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Ad giant Dentsu, SF-based Scrum Ventures jointly set up global sports-tech accelerator

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See the original story in Japanese. Japanese ad giant Dentsu (TSE:4324) and the San Francisco-based VC firm Scrum Ventures last month jointly held an explanatory meeting about Sports Tech Tokyo, the acceleration program focusing on sports tech. With 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics approaching, there seems to be the best momentum for sports tech to attract global attention.  At the beginning of the event, Japanese footballer Keisuke Honda, also known as an investor for startups, provided a comment. The operation term of this acceleration program’s 1st batch is planned to be about one year, beginning in January of 2019. It is relatively longer than typical acceleration programs and consists of a six-month business starting round and a six-month activation round. This program commits not only to service / business development but also to establishment of business for participating teams. The system allows Play (eSports or fantasy sports), Watch (arena / stadium solution) and Support (player support technology) to apply this program, covering a wide range of services. 150 teams will be chosen from among applicant startups gathered from around the world next February, and a kick-off conference will be held in Tokyo during March of 2019. After next April,…

(L to R) Fumihiko Nakajima (Program Owner of Sports Tech Tokyo / Dentsu CDC) and Takuya Miyata (CEO of Scrum Ventures)

See the original story in Japanese.

Japanese ad giant Dentsu (TSE:4324) and the San Francisco-based VC firm Scrum Ventures last month jointly held an explanatory meeting about Sports Tech Tokyo, the acceleration program focusing on sports tech. With 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics approaching, there seems to be the best momentum for sports tech to attract global attention.


At the beginning of the event, Japanese footballer Keisuke Honda, also known as an investor for startups, provided a comment.

The operation term of this acceleration program’s 1st batch is planned to be about one year, beginning in January of 2019. It is relatively longer than typical acceleration programs and consists of a six-month business starting round and a six-month activation round. This program commits not only to service / business development but also to establishment of business for participating teams.

The system allows Play (eSports or fantasy sports), Watch (arena / stadium solution) and Support (player support technology) to apply this program, covering a wide range of services. 150 teams will be chosen from among applicant startups gathered from around the world next February, and a kick-off conference will be held in Tokyo during March of 2019.

Partial list of Sports Tech Tokyo mentors

After next April, Sports Tech Tokyo will choose some 10 to 20 finalists and plans to provide mentoring to them based in Japan and San Francisco. The program will line up 100 famous Mentors including Daniel Brusilovsky (technology lead of U.S. basketball team), Kai Bond (investor of Comcast Ventures) and Ryan Hoover (founder of Product Hunt / investor of Weekend Fund).

Sponsored companies of Sports Tech Tokyo

Sports Tech Tokyo plans to have a world Demo Day in San Francisco, as the conclusion of business development round in July of 2019. To increase appearance opportunities of participating startups, the program will hold pop-up events within tech conferences in Japan during October of 2019. It has acquired about 20 supporters / sponsorships including sports-related company or media.

Takayuki Hioki (Sports Marketing Japan) introduced sports business trends around the world. He also spoke on the evolution of sports business.
Takeshi Okada (ex-Manager of the Japanese national football team, right) and Kojiro Kurotobi (CEO of Sportsbull, left), along with Hiromu Nishiuchi (author of ‘Statistics is the most powerful knowledge,’ in center) delved into the potentials of sports tech.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

Japan’s Kabuku, 3D printing platform operator, closes $6 million round

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Kabuku, the startup known for its 3D printing service brand Rinkak, announced today that it has fundraised 750 million yen ($6 million) from Japanese VC firm Global Brain, Dentsu Digital Holdings (DDH), and Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Venture Capital. Since having secured 400 million yen ($3.3 million) in August from Global Brain, Kabuku has been exploring additional funding opportunities from other sources together with the VC firm, the lead investor in this round. Kabuku has closed the latest round by securing 350 million yen ($2.8 million) funding from DDH and Mitsui Sumitomo Capital. Kabuku fundraised 20 million yen from angel investors in June of the same year, followed by securing 200 million yen ($1.7 million) funding from CyberAgent Ventures (CAV) and Fuji Startup Ventures (FSV) in June 2014. With the latest funding, Kabuku has fundraised 600 million yen ($4.8 million) 950 million yen ($7.8 million) to date. [1] In September 2014, Kabuku partnered with Dentsu, an ad agency company under DDH, to develop a solution in the digital fabrication space, aiming to support hardware inventing activities between startups and corporates. In July, Global Brain, one of the investors in the latest round, invested in…

