THE BRIDGE

tag pickup

Japan EdTech startup Atama Plus secures $46M+ series B round for global expansion

SHARE:

See the original story in Japanese. Atama Plus, the Japanese startup offering AI-based learning materials for cram schools under the same name, announced Wednesday that it has fundraised about 5 billion yen (about $46.4 million US) in a series B round. In addition to existing investors such as DCM Ventures and JAFCO Group, participating investors include the Singapore Government-backed Temasek Holdings’ Pavilion Capital and US-based T. Rowe Price. This has brought the company’s funding sum to date up to about 8.2 billion yen (about $74.6 million). The learning platform allows users to shorten the time to acquire basic academic skills. It can detect where students are likely to get stuck during learning, so it can teach the teacher when they are likely to get stuck, enabling precise and efficient coaching. It is being used in more than 2,500 classrooms, including Japanese notable cram school chains like the Sundai Group and the Z-kai Group, as it is expected to have a high learning effect. In July of last year, the company began offering online mock exams, and in December, it launched a joint research group with Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto to link the company’s learning data to the university’s entrance exams….

The Atama Plus team
Image credit: Atama Plus

See the original story in Japanese.

Atama Plus, the Japanese startup offering AI-based learning materials for cram schools under the same name, announced Wednesday that it has fundraised about 5 billion yen (about $46.4 million US) in a series B round. In addition to existing investors such as DCM Ventures and JAFCO Group, participating investors include the Singapore Government-backed Temasek Holdings’ Pavilion Capital and US-based T. Rowe Price. This has brought the company’s funding sum to date up to about 8.2 billion yen (about $74.6 million).

The learning platform allows users to shorten the time to acquire basic academic skills. It can detect where students are likely to get stuck during learning, so it can teach the teacher when they are likely to get stuck, enabling precise and efficient coaching. It is being used in more than 2,500 classrooms, including Japanese notable cram school chains like the Sundai Group and the Z-kai Group, as it is expected to have a high learning effect.

In July of last year, the company began offering online mock exams, and in December, it launched a joint research group with Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto to link the company’s learning data to the university’s entrance exams. With the latest fund, the company aims to expand its business by increasing employees from the current 160 to 250.

Overseas investors joined the round for the first time

Image credit: Atama Plus

It is rare for foreign funds such as Temasek and T. Rowe Price to invest in privately held Japanese companies, but there have been a few cases in the past, including Studyst and SuperStudio (both from Pavilion Capital), and Freee and Sansan (both from T. Rowe Price).

Global investments (mostly in the US) in the first half of 2021 totaled $288 billion, up significantly from $110 billion in the same period last year. Among these investments, Temasek has invested in 47 companies in the first half of 2021 alone. Temasek invested in 47 companies in the first half of 2021 alone, while T. Rowe Price’s investments totaled $5 billion.

So, why haven’t they paid more attention to Japanese startups so far? As I heard from a local investor, typical overseas investors tend to evaluate deals based on market size. They simply evaluate companies based on their market cap, so the upside is Apple as their market cap hit $2.4 trillion as of this writing.

Manwhile, foreign investors are unlikely to invest in startups which cannot compete in the global arena. Conversely, these investors recognized that Atama Plus CEO Inada and his team could compete globally. In fact, Inada said that the reason for having foreign funds in this round is aiming for a global IPO.

Competing in the global market

The world’s most valued EduTech companies – Toppr (India), Byju’s (India) Yuanfudao (China), and Descoplica (Brazil)

According to Inada the global education market is estimated $3.8 trillion, while $226 billion in Japan alone including $9 billion for cram and prep schools. The Yano Research Institute’s report (forecast as of 2019) says that the market of cram schools, prep schools, language learning and qualification courses is estimated to be about $25.3 billion, with Benesse at the top of the industry with sales of about $4 billion while other businesses scattered across the country.

Meanwhile, as shown in the list of unicorns, Asian startups are making remarkable progress in the global education market. In particular, India’s Byju’s (valued at $16.5 billion) and China’s Yuanfudao (valued at $15.5 billion) may be definite rivals for Atama Plus in the global competition because both of the startups were founded back in 2017 when Atama Plus was so. By the way, Japanese largest education company Benesse is valued at about $2.4 billion (as of this writing).

Inada and his team’s idea wants to take a firm position as a top player by starting with cram and prep schools in Japan first (there about 50,000 schools nationwide), while at the same time expanding the business beyond cram and prep school materials, such as online mock exams and the joint project with Ritsumeikan. The platform used to have a problem taking a long time for onboarding, but now it has been streamlined and the introduction to cram and prep schools has become smoother than before.

