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Asia-focused KK Fund helps Thai startups meet investors virtually in face of COVID-19 troubles

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Singapore-based KK Fund, the VC firm backed by many Japanese companies and focused on investing in seed stage internet and mobile startups across Southeast Asia, is launching their first Meet Your Match Thailand ​session with the aim to help match investors with Thailand-based startups in light of the uncertain situation due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In order to support the startup ecosystem, KK Fund claims it has signed up with more than 20 investors to participate in this initiative to connect Thai startups with potential investors. Participating investors include Vertex Ventures, Sumitomo Corporation, PTT, Denso, Krungsri Finnovate, Colopl Next, CyberAgent Capital, Monk’s Hill Ventures, Insignia Ventures Partners, Beacon Venture Capital, Sequoia Capital, and other outstanding Thai and Japanese firms. In the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, more than a few startup founders in the world are struggling with meeting up with potential founders because of urgent need of funding or further sustainable business development. As a reason why KK Fund decided to focus on helping Thai entrepreneurs rather than other startup ecosystem, the VC firm’s general partner Koichi Saito says he got inspired by the initiative which the Japanese trade and economy ministry recently rolled out in Bangkok….

Singapore-based KK Fund, the VC firm backed by many Japanese companies and focused on investing in seed stage internet and mobile startups across Southeast Asia, is launching their first Meet Your Match Thailand ​session with the aim to help match investors with Thailand-based startups in light of the uncertain situation due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In order to support the startup ecosystem, KK Fund claims it has signed up with more than 20 investors to participate in this initiative to connect Thai startups with potential investors. Participating investors include Vertex Ventures, Sumitomo Corporation, PTT, Denso, Krungsri Finnovate, Colopl Next, CyberAgent Capital, Monk’s Hill Ventures, Insignia Ventures Partners, Beacon Venture Capital, Sequoia Capital, and other outstanding Thai and Japanese firms.

In the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, more than a few startup founders in the world are struggling with meeting up with potential founders because of urgent need of funding or further sustainable business development. As a reason why KK Fund decided to focus on helping Thai entrepreneurs rather than other startup ecosystem, the VC firm’s general partner Koichi Saito says he got inspired by the initiative which the Japanese trade and economy ministry recently rolled out in Bangkok. Saito has participated in several summits hosted by the ministry with an aim to connect the two countries in tech and startup field.

If you run a startup in Thailand and want to grab this opportunity, simply submit you application through the Google form link by April 10 so that you can get in touch with potential investors who may be interested in your business or idea. Upon successful matching, an online session over Zoom will be arranged by the investor with the startup.

In Japan, Moneyforward Synca, the Tokyo-based consultancy focused on helping startups raise investments or sell through an IPO or M&A deal, has launched a similar scheme with more than 20 local VC firms with an aim to prevent founders from stagnating fundraising.

Japanese HR startup to hold virtual hackathon focused on combating coronavirus

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Tokyo- and Kuala Lumpur-based Grooves, the company best known for its engineer recruiting platform called Forkwell, announced today that it will hold a virtual hackathon focused on helping techpreneurs compete by using technologies in order to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic. Sponsored by Microsoft, AWS, the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation and other distinguishing tech companies, the two-week event will kick off on March 30th and allow participants to compete each other while receiving mentorship from top-level data scientists from the US, Canada, Croatia, Australia, and Malaysia. Malaysia has been experiencing the region’s first lockdown where local people are forced to find new ways of working because they have to stay and work at home. Starting his business in Tokyo, Grooves’ CEO Hiro Ikemi moved to Kuala Lumpur back in 2018 to bet on the potential of the emerging market. He says his company wants to help local community and entrepreneurs to fight off the hardship through the hackathon. Instead of other similar events, this hackathon asks participants to focus their competing ideas and projects only on two topics: Drug Discovery and Virus Combat. Thanks to Grooves’ effort and their sponsors’ contribution, top 3 places winners can receive cash prize with…

Tokyo- and Kuala Lumpur-based Grooves, the company best known for its engineer recruiting platform called Forkwell, announced today that it will hold a virtual hackathon focused on helping techpreneurs compete by using technologies in order to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Sponsored by Microsoft, AWS, the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation and other distinguishing tech companies, the two-week event will kick off on March 30th and allow participants to compete each other while receiving mentorship from top-level data scientists from the US, Canada, Croatia, Australia, and Malaysia.

