed its business model from developing photo-sharing apps to an AI (artificial intelligence) solution provider, their incorporated entity was also changed over from a Singaporean company into a Japanese one. Combined with the sum raised by the previous entity, this round saw Cinnamon having raised a total of over 1 billion yen (about $9.2 million) to date. The company will use the funds to strengthen hiring…

Cinnamon’s AI Lab members in Vietnam with CTO Hajime Hotta in the center of the front row.
Image credit: Cinnamon

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese startup Cinnamon, developing a document reading engine for “white collar” businesses, announced today that it has secured 800 million yen (about $7.4 million) in a series B round funding and 100 million yen (about $926,000) in loans. The latest round is led by SBI Investment with participation from FFG Venture Business Partners, Itochu Techno-Solutions, Sony Innovation Fund and TIS. Loans were secured from Mizuho Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Bank this time.

The latest round follows the previous funding from multiple institutional and individual investors back in January this year (the announcement was made in February). The sum of funding in the previous round has not been disclosed but Cinnamon revealed that it was part of a series A round in an interview with The Bridge. When Cinnamon changed its business model from developing photo-sharing apps to an AI (artificial intelligence) solution provider, their incorporated entity was also changed over from a Singaporean company into a Japanese one. Combined with the sum raised by the previous entity, this round saw Cinnamon having raised a total of over 1 billion yen (about $9.2 million) to date.

The company will use the funds to strengthen hiring and fostering AI engineers, expanding sales channels, solidifying team structure and develop new products. The company is managing, developing business and sell products based on five offices in Asia – Tokyo, Hanoi (Vietnam), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Taipei (Taiwan) and Singapore. Among all of them, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Taipei locations have “AI Lab” functions to foster engineers and develop technologies with an aim to employ 500 AI engineers by 2022.

A briefing and lecture given to AI engineers and potential employees
Image credit: Cinnamon

The company’s main focus is the RPA (robotics process automation) class 2 solution Flax Scanner, which uses the document reading engine “Cinnamon AI” also developed by the company. Instead of simple OCR (optical character recognition), the Convolutional Neural Network (CNN), which is one type of deep learning, finally achieves accurate document reading with a precision rate of 99% or more. The biggest feature is not only the document reading, but also a system that can understand the context of the document and capture information in a semantic manner that databases and other systems can easily handle.

Specific use cases include contracts, resumes, sales progress reports, medical charts, handwritten application forms, real estate property information, receipts, etc. In particular, it is expected to be utilized in the fields of finance and insurance where paper documents are abundant, and it set the general goals of quadrupling business speed and cutting costs to a quarter.

Among the investors participating this round, FFG Venture Partners (the investment arm of Fukuoka Bank) looks at synergy in streamlining document processing at banking operations while system integrators like Itochu Techno-Solutions and TIS are expected to provide the company with partner sales channels leveraging their vast network with potential corporate users.

Cinnamon is also developing Rossa Voice, a voice dictation solution based on an automated word correction technology used for Flax Scanner. Rossa Voice allows users to transcript records at call centers and correctly dictate proper nouns or technical terms in discussions between representatives and customers.

Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Robotics process automation startup Cinnamon gets funds from renowned angel investors

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese startup Cinnamon, developing a document reading engine for “white collar” businesses, announced on Monday that it has secured an undisclosed sum of investment. Participating investors are MT Partners (led by angel investor Makoto Takano), Monex Ventures, Vector, RPA Holdings, and four angel investors: Toru Shimada (former Rakuten vice president), Mamoru Taniya (CEO and President of Asuka Asset Management), Akihiko Mori (Renova CFO), and Kazuhiro Ishikura (3Minute CFO). Miku Hirano, who co-founded Naked Technology and then sold it to Japanese internet giant Mixi, established the company in 2016. Previously referred to as Spicy Cinnamon, the company developed the photo sharing apps “Seconds” and “PicChat”, but then changed its business model from targeting consumers to targeting businesses. The key members of Spicy Cinnamon’s lineup are still playing for the team, but the corporate body has been revised, so it is not clear whether the term “pivot” applies or not. The company’s main focus is the RPA (robotics process automation) class 2 solution Flax Scanner, which uses the document reading engine “Cinnamon AI” also developed by the company. Instead of simple OCR (optical character recognition), the Convolutional Neural Network (CNN), which is one type of deep…

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese startup Cinnamon, developing a document reading engine for “white collar” businesses, announced on Monday that it has secured an undisclosed sum of investment. Participating investors are MT Partners (led by angel investor Makoto Takano), Monex Ventures, Vector, RPA Holdings, and four angel investors: Toru Shimada (former Rakuten vice president), Mamoru Taniya (CEO and President of Asuka Asset Management), Akihiko Mori (Renova CFO), and Kazuhiro Ishikura (3Minute CFO).