rinkak_featuredimage

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Kabuku, the startup known for its 3D printing service brand Rinkak, announced today that it has fundraised 750 million yen ($6 million) from Japanese VC firm Global Brain, Dentsu Digital Holdings (DDH), and Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Venture Capital.

Since having secured 400 million yen ($3.3 million) in August from Global Brain, Kabuku has been exploring additional funding opportunities from other sources together with the VC firm, the lead investor in this round. Kabuku has closed the latest round by securing 350 million yen ($2.8 million) funding from DDH and Mitsui Sumitomo Capital.

Kabuku fundraised 20 million yen from angel investors in June of the same year, followed by securing 200 million yen ($1.7 million) funding from CyberAgent Ventures (CAV) and Fuji Startup Ventures (FSV) in June 2014. With the latest funding, Kabuku has fundraised 600 million yen ($4.8 million) 950 million yen ($7.8 million) to date. [1]

In September 2014, Kabuku partnered with Dentsu, an ad agency company under DDH, to develop a solution in the digital fabrication space, aiming to support hardware inventing activities between startups and corporates. In July, Global Brain, one of the investors in the latest round, invested in HWTrek, Taiwan-based online community platform for hardware developers, so expect a business synergy with Kabuku through supporting forming the ecosystem of digital fabrication startups.

Kabuku was established in January 2013. Originally launched as a showcase and marketplace of 3D printing products, Kabuku has diversified its business to providing other solutions such as Rinkak 3D Printing PPP (Printing Partner Program) that connects orders to relevant printing factories based on manufacturing needs, and Rinkak 3D Printing MMS (Manufacturing Management Service) that provides a cloud-based production management system for 3D printing factories. The company will use the funds to strengthen development and global marketing of these new services.

Edited by Kurt Hanson


  1. Updated based on feedback from CyberAgent Ventures.

Japan’s Clear, study notes organizer app for students, raises $1 million

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See the original story in Japanese. Serving 500,000 students around the country Clear is a study notes organizer app and has attracted over 500,000 students in Japan. Tokyo-based Arcterus, the company behind the app, has fundraised 130 million yen (about $1 million) from Japanese system integration company Startia (TSE:3303), Dentsu Digital Fund, Korea’s BonAngels, and others. The company will use the funds to add new app functions as well as aiming to expand globally. Students have started adapting their smartphone for their studies. Japan’s Recruit Marketing Partners recently unveiled a list of trending keywords that includes the Japanese word “sumaben” meaning studying via smartphone. Over 3 million notes are published and shared The Clear app allows students to publish their handwritten study notes and share them with other users. There are over 3 million published notes available on the platform so far. Clear has two main usage styles: When students get something they can’t understand at school classes, they can try to figure out by looking at notes by classmates rather than relying on Google search or study-aid books. Finding well-summarized notes to better understand materials upon preparing for exams at school. Goichiro Arai, CEO of Arcterus, says that the…

clear_featuredimage

See the original story in Japanese.

Serving 500,000 students around the country

Clear is a study notes organizer app and has attracted over 500,000 students in Japan. Tokyo-based Arcterus, the company behind the app, has fundraised 130 million yen (about $1 million) from Japanese system integration company Startia (TSE:3303), Dentsu Digital Fund, Korea’s BonAngels, and others. The company will use the funds to add new app functions as well as aiming to expand globally.