Malaysia has been experiencing the region’s first lockdown where local people are forced to find new ways of working because they have to stay and work at home. Starting his business in Tokyo, Grooves’ CEO Hiro Ikemi moved to Kuala Lumpur back in 2018 to bet on the potential of the emerging market. He says his company wants to help local community and entrepreneurs to fight off the hardship through the hackathon.

Instead of other similar events, this hackathon asks participants to focus their competing ideas and projects only on two topics: Drug Discovery and Virus Combat. Thanks to Grooves’ effort and their sponsors’ contribution, top 3 places winners can receive cash prize with complimentary credits for cloud services.

In 2019, Grooves announced $920,000 funding from Inspire PNB Partners, the joint venture between Japanese investment firm Inspire and Malaysia’s state-run firm Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB), managing a Sharia-compliant private equity fund called PNB-INSPiRE Ethical Fund 1. The firm got approval from Tokyo Labor Bureau to launch a recruiting agency business for so-called “highly-skilled professionals” from Korea and Taiwan.

Bangkok-based mobility data startup Flare raises $1.4M series A from Japanese investors

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Bangkok-based Flare, offering an ad-wrapping service for car owners as well as mobility data management and analytics services, announced today that it has raised 150 million yen (about $1.4 million) in a series A round from Spiral Ventures Asia, Chiba Dojo, Sun Asterisk, and Voyage Ventures. Sun Asterisk (previously called Framgia at the time) follows their participation in a seed round funding back in 2018 while Voyage Ventures follows a series A round back in 2019. Flare was launched back in August of 2017 by Japanese serial entrepreneur Kazuki Kamiya who moved to Thailand in November of 2013. Prior to Flare, he established a Skype-based Thai language school in May of 2014 and subsequently engaged in managing crowdsourced translation / interpretation and business portal website. Following the Flare ad-wrapping service, his company launched Flare Analytics and Flare Dash last year. Flare Analytics is a device-free cloud based platform analyzing driving data which can be applied for fleet management and telematics insurance while Flash Dash visualizes driver behavior so that their operation management can easily understand where their employee drivers are running and working. Flare says the new fund will be used to invest in further developing the aforementioned three services…

The Flare team. CEO Kazuki Kamiya stands second from the left.
Image credit: Flare

Bangkok-based Flare, offering an ad-wrapping service for car owners as well as mobility data management and analytics services, announced today that it has raised 150 million yen (about $1.4 million) in a series A round from Spiral Ventures Asia, Chiba Dojo, Sun Asterisk, and Voyage Ventures.

Sun Asterisk (previously called Framgia at the time) follows their participation in a seed round funding back in 2018 while Voyage Ventures follows a series A round back in 2019.

Flare was launched back in August of 2017 by Japanese serial entrepreneur Kazuki Kamiya who moved to Thailand in November of 2013. Prior to Flare, he established a Skype-based Thai language school in May of 2014 and subsequently engaged in managing crowdsourced translation / interpretation and business portal website.

Flare Analytics
Image credit: Flare

Following the Flare ad-wrapping service, his company launched Flare Analytics and Flare Dash last year. Flare Analytics is a device-free cloud based platform analyzing driving data which can be applied for fleet management and telematics insurance while Flash Dash visualizes driver behavior so that their operation management can easily understand where their employee drivers are running and working.

Flare says the new fund will be used to invest in further developing the aforementioned three services by strengthening hiring sales and engineering positions. Flare Ad serves 15,000 registered users as of April last year, is aimed to hit 100,000 user milestone in the future. The company recently partnered with Renet Japan Group (TSE:3556), microfinance and other solution provider serving Cambodia, to launch the Flare ad-wrapping service in the Indochina market earlier this year. Flare Dash was also recently launched in Myanmar after Thailand.

As part of Open Innovation Columbus (OIC) through which the Japanese government and Thai conglomerates encourage strategic alliances between innovative Japanese startups and the Thai conglomerates, Flare partnered with Toyota Tsusho (Thailand) to jointly conduct a proof-of-concept and develop a safety driving-focused product using Fire Analytics last year. Since the platform can also be provided in the form of an SDK (software development kit), it can be more easily integrated with other software so that it can target corporate users who are running their existing systems.