Miku Hirano, who co-founded Naked Technology and then sold it to Japanese internet giant Mixi, established the company in 2016. Previously referred to as Spicy Cinnamon, the company developed the photo sharing apps “Seconds” and “PicChat”, but then changed its business model from targeting consumers to targeting businesses. The key members of Spicy Cinnamon’s lineup are still playing for the team, but the corporate body has been revised, so it is not clear whether the term “pivot” applies or not.

The company’s main focus is the RPA (robotics process automation) class 2 solution Flax Scanner, which uses the document reading engine “Cinnamon AI” also developed by the company. Instead of simple OCR (optical character recognition), the Convolutional Neural Network (CNN), which is one type of deep learning, finally achieves accurate document reading with a precision rate of 99% or more. The biggest feature is not only the document reading, but also a system that can understand the context of the document and capture information in a semantic manner that databases and other systems can easily handle.

Specific use cases include contracts, resumes, sales progress reports, medical charts, handwritten application forms, real estate property information, receipts, etc. In particular, it is expected to be utilized in the fields of finance and insurance where paper documents are abundant, and it set the general goals of quadrupling business speed and cutting costs to a quarter.

In addition to Flax Scanner, Cinnamon has also begun to develop and provide other AI solutions such as Lapis Engine, which matches users and products, and the chatbot Scuro Bot. Cinnamon’s operation maintains the same network from its Spicy Cinnamon days: business development and sales are mainly conducted in Japan and Singapore, whereas most of the system development, including AI technology, is done in Vietnam.

While it is said that it is difficult to hire AI engineers in Southeast Asia, Cinnamon CTO Hajime Hotta, who also serves as a mentor for AI startup specialized accelerator Zeroth.AI, himself went to Vietnam, gathered students showing high potential from the top three universities, and successfully trained the AI engineers through a 6 month internship program. In addition to strengthening the basic technology and UI of the AI products, the funds raised this time appear to be going towards strengthening the organizational structure in Vietnam and Japan.

In the same field, serial entrepreneur Changsoo Lee from Korea, who exited from his mobile game analytics startup called 5Rocks, founded Allganize to develop an automated system for businesses in Silicon Valley through machine learning, and raised 1 million dollars last November from the KDDI Open Innovation Fund.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

Japanese mobile developer Cinnamon raises $1.5 million, launching new photo app

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See the original story in Japanese. Spicy Cinnamon (Cinnamon for short), the startup behind the photo sharing app Seconds, announced today that it has raised 150 million yen (approximately $1.47 million) from CyberAgent Ventures, TBS Innovation Partners [1], Incubate Fund, and Golden Gate Ventures. Coinciding with this funding, the company has launched a new iOS app today called PicChat. [2] An Android version will follow soon. Cinnamon was launched back in 2012, led by Miku Hirano who previously work with Naked Technology, which was acquired by Mixi in 2011. The company securing seed funding from CyberAgent Ventures and several angel investors. Our readers may recall that the company pitched its Seconds app at Startup Asia Jakarta last April. The app appears to be doing well with over 200,000 downloads across the Asia region, including Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore, so I’m curious why they are moving on to a new app. I had a chance to speak with the company’s co-founder and CEO Miku Hirano to find out more. We’ve been looking at our Seconds users for almost an year since launch, and we’ve learned how they typically behave. We target women around the age of 25 in the South East…

picchat_featuredimage

See the original story in Japanese.

Spicy Cinnamon (Cinnamon for short), the startup behind the photo sharing app Seconds, announced today that it has raised 150 million yen (approximately $1.47 million) from CyberAgent Ventures, TBS Innovation Partners [1], Incubate Fund, and Golden Gate Ventures. Coinciding with this funding, the company has launched a new iOS app today called PicChat. [2] An Android version will follow soon.

Cinnamon was launched back in 2012, led by Miku Hirano who previously work with Naked Technology, which was acquired by Mixi in 2011. The company securing seed funding from CyberAgent Ventures and several angel investors. Our readers may recall that the company pitched its Seconds app at Startup Asia Jakarta last April.