Students have started adapting their smartphone for their studies. Japan’s Recruit Marketing Partners recently unveiled a list of trending keywords that includes the Japanese word “sumaben” meaning studying via smartphone.

clear_screenshots

Over 3 million notes are published and shared

The Clear app allows students to publish their handwritten study notes and share them with other users. There are over 3 million published notes available on the platform so far. Clear has two main usage styles:

  1. When students get something they can’t understand at school classes, they can try to figure out by looking at notes by classmates rather than relying on Google search or study-aid books.
  2. Finding well-summarized notes to better understand materials upon preparing for exams at school.

Goichiro Arai, CEO of Arcterus, says that the Clear app aims to be a study notes version of GitHub or online recipe app Cookpad. Compared to being taught by teachers, private tutors, or study-aid books, the app helps students enrich their understanding of their studies.

The company gets feedback from students such as: “The app has motivated me to study harder,” and “It has lowered a psychological hurdle in studying.”

The app helps to connect and motivate students across the country by allowing them to share and comment on handwritten study notes.

Expanding into Southeast Asia and North America

Arcterus wants to liven up the learning field with the app while ensuring the quality and boosting the sharing of study notes. In addition to serving students in Japan, the company wants to expand into other Asian countries in 2015, followed by expansion into North and South American markets in 2016. They launched the Clear app in Thailand back in April, receiving positive responses from the market as the number of users and shared study notes have been both increasing.

In a previous interview with the team of Penpal Schools, a Texan online penpal-based studying platform that has acquired over 7 million students from more than 70 countries, I was so surprised to learn that many students feel lonely studying at school even when they study together in a classroom. Arai agreed and said that that is why many students come together at a diner and study together after school.

Arai concluded:

Studying for exams is likely to make you feel lonely. In class, you need to concentrate on grasping a new concept, which can be a lonely task. By compiling an extensive database of shared study notes, we aim to help students from around the world succeed in their studies.

Translated by Chieko Frost via Mother First
Edited by Masaru Ikeda and Kurt Hanson
Proofread by “Tex” Pomeroy

Pinterest hopes ad giant Dentsu can make it big in Japan

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Today Pinterest Japan announced that it will ally with Japanese advertising giant Dentsu to expand its business in Japan, as the social image curation service would potentially offer a new marketing alternative to local advertisers. Pinterest recently localized for Japan a few months back, and CEO Ben Silbermann recently expressed a hope that Japanese people can try to express more about their culture (things like art, food, and architecture) through pinned images. Ostensibly, Silbermann has that very same hope for Japanese advertisers, who might more effectively reach global audiences in a more visual manner. Pinterest has tested promoted pins over the past year in the US market, and looks poised to charge top dollar from advertisers. Via Venture News

pinterest

Today Pinterest Japan announced that it will ally with Japanese advertising giant Dentsu to expand its business in Japan, as the social image curation service would potentially offer a new marketing alternative to local advertisers.

Pinterest recently localized for Japan a few months back, and CEO Ben Silbermann recently expressed a hope that Japanese people can try to express more about their culture (things like art, food, and architecture) through pinned images. Ostensibly, Silbermann has that very same hope for Japanese advertisers, who might more effectively reach global audiences in a more visual manner.

Pinterest has tested promoted pins over the past year in the US market, and looks poised to charge top dollar from advertisers.

Via Venture News

Japan’s Wonderport lets you speak though remote virtual characters

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In a previous article, we featured a number of mobile apps that come in handy for parents. Here’s one that could be added to this list. It’s called Wonderport. Back in December, Japanese advertising agency Dentsu and two startups, FaithCreates and Starryworks, together announced a prototype for a new kind of communication module. Wonderport is a communication system that lets users control virtual characters displayed on screen, actually speaking through them in real time. By leveraging telecommunication and voice transformation technology, the mouth of the virtual characters moves in sync with the user’s voice. So using Wonderport, parents can ask their children what they want for Christmas disguised as a virtual Santa Claus. You can check out how this works in the video below. Enhancing communication in families is only one possible use case for Wonderport. The companies behind the product envision that it could be used in a number of different ways. For example, such virtual characters could be used to create virtual call centers, or they could be projected on huge displays at conferences or events to communicate with visitors. Wonderport can could also be pretty amazing for kids if it was installed in stuffed animals. The product…

WonderPort_website

In a previous article, we featured a number of mobile apps that come in handy for parents. Here’s one that could be added to this list. It’s called Wonderport.