Meet 4real, Japan’s anime figure marketplace making sure you don’t get scammed

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Uridoki, an online shopping mall comprising of shops buying unused goods from owners, announced a cross-border character figure trading platform called 4real today. For individuals, it allows you to sell and buy character figures, principally unused ones only. The startup authenticates every item prior to listing it for sale and issues a certificate so that buyers don’t need to worry about being scammed with fake or pirate products. Product authenticity is a serious problem in the trading market of character figures. In Akihabara, the Tokyo district known for high-tech electronics and Japanese anime / manga culture, 8 out of 15 shops dedicated in buying figures said they have seen more than a few counterfeit items in response to Uridoki’s recent survey. In addition, some respondents said more people come sell fake or pirate ones while others say counterfeit items are distinguishable for professionals only but not for amateurs because of high reproducibility. Uridoki has been brokering deals of character figures with resale shops on the existing platform. Leveraging partnership with them, the company decided to launch the marketplace giving buyers authenticity guarantee as making themselves different from others. Authenticity judgements are primarily based…

From left: Nana Suzuki (4real dept., Uridoki), Yasuo Kogure (CEO, Uridoki), Kota Nojiri (4real dept.)
Image credit: Uridoki

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Uridoki, an online shopping mall comprising of shops buying unused goods from owners, announced a cross-border character figure trading platform called 4real today. For individuals, it allows you to sell and buy character figures, principally unused ones only. The startup authenticates every item prior to listing it for sale and issues a certificate so that buyers don’t need to worry about being scammed with fake or pirate products.

Product authenticity is a serious problem in the trading market of character figures. In Akihabara, the Tokyo district known for high-tech electronics and Japanese anime / manga culture, 8 out of 15 shops dedicated in buying figures said they have seen more than a few counterfeit items in response to Uridoki’s recent survey. In addition, some respondents said more people come sell fake or pirate ones while others say counterfeit items are distinguishable for professionals only but not for amateurs because of high reproducibility.

The 4real marketplace
Image credit: Uridoki

Uridoki has been brokering deals of character figures with resale shops on the existing platform. Leveraging partnership with them, the company decided to launch the marketplace giving buyers authenticity guarantee as making themselves different from others. Authenticity judgements are primarily based on copyright seal, facial expression of figure, color irregularity, what’s printed on a package, smell and elasticity. While Japan-made character figures are earning good reputation at home and abroad, the spillover impact of such popularity induces more piracy cases as we saw a large pirate factory in Shanghai exposed by the local police. In response to the potential global remand, the marketplace is available in multiple languages and can be checked out with PayPal (Users outside Japan can purchase listed items but are not yet allowed to submit their items for sale at the time of launch).

US-based StockX is best known as one of the startups giving an authenticity guarantee for secondhand purchasers. Their greatest strength is dealing with sneakers while they list many character figures in the Collectibles category. In addition, we’ve seen other startups like Goat (US), Monokabu (Japan), Kckc (pronounced as ‘kikcy’, Japan), Novelship (Southeast Asia) and Poizon (China) are being emerged but all of these mainly deal with sneakers. Focused on character figures, 4real can better promote themselves to the global market while emphasizing their competitiveness in the Cool Japan concept.

Image credit: Uridoki

Launched as a price comparison site allowing users to see how much they can sell their unused items to a series of reuse shops, Uridoki later pivoted to a shopping mall of reuse shops. In 2018, the company launched a mobile app called Picol, whiich allows users to sell their unused item just by scanning its barcode (the app already shut down). The company has raised 330 million yen to date, recently partnered with the Japanese subsidiary of eBay.com to share actual market prices of secondhand items in the overseas with reuse shops in Japan.

Berlin-based urban farming startup Infarm announces Japan expansion

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In Tokyo today, Japanese digital agency Infobahn is holding the TOA World Tour Tokyo meet-up as one of the stops introducing Berlin-based outstanding startup conference Tech Open Air to local communities. In the meet-up, Erez Galonska, fonuder and CEO of Berlin-based urban farming startup Infarm, was invited onstage to announced that his company has raised funding from JR East (TSE:9020), one of key local railway operators, to expand into the Japanese market. The Berlin startup is expected to launch the service this summer in the Kinokuniya premium supermarket, a subsidiary of JR East. Some of our readers may recall that Indoor Urban Farming, the German business entity behind Infarm, secured a total of $100 million dollars in a series B round led by London-based VC firm Atomico last year, which brought their total sum of funding to date up to $134 million US. The stage of the latest round is not defined because it’s specifically set up for partnering with JR East and its retailing arm Kinokuniya. In a response to Bridge’s asking, Infarm declined to disclose how much they have raised at this time. Infarm was founded in 2013 by Osnat Michaeli and the Israeli-born brothers Erez and Guy…