Inada thinks that the education market in China and India is still under development, and the challenge there is offering better access to education rather than pursuing the quality of learning materials. The inflated valuations of education startups in these markets are much dependent on marketing-led growth but his company may have a better chance of winning the competition with the quality of products, he says.

Merpay’s Aoyagi joined the board

From left: Naoki Aoyagi (newly-appointed advisor for Atama Plus, CEO of Merpay), Daisuke Inada (Founder and CEO of Atama Plus)

Prior to the latest funding, Merpay CEO Naoki Aoyagi joined the advisory board of Atama Plus. Inada’s intention having him on the board is to learn how to compete in the global market. In the past decade, we haven’t seen that many tech entrepreneurs from Japan challenging the world.

Aoyagi is around Inada’s age, and his experience having startups like Gree and Merpay grown up to giants will certainly be very beneficial for Inada’s team. Atama Plus uses the funds to expand to 250 employees, and such a growth at a startups is the first-time experience for Inada even if he has worked at the education business unit at an enterprise like Mitsui & Co. Inada wants to property deal properly with growing pains that may occur in the future by learning from him in advance.

The company’s latest funding has a huge potential in terms of not only a rare case of funding for a Japanese startup from global institutional investors but also a case study of those looking at global expansion. We’ll keep our eyes on how they will fare from now on.

Translated by Masaru Ikeda

Kamereo secures $4.5M in series A to expand food supply chains in Vietnam

SHARE:

Ho Chi Minh City-based Kamereo, the startup behind a B2B food marketplace for restaurants in Vietnam under the same name, announced today that it has raised 500 million yen (about $4.5 million US) in a Series A round. Participating investors in this round are CPF Group (the food distribution arm of the Thai business conglomerate Charoen Pokphand), Singapore-based Quest Ventures, Tokyo-based Genesia Ventures, and several unnamed individual investors. Genesia Ventures follows Kamereo’s previous round back in January of 2019. Quest Ventures is a VC firm founded in 2010 by Singaporean entrepreneur James Tan and Chinese entrepreneur Yunming Wang, both of whom successfully launched Chinese Groupon clone Wowo a.k.a. 55Tuan and subsequently listed it on NASDAQ. The firm has so far invested in more than 60 startups including notable names in South East Asia such as automobile marketplace and subscription-based rental startup Carro (joined the Unicorn Club last month), flea market app Carousell (reportedly planning the US IPO via SPAC within this year). Kamereo was founded back in June of 2018 by HCMC-based Japanese entrepreneur Taku Tanaka. Prior to launching the startup, he previously worked at Credit Suisse followed by joining Pizza 4Ps, one of the most popular pizza chains in…

KAMEREO management: CEO Taku Tanaka stands in the third from left, CTO Hiroshi Tokaku stands in the fifth from left.
Image credit: Kamereo

Ho Chi Minh City-based Kamereo, the startup behind a B2B food marketplace for restaurants in Vietnam under the same name, announced today that it has raised 500 million yen (about $4.5 million US) in a Series A round. Participating investors in this round are CPF Group (the food distribution arm of the Thai business conglomerate Charoen Pokphand), Singapore-based Quest Ventures, Tokyo-based Genesia Ventures, and several unnamed individual investors. Genesia Ventures follows Kamereo’s previous round back in January of 2019.

Quest Ventures is a VC firm founded in 2010 by Singaporean entrepreneur James Tan and Chinese entrepreneur Yunming Wang, both of whom successfully launched Chinese Groupon clone Wowo a.k.a. 55Tuan and subsequently listed it on NASDAQ. The firm has so far invested in more than 60 startups including notable names in South East Asia such as automobile marketplace and subscription-based rental startup Carro (joined the Unicorn Club last month), flea market app Carousell (reportedly planning the US IPO via SPAC within this year).

Kamereo
Image credit: Kamereo

Kamereo was founded back in June of 2018 by HCMC-based Japanese entrepreneur Taku Tanaka. Prior to launching the startup, he previously worked at Credit Suisse followed by joining Pizza 4Ps, one of the most popular pizza chains in Vietnam, as the Chief Operating Officer. In a previous interview with Bridge, they were advocating a platform that would streamline communication, trading, and management that restaurants have with a variety of suppliers, similar to what Infomart (TSE: 2492) has been doiing in Japan, but it looks like their business has pivoted a bit since then.