Back in December, Japanese advertising agency Dentsu and two startups, FaithCreates and Starryworks, together announced a prototype for a new kind of communication module. Wonderport is a communication system that lets users control virtual characters displayed on screen, actually speaking through them in real time. By leveraging telecommunication and voice transformation technology, the mouth of the virtual characters moves in sync with the user’s voice. So using Wonderport, parents can ask their children what they want for Christmas disguised as a virtual Santa Claus. You can check out how this works in the video below.

Enhancing communication in families is only one possible use case for Wonderport. The companies behind the product envision that it could be used in a number of different ways. For example, such virtual characters could be used to create virtual call centers, or they could be projected on huge displays at conferences or events to communicate with visitors. Wonderport can could also be pretty amazing for kids if it was installed in stuffed animals.

The product came out of an event called Super Hackathon 2013 held back in May in Osaka, Japan.

How can big companies collaborate with startups?

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See the original story in Japanese. This is a part of our coverage of B Dash Camp Osaka 2013. Here in Japan we’ve recently seen several efforts to connect startups and established companies, like Morning Pitch and Creww’s Ignition Night. In Japan, most incubation programs run by corporate venture capital initiatives aim to let their employees understand the startup culture and get a sense of the creative atmosphere. So in this way, established companies and startups can complement each other, and such efforts will likely be more frequent across the local startup scene. On a day two of B Dash Camp in Osaka last week, we heard more on this topic from Microsoft Japan evengelist Shinichiro Isago, NTT Docomo Ventures managing director Daisuke Miyoshi, and Dentsu [1] senior director Fumijiko Nakajima. This session was moderated by Shuji Honjo, visiting professor at Tama Graduate School of Business, Tokyo. According to Nakajima, Dentsu focuses on three factors when partnering with startups: ideas, entrepreneurship, and technology. Under a well-known project dubbed Neurowear, the company has developed several products like as Nekomimi and Miko, which were also exhibited at SXSW back in March. His team is currently exploring business models for these products. He…

dentsu-nttdocomoventures-microsoft

See the original story in Japanese.

This is a part of our coverage of B Dash Camp Osaka 2013.

Here in Japan we’ve recently seen several efforts to connect startups and established companies, like Morning Pitch and Creww’s Ignition Night. In Japan, most incubation programs run by corporate venture capital initiatives aim to let their employees understand the startup culture and get a sense of the creative atmosphere.

So in this way, established companies and startups can complement each other, and such efforts will likely be more frequent across the local startup scene. On a day two of B Dash Camp in Osaka last week, we heard more on this topic from Microsoft Japan evengelist Shinichiro Isago, NTT Docomo Ventures managing director Daisuke Miyoshi, and Dentsu [1] senior director Fumijiko Nakajima. This session was moderated by Shuji Honjo, visiting professor at Tama Graduate School of Business, Tokyo.

dentsu-nakajima
Dentsu’s Fumihiko Nakajima

According to Nakajima, Dentsu focuses on three factors when partnering with startups: ideas, entrepreneurship, and technology. Under a well-known project dubbed Neurowear, the company has developed several products like as Nekomimi and Miko, which were also exhibited at SXSW back in March. His team is currently exploring business models for these products.

He also shared some of the projects that the company is working on in collaboration with other companies:

  • Draffic: Developed in association with Japanese GIS company Zenrin Datacom, this system visualizes how many people were located in a specific time at a specific location. It is expected to be used by local governments to consider a disaster evacuation plan.
  • Asoberu-T: Developed in association with Japanese fashion retailer Beams, this solution lets users experience augmented reality on T-shirts. We featured this product back in July.
  • Social Marathon: Using RFID technology, this service collects time lapses of runners at a marathon and automatically publish their updates via social networks to more motivate them to keep running.
  • Dentsu Science Jam: This is a joint venture with Japanese web conglomerate Digital Garage, aiming to create commercial services based on cutting-edge research in science.
draffic
draffic

According to Miyoshi, NTT Docomo Ventures aims for capital gain, but for startups, they expect to be seen as a gateway to all NTT group companies.