The app appears to be doing well with over 200,000 downloads across the Asia region, including Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore, so I’m curious why they are moving on to a new app. I had a chance to speak with the company’s co-founder and CEO Miku Hirano to find out more.

miku-hirano-cinnamon
Cinnamon CEO Miku Hirano

We’ve been looking at our Seconds users for almost an year since launch, and we’ve learned how they typically behave. We target women around the age of 25 in the South East Asian region, and we found that they are using our app not for saving memories in photos, but rather for real-time communication. For them, they can’t be bothered to key in texts when uploading a photo, so our new app allows you to add a short audio clip with the app. That’s PicChat.

I thought the Seconds app was a completed product to share photos among intimate friends. But it seems that Cinnamon has been treating it as a test marketing process for the next step. Considering the Seconds app has acquired more than 200,000 users to date, we can expect the new app to have a more rapid user expansion since based on user feedback.

In this space, I think Vietnam and Korea saturated by Korean apps like Kakao Talk. So we expect to take over Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand with the new app. To help in user acquisition, we hired a number of students from top Asian universities as interns. We believe in their potential in terms of their viral marketing skills.

As we’ve learned from China’s ClassBox, which reached 1 million downloads its first month, a viral effect can happen in a student network. It could be interesting to see if Cinnamon can win the interest of the younger generation in this way.

Cinnamon will shut down the Seconds app in the future and shift all their resources to their PicChat app. We understand that they will keep focusing on user acquisition this year, and will start monetization by selling stickers and ads after 2015.

picchat_screenshot1 picchat_screenshot2


  1. The investment arm of Tokyo Broadcasting System
  2. The company has bases in Tokyo and Hanoi, but is registered in Singapore. 

Escaping the Galapagos: 5 Japanese startups that looked beyond home

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Startups in Japan can loosely be classified into two groups: those who look beyond Japan’s borders, and those who do not. While there’s nothing wrong with a company settling into a local niche market, we can’t help but admire the ambition of some Japanese companies who look at the internet as an enabler that lets them reach global markets. Conversely, there are many services that exist only in Japan that we wish were available for the entire world to use. We’d like to take a moment to recognize five Japanese companies that have either seen some global success, or have shown exceptional global ambition [1]. And if possible, we hope to bring you more such examples next month too. I’m going to informally dub this the unofficial “Galapagos Bridge Awards”, to recognize those who build international bridges, thus helping to destroy the so-called Galapagos syndrome (used so often to refer to the mobile space). If the name sticks, perhaps I’ll forge some bronze turtle statues in my kiln and pass them out to the winners next time. Here are the five companies in no particular order: Snapeee ¶ Japanese photo decoration apps have much international appeal, as the notion of…

galapagos bridge awards
Photo by wikipedia, fun annotations by us

Startups in Japan can loosely be classified into two groups: those who look beyond Japan’s borders, and those who do not. While there’s nothing wrong with a company settling into a local niche market, we can’t help but admire the ambition of some Japanese companies who look at the internet as an enabler that lets them reach global markets. Conversely, there are many services that exist only in Japan that we wish were available for the entire world to use.

We’d like to take a moment to recognize five Japanese companies that have either seen some global success, or have shown exceptional global ambition [1]. And if possible, we hope to bring you more such examples next month too. I’m going to informally dub this the unofficial “Galapagos Bridge Awards”, to recognize those who build international bridges, thus helping to destroy the so-called Galapagos syndrome (used so often to refer to the mobile space). If the name sticks, perhaps I’ll forge some bronze turtle statues in my kiln and pass them out to the winners next time.

Here are the five companies in no particular order:

Snapeee

snapeee

Japanese photo decoration apps have much international appeal, as the notion of ‘kawaii’ is a very exportable one. And perhaps because of that, Snapeee has mustered popularity in most countries around the Asian region. Targeting female users, it has accumulated more than 4 million users from around the world, with 80% of its users coming from outside its homes market of Japan. So far the service is proving most popular in regions like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Readers may recall that we mentioned Snapeee a little while back in our Japan’s cutest mobile apps feature, and the company made headlines earlier today when it announced a round of series B funding.

See Snapeee in the SD Japan database

Snapdish

snapdish

If any company really belongs on this list, it’s probably the food photo app Snapdish. In fact, it was just a few weeks back that we heard the company’s founder, Hidetaka Fukushima, speak about building his business for the global market from the very start. It’s great to see yet another Japanese photo app that’s doing well overseas. If this keeps up, we might have to consider calling it a trend!