Tanaka explained:

The structure of food supply chains is different in Japan and Vietnam. In Japan, there are many restaurant chains with multiple stores, and once a supplier starts selling to one store, it may be relatively easy to expand into other store in the same chain. Restaurants can also receive exactly what they have ordered to suppliers.

However, in Vietnam, both the system of restaurants and suppliers are still developing. There are many family-run restaurants which don’t usually require a huge amount of food supply so they buy directly from a nearby market. That’s why we pivoted to a food supplier in August of 2019. We are buying foods from producers and delivers to stores.

The Kamereo team
Image credit: Kamereo

If you’ve visited Ho Chi Minh City, you may know that there are still narrow alleys in the old town area while development is going on all over the city. In order to deliver food to restaurants in these places in a timely manner, motorcycles are very useful. Although motorcycles cannot carry a large amount at once, the company has set up multiple distribution centers in the city to ensure efficient deliveries to these restaurants. In addition to Cash on Delivery, the company accepts selling on credit on a semi-monthly or monthly payment basis.

On the contrary to most vegetables which can be procured from small-scale businesses such as farmers, it will be necessary to deal with majors for obtaining meats because it requires capital investment such as slaughterhouses and HACCP-certified fresh meat plants. With this background, Kamereo decided to raise funds from CPF Group.

B2B food supply platforms are showing steady growth in many countries, such as FoodMarven in the U.S., Meicai in China (Bloomberg reported in May that it’s preparing for an IPO in the U.S.), Ninjacart in India (with a market cap of US$500 million as of May), Twiga Foods in Kenya, and Supp.li in Poland and Hungary. Kamereo currently has about 100 employees, and aims to become a leading player in this sector in Vietnam by 2022 by expanding into Hanoi, the country’s capital and second most populous city.

Japanese chat fiction app Peep secures series D from Tencent for global expansion

SHARE:

Tokyo-based Taskey, the Japanese startup behind chat fiction app Peep, announced last week that it has secured a series D round from Chinese tech giant Tencent. For the startup, this follows their previous funding rounds in June of 2015, July of 2018, and May of 2019. The funding amount of the latest round has not been disclosed but it is estimated seven-digit or more figures in US dollars based on the size of previous rounds. The company was founded in 2014 by Hiromu Oishi who is also known as novelist Romy Oishi for his works “Love is a Loaded Pistol” and “Escalator Boy”. In December of 2017, his startup launched the Peep app, which allows subscribers to read stories in the category of chat fiction, a format of web fiction written solely in the form of text-message or instant messaging conversations. A flock of excellent works created by novelists and editors have contributed to achieving the 3 million downloads milestone to date. Compared to comics and video clips, text may seem unremarkable but it can be a base for derivative works in other formats, which is very advantageous for creating more potential for films or TV drama series. Despite only…

Image credit: Taskey

Tokyo-based Taskey, the Japanese startup behind chat fiction app Peep, announced last week that it has secured a series D round from Chinese tech giant Tencent. For the startup, this follows their previous funding rounds in June of 2015, July of 2018, and May of 2019. The funding amount of the latest round has not been disclosed but it is estimated seven-digit or more figures in US dollars based on the size of previous rounds.

The company was founded in 2014 by Hiromu Oishi who is also known as novelist Romy Oishi for his works “Love is a Loaded Pistol” and “Escalator Boy”. In December of 2017, his startup launched the Peep app, which allows subscribers to read stories in the category of chat fiction, a format of web fiction written solely in the form of text-message or instant messaging conversations. A flock of excellent works created by novelists and editors have contributed to achieving the 3 million downloads milestone to date.

Compared to comics and video clips, text may seem unremarkable but it can be a base for derivative works in other formats, which is very advantageous for creating more potential for films or TV drama series. Despite only 2,000 titles available on the app at the moment, “let’s read” video clips featuring these titles have been viewed more than 45 million times to date. It has also succeeded in winning the hearts of the Gen Z by creating clips starring notable influencers.

The company plans to use the funds to add a new viewing experience called Illustrated Novels (literally translated) to the app. In addition, they will launch a global version app in August where users can read English translation of the works from the Peep app. By teaming up with Tencent, the Chinese tech giant renowned for its strength in promoting and developing various types of games, Taskey expects to turn their smash-hit fictions into games and expand them globally.

 

 

Webtoons have been driving force behind the creation of movies and TV drama series in Korea. Our readers may recall that Korean webtoon studio Tapas Media was acquired by portal giant Kakao for US$510 million last year, and more recently, Korean short-form drama startup WhyNot Media secured funding from Japanese telco KDDI to expand into the Japanese market.