At a huge conglomerate like NTT Group, you may have no idea how to connect with a certain department. We will find the right person in the right department, corresponding to what you’re looking for, and link you up with them. We will work with you to explore how a department can make the most of your technology.

Since our company is a mobile carrier, we tend to be more constrained, so we will need more time to launch a new business than a typical startup does. By collaborating with startups which typically have lots of knowledge about new businesses, we would like to accelerate our internal entrepreneurial efforts as well.

One of the trends popular with our executives currently is the health care business. If you can bring us a health care solution, we can probably explore a potential business partnership.

For startups from outside Japan, they welcome any types of your approach. But they highly recommend you to visit them with a Japanese interpreter.

microsoft-isago
Microsoft’s Shinichiro Isago

Microsoft launched Microsoft Ventures from its US headquarters back in July. And Microsoft Japan is preparing to launch its Japanese counterpart, providing startups with support such as BizSpark, an acceleration program, and seed funding opportunities ranging from 5 million yen to 30 million yen (from $50,000 to $300,000).

In a response to a question about what kind of startups they can support, Microsoft’s Isago shared an interesting story:

In Saga prefecture, the local government decided to distribute our tablets to all high school students in the prefecture. Our challenge is we have little variety of apps for Windows Tablets. So we really want to support startups which can provide a variety of apps for devices.

For startups, if you want to apply for Microsoft’s incubation program, you will be requested to submit a form in English, as they are a global company. Microsoft Japan can give you translation assistance, but they recommend you to personally write about what has motivated you to launch a startup, regardless of whether your English is good or not.

Moderator Honjo praised the the panelists for helping their respective companies connect with startups. In response, Microsoft’s Isago explained why.

It’s because big companies became weaker. In the past at many companies, smarter people tend to be assigned to high profit business. But for communicating with startups, you will need to be agile and responsive. Supporting startups will not help profits so much, but taking these actions with our future in mind is a good policy.


  1. Disclosure: The author has a business relationship with Dentsu.

The state of online marketing in Japan

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For western companies, entering the Asian market is no easy task. There is the inevitable language barrier, not to mention the cultural differences. We had a chance to talk to Anji Ismail, the CEO of online marketing platform DOZ, in order to hear his thoughts on what makes the Japanese market especially different. For starters, online marketing in Japan is very well-developed. According to a study by Dentsu published in March of this year, online marketing budgets in Japan grew by 107.7% compared to the previous year. Anji adds: Japan is actually the second biggest market with over $8.1 billion in total spending in 2012, and it might reach $11 billion in 2015. Mobile is really hot in Japan, with $1.8 billion spent in 2012, ranking as the second biggest market for mobile advertising expenditures, just behind the US. Although Japanese people are known to open their wallets for digital contents such as mobile apps, games, and newsletters, it turns out that they are not especially keen to click on ads. On the web, it’s interesting to note that almost 40% of Japanese never click on sponsored ads on search engines, and only 6% of those who do have bought…

Tokyo-Shibuya-Simon-le-nippon
Photo: Simon le nippon on Flickr

For western companies, entering the Asian market is no easy task. There is the inevitable language barrier, not to mention the cultural differences. We had a chance to talk to Anji Ismail, the CEO of online marketing platform DOZ, in order to hear his thoughts on what makes the Japanese market especially different.

For starters, online marketing in Japan is very well-developed. According to a study by Dentsu published in March of this year, online marketing budgets in Japan grew by 107.7% compared to the previous year. Anji adds:

Japan is actually the second biggest market with over $8.1 billion in total spending in 2012, and it might reach $11 billion in 2015. Mobile is really hot in Japan, with $1.8 billion spent in 2012, ranking as the second biggest market for mobile advertising expenditures, just behind the US.

Although Japanese people are known to open their wallets for digital contents such as mobile apps, games, and newsletters, it turns out that they are not especially keen to click on ads.