See Snapdish in the SD Japan database

Tokyo Otaku Mode

tokyo-otaku-mode-lead

This startup, which focuses on sharing anime, manga, and cosplay related content to international audiences, showed pretty great foresight in betting on Facebook before it really picked up any momentum in Japan. Tokyo Otaku Mode has grown its fan base on the social platform to more than 11 million fans, and is trying to solidify its web content offerings, while serving as a bridge to other Japanese companies struggling for visibility outside of their home market (see Lawson and MTV81).

See Tokyo Otaku Mode in the SD Japan database

Cinnamon

miku-hirano-cinnamon
Cinnamon CEO Miku Hirano

I swear, when I started making this list it wasn’t nearly as heavy with photo apps as this. But it’s hard not to admire these Japanese founders who decided to set up their company in Singapore, and then hop on down to Vietnam to start their quest to build a photo app that will target the Southeast Asian market to start. That app, Seconds, has already launched on Google Play for Vietnam and Thailand, and the company is considering other Asian regions like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore next. I had a chance to interview Cinnamon’s CEO, Miku Hirano, back in April, so if you’d like to hear more about what she has planned, do check out that conversation.

See Cinnamon in the SD Japan database

Crypton Future Media

dominos-pizza-hatsune-miku
Hatsune Miku x Dominos collaboration

This company might not fall under our usual ‘startup umbrella’, but with 30 employees the Sapporo-based media company is a very small one — but few have had such a big global impact. This is the group behind the voice synthesizer application Vocaloid (having acquired Vocaloid 2 from Yamaha), and the Hatsune Miku character which has emerged from Japanese subculture to become a mainstream icon. We’ve recently written about successful Hatsune Miku collaborations with Domino’s Pizza and fashion company Ceno.

You can check out their website over at crypton.co.jp

See Crypton Future Media in the SD Japan database

Honorable Mention


  1. There are lots of others, of course, but these are just the ones that stood out to us this month. I’m sure many readers will suggest others, and we’re eager to hear them.  ↩

Cinnamon pitching private photo sharing to the Southeast Asian market

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At the Startup Asia conference today in Singapore, Cinnamon – a startup led by CEO Miku Hirano – pitched a new photo app called ‘Seconds.’ I recently had a chance to meet with Miku, who gave me a preview of the soon-to-be-released app. To be launched first on the Android platform, she says that she would like Seconds to replace your native camera app, with private photo sharing features targeting the Southeast Asia market to start. The app is is simple and easy to use. You just take a photo, and choose your desired album for upload. Photos added are immediately visible to members who have access to that album, and those members can also upload pictures as well. You can also create any number of albums, which differ depending on who has access – it could be your family, friends, or your significant other. With photos being automatically uploaded, you don’t have to worry about losing your pictures if you misplace your phone or have it stolen. Cinnamon plans to release the app first in Thailand, says Miku, a country known for its love of photo sharing. They’re targeting the huge population of Southeast Asia because private sharing is…

At the Startup Asia conference today in Singapore, Cinnamon – a startup led by CEO Miku Hirano – pitched a new photo app called ‘Seconds.’ I recently had a chance to meet with Miku, who gave me a preview of the soon-to-be-released app. To be launched first on the Android platform, she says that she would like Seconds to replace your native camera app, with private photo sharing features targeting the Southeast Asia market to start.

The app is is simple and easy to use. You just take a photo, and choose your desired album for upload. Photos added are immediately visible to members who have access to that album, and those members can also upload pictures as well.

miku-hirano-cinnamon
Cinnamon CEO Miku Hirano

You can also create any number of albums, which differ depending on who has access – it could be your family, friends, or your significant other. With photos being automatically uploaded, you don’t have to worry about losing your pictures if you misplace your phone or have it stolen.

Cinnamon plans to release the app first in Thailand, says Miku, a country known for its love of photo sharing. They’re targeting the huge population of Southeast Asia because private sharing is a little bit more popular in Asian regions. They hope that more mature mobile markets like Japan, China, and Korea will help make it profitable.

Cinnamon was founded in Singapore back in October, and received seed funding December from CyberAgent Ventures and other angel investors. Currently the company has a headcount of like 10 people including its president at Hajime Hotta.

There are many ways in which they hope they can monetize Seconds, likely with premium features or with ads. If they go for premium model would mean extra features like storage, filters, decoration, or Facebook sync.

Tomorrow is day two of Startup Asia, so it will be interesting to see how Cinnamon fares in the field of 20 Asian startups. I had the pleasure of being a part of the last Startup Asia event in Jakarta last year, where the winner of the startup event was Moso, the sole Japanese entry in the competition.

seconds-app