Kakao Japan, the Japanese subsidiary of Korean platform giant known for running the Piccoma digital comics platform, secured $526.5 million in funding, which brought their market cap to $7.7 billion and is expected to soon join the so-called Decacorn Club. Rocket Staff, the Japanese startup joining the umbrella of Japanese anime conglomerate Animate back in January, is aiming to develop its webtoon business in Japan while Korean portal giant Naver has announced that it will integrate Wattpad, a Canadian novel creation social networking service acquired earlier this year, with its webtoon business to begin full-scale global expansion.

In this way, a number of platforms have been emerged to distribute content born out of the community. Although Japanese manga is highly regarded worldwide, it takes a long time to create a smash-hit due to the shortage of manga artists and their candidates.

Taking their advantage of the lower cost for finding artists and the ability to output interesting stories, Taskey will focus on developing more fictions and other intellectual properties that can be transformed into a variety of entertainment formats.

Japanese entrepreneur to launch meal replacement shakes for pre- and diabetes in US

SHARE:

I think we should introduce Hiroshi Takatoh as an angel investor. He introduced Japan’s first ad fraud detection service at his own startup Momentum back in 2014, and then sold it in 2017 to Syn. Holdings (now known as Supership Holdings), a subsidiary of Japanese telco KDDI (TSE: 9433). Since then, as far as we know, he has invested in startups that contribute to improving people’s social lives, such as Triple W Japan, Legal Technology, and Holoash. Earlier this year Takatoh took became back to a serial entrepreneur by founding a new startup called to develop foods for for diabetes. It may be unusual for anyone to switch from ad to health food industry, but it seems that his feelings for his wife, who he lost to cancer, are behind his decision. Although it depends on the type of cancer and the location of the onset, there is a lot of scientific evidence that cancer cannot be completely cured by surgical treatment alone, and that it is largely due to diet. Consuming well-balanced nutritious food on a daily basis can lead to prevention, but today’s busy people do not have much time to shop and some of them may not…

Image credit: Teatis

I think we should introduce Hiroshi Takatoh as an angel investor. He introduced Japan’s first ad fraud detection service at his own startup Momentum back in 2014, and then sold it in 2017 to Syn. Holdings (now known as Supership Holdings), a subsidiary of Japanese telco KDDI (TSE: 9433). Since then, as far as we know, he has invested in startups that contribute to improving people’s social lives, such as Triple W Japan, Legal Technology, and Holoash.

Earlier this year Takatoh took became back to a serial entrepreneur by founding a new startup called to develop foods for for diabetes. It may be unusual for anyone to switch from ad to health food industry, but it seems that his feelings for his wife, who he lost to cancer, are behind his decision. Although it depends on the type of cancer and the location of the onset, there is a lot of scientific evidence that cancer cannot be completely cured by surgical treatment alone, and that it is largely due to diet. Consuming well-balanced nutritious food on a daily basis can lead to prevention, but today’s busy people do not have much time to shop and some of them may not have the cooking skills.

Hiroshi Takatoh

This is why Takatoh created meal replacements, or complete nutritious meals that can replace our usual meals. Focusing on diabetes, one of the most common lifestyle-related diseases among people today, he plans to start selling meal replacements, which contain a lot of superfood ingredients such as seaweed polyphenols, in August in the US, where about 120 million people are said to have pre- and diabetes. When dissolved in water, it can be drunk as a smoothie or latte with a focus to help curb blood sugar spikes. Many people in the US have been so far using the protein sheets to manage morning blood sugar spikes.

Dr. Yoshiro Kubota (Director Kikkoman General Hospital, preventive medicine expert Dr. Mitsuo Numata (Umikaze Clinic in Yamaguchi), and Dr. Roman Kalista (CEO, New York-based nutrition-focused AI developer RxDiet) have helped develop the Teatis meal replacement. Ahead of the official launch, about 4,000 pre-registered users have tried the Teatis product, and many of them have given positive feedback that they felt they were able to keep their blood sugar levels under control.

Before the official launch in the US, Teatis revealed that it had raised about 40 million yen ($360,000 US) in funding from several angel investors. The names disclosed include Takuya Noguchi (CEO of Japanese D2C healthcare startup), Tatsuro Shimada (former CTO, mobile Q&A app developer cConnehito), and Yuichi Uchida (Mercari). The company plans to conduct a product market fit first, and then expect to raise funds from a variety of investors around the world to expand to India, China, Japan, and other countries if the market response is good.