On the web, it’s interesting to note that almost 40% of Japanese never click on sponsored ads on search engines, and only 6% of those who do have bought something after clicking. Actually, Japan has one of the lowest click-through rates, with only a 1.4% click rate on web ads. However, budgets are growing for search engine and social media optimization.

While Japanese people do click on ads, the CTR remains low. A relevant survey by Goo Research shows that almost 63% of respondents have clicked on ads shown on search results, while 24% have not. When asked what type of ads they are more likely to click, the most popular response was banner, images, or Flash at roughly 46%, and text ads on search results ranked second at about 28%. Links within newsletters, affiliate links within contents, and links within blog posts (content-match advertising) followed at around 25%.

Of course, entering the Japanese market cannot and should not be just restricted to online marketing. It’s a mixture of offline and online tactics, and some US companies have done it very well. Evernote is one good example. The company marked its third year anniversary in Japan back in March. There are over five million users in Japan and it’s the second most active market after US in terms of active users, with 30% of its revenue coming from the country.

Evernote was a typical case of what is called ‘blogger marketing’ in Japan. They reached out to tech savvy and influential people online, people who acted as ambassadors for the service. Lots of meetups were held, and these ambassadors also helped Evernote with promotion in book and other publications. Searching for ‘Evernote’ on Amazon Japan now yields over 500 results.

Google is another company that many Japanese people find appealing. In a survey about popular online brands, Google ranked third after Rakuten and Yahoo. That score is calculated from important factors such as usability, number of visits, and website loyalty. But the company’s unique promotions have likely been a factor in its popularity. For Google+, the company collaborated with the all-girl idol group AKB 48 and fashionista/pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. To promote its Chrome web browser, the company aired a TV commercial featuring the popular virtual diva Hatsune Miku.

Of course these are just a few cases, and there are many others. And given the money to be made in this lucrative market (especially on mobile), marketing to Japanese consumers will continue to be a challenge — but one with a big payoff for those who do it right.

Japan’s mobile video service NotTV hit 700,000 subscribers. But can it go much further?

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Mmbi Inc. recently announced that its mobile television service, NotTV, reached the 700,000 subscriber mark on April 8th. The mobile channel, which costs users 480 yen (just under $5) per month to use, grew steadily in 2012, but according to figures over on S-Max (which I’ve charted below) it seems as though the pace of subscriber acquisition tailed off a bit in the new year. This is unusual given that NotTV launched a promotional New Year’s campaign back on January 6th. Add to that the fact that it doesn’t appear to have received a boost from Docomo’s spring lineup of handsets, and I think this could be cause for concern for Mmbi [1]. The company’s previously stated goal for its first year was 1 million subscribers (it launched on April 1, 2012), and it has fallen well short of that milestone. Mmbi previously stated that it has the long term goal of reaching 10 million subscribers. While I’m sure NotTV will hit that first goal of a million subs in a few months, it will likely require some creative thinking to reach the second goal of 10 million. (View image version of this chart) Docomo smartphones are compatible with the…

nottv_logo_large_finol

Mmbi Inc. recently announced that its mobile television service, NotTV, reached the 700,000 subscriber mark on April 8th.

The mobile channel, which costs users 480 yen (just under $5) per month to use, grew steadily in 2012, but according to figures over on S-Max (which I’ve charted below) it seems as though the pace of subscriber acquisition tailed off a bit in the new year.

This is unusual given that NotTV launched a promotional New Year’s campaign back on January 6th. Add to that the fact that it doesn’t appear to have received a boost from Docomo’s spring lineup of handsets, and I think this could be cause for concern for Mmbi [1].

The company’s previously stated goal for its first year was 1 million subscribers (it launched on April 1, 2012), and it has fallen well short of that milestone. Mmbi previously stated that it has the long term goal of reaching 10 million subscribers.

While I’m sure NotTV will hit that first goal of a million subs in a few months, it will likely require some creative thinking to reach the second goal of 10 million.

(View image version of this chart)


  1. Docomo smartphones are compatible with the service, which it promotes since the carrier is a stakeholder in NotTV (along with Dentsu).  ↩