From left: Erez Galonska (CEO, Infarm), Takako Tsutsumiguchi (President, Kinokuniya Supermarket Chain), Shun-ichiro Yamashita (President, Muroo), Teruyuki Omote (Executive Officer, Deputy Director General of Life-style Business, JR East), Ikuo Hiraishi (Managing Director, Infarm Japan)
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

In Tokyo today, Japanese digital agency Infobahn is holding the TOA World Tour Tokyo meet-up as one of the stops introducing Berlin-based outstanding startup conference Tech Open Air to local communities. In the meet-up, Erez Galonska, fonuder and CEO of Berlin-based urban farming startup Infarm, was invited onstage to announced that his company has raised funding from JR East (TSE:9020), one of key local railway operators, to expand into the Japanese market. The Berlin startup is expected to launch the service this summer in the Kinokuniya premium supermarket, a subsidiary of JR East.

Some of our readers may recall that Indoor Urban Farming, the German business entity behind Infarm, secured a total of $100 million dollars in a series B round led by London-based VC firm Atomico last year, which brought their total sum of funding to date up to $134 million US. The stage of the latest round is not defined because it’s specifically set up for partnering with JR East and its retailing arm Kinokuniya. In a response to Bridge’s asking, Infarm declined to disclose how much they have raised at this time.

Infarm was founded in 2013 by Osnat Michaeli and the Israeli-born brothers Erez and Guy Galonska to cultivate greens in the dead of the German winter. We covered them for the first time when their team won the Innovation Weekend Grand Finale pitch competition, the startup showcase event hosted by Tokyo-based VC firm Sunbridge Global Ventures back in 2015.

Infarm founders: CMO Osnat Michaeli, CEO Erez Galonska, CTO Guy Galonska
Image credit: Robert Rieger, FvF Productions UG

With Infarm’s solution, its cloud constantly optimizes temperature, humidity, lighting, pH and other environmental factors so that leaf vegetables such as herbs and lettuce can be stably grown in it regardless of the climate. Just requiring power, water and WiFi to work, it is so flexible to fit any type of location. For the current model, seeding is performed at the Infarm hub facility while each plant piece will be semi-automatically exported out of the farming unit when it’s ready for shipping. The market-ready pieces are sent into the facility at a supermarket so that consumers can purchase them fresh while they are still growing and being stocked in the storefront.

Infarm has expanded into France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Great Britain, Denmark, Canada and the United States, as well as its home turf of Germany, partnering with local supermarkets such as Irma (Denmark), Kroger / QFC (US), Marks and Spencer (UK), Metro (Europe) and Edeka (Germany) to sell locally-grown vegetable products. With more than 600 Farming Units in stores and distribution centers around the world, they are shipping more than 250,000 plants a month. For Infarm, their sales at the Kinokuniya supermarket will be the first not only in Japan but also in the entire Asia region.

Infarm is establishing a local subsidiary called Infarm Japan in Tokyo to enable the expansion into the Japanese market. As Managing Director of the Japanese entity, Infarm appoints Ikuo Hiraishi, the organizer of the aforementioned startup pitch competition as well as CEO of DreamVision. DreamVision has taken over the fund management of Sunbridge Global Ventures which participated in the seed round of Infarm.

Inhub, Infarm’s farming solution
Image credit: Infarm

In addition, Japanese cold supply chain company Muroo, which boasts one of the largest chilled logistics networks in Japan, will partner with Infarm to help the latter roll out their facilities all across Japan. Muroo’s President Shun-ichiro Yamashita was a student of the MBA class that Hiraishi was teaching as a visiting professor at Hosei University Graduate School of Business in Tokyo.

Erez Galonska told Bridge in an interview:

We are excited about the expansion. Japan has unique problems to tackle, such as a large amount of food loss, challenging sustainable agriculture in hash natural environments including frequent typhoon attacks, and also aging farmers…So I believe our capability that requires less human operation to deliver fresh vegetables is significant. […]

Since JR East and Kinokuniya were looking for innovation, we thought synergies could be found by partnering with them. As expanding into Japan, we will adjust our product lineup to fit local consumer’s preference by adding Asian leaf vegetables.