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Japan’s biotech firm Spiber secured $240M to build polymer production facility in US

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Spiber has been developing plant-based artificial protein fiber material called Brewed Protein. The Japanese startup announced on Wednesday that it has secured 25 billion yen (about $240 million) utilizing a value securitization structure. This funding round uses the company’s tangible and intangible assets as collateral to solicit funds from a wide range of investors, which allows them to get funds without making choices like debt financing or third-party allocation of shares which is likely to take time to negotiate with lenders or cause equity dilution. This round was arranged by Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities with participation from The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ as the initial lender and a credit investor while the names of the other investors participating have not been disclosed. Spiber signed a collaboration agreement with US-based grain producing major Archer-Daniels Linseed Company (NYSE:ADM) in September. The funds will be used to build a mass production system for brewed protein in the US in addition to research and development of new materials scheduled to launch in several years. Spiber was founded in 2007 as a spin-off from the Institute for Advanced Biosciences at Keio University in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture. Since its incorporating, the company has to…

Brewed Protein
Image credit: Spiber

Spiber has been developing plant-based artificial protein fiber material called Brewed Protein. The Japanese startup announced on Wednesday that it has secured 25 billion yen (about $240 million) utilizing a value securitization structure. This funding round uses the company’s tangible and intangible assets as collateral to solicit funds from a wide range of investors, which allows them to get funds without making choices like debt financing or third-party allocation of shares which is likely to take time to negotiate with lenders or cause equity dilution.

This round was arranged by Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities with participation from The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ as the initial lender and a credit investor while the names of the other investors participating have not been disclosed. Spiber signed a collaboration agreement with US-based grain producing major Archer-Daniels Linseed Company (NYSE:ADM) in September. The funds will be used to build a mass production system for brewed protein in the US in addition to research and development of new materials scheduled to launch in several years.

Spiber was founded in 2007 as a spin-off from the Institute for Advanced Biosciences at Keio University in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture. Since its incorporating, the company has to date secured an estimated amount of over 35 billion yen (about $340 million). In April of 2019, the company secured 5 billion yen ($48.4 million) in syndicated loans from The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Yamagata Bank, Shonai Bank, and Tsuruoka Shinkin Bank to develop a huge world-class plant for protein fermentation and purification operations in eastern Thailand (Rayong Province). The company is reportedly valued at over 111.5 yen ($1.08 billion).

Initially focused on spider silk which is said to be the strongest material on earth, the company had been developing a man-made synthetic fiber material called Qmonos. However, although the protein fibroin in spider silk is strong, it causes super shrinkage when wet, making it difficult to maintain the dimensional stability of products made from the material. Subsequently the startup succeeded to develop a protein fiber with high dimensional stability by removing the amino acid sequence features causing shrinkage from the fibroin gene, and rebranded Qmonos into Brewed Protein.

The new material is produced by microbial fermentation from plant-based sugars such as glucose and sucrose, which does not require any petroleum-derived material at all. It attracts huge attention because of many use cases: a microplastic-free and non-animal-derived material in the apparel industry, contributing to weight reduction in the logistics industry, a next-generation core material for artificial hair in the medical industry.

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Japan’s QD Laser, developer of retinal scanning displays, files for IPO

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Japanese startup QD Laser, the developer of retinal scanning displays called the Retissa series, announced on Monday that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on February 5 of 2021 with plans to offer 9,451,800 shares for public subscription and to sell 2,033,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 4,107,600 shares. The underwriting will be led by SMBC Nikko securities while QD Laser’s ticker code will be 6613. Based on the estimated issue price of 275 yen (about $2.65), the company will be valued at 9.51 billion yen (about $91.7 million). Its share price range will be released on January 20 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on January 21 and pricing on January 27. According to the consolidated statement as of March 2020, they posted revenue of 756.63 million yen ($7.3 million) with an ordinary loss of 1.23 billion yen ($11.8 million). QD Laser was established in 2006 as a spin-off from Fujitsu Laboratories where QD Laser’s founder and CEO Mitsuru Sugawara was previously quantum dot lasers. Using the company’s technology, images can be directly delivered onto the device wearer’s retina from a laser…

Retissa Display II
Image credit: QD Laser

Japanese startup QD Laser, the developer of retinal scanning displays called the Retissa series, announced on Monday that IPO application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) has been approved. The company will be listed on the TSE Mothers Market on February 5 of 2021 with plans to offer 9,451,800 shares for public subscription and to sell 2,033,900 shares in over-allotment options for a total of 4,107,600 shares. The underwriting will be led by SMBC Nikko securities while QD Laser’s ticker code will be 6613.

Based on the estimated issue price of 275 yen (about $2.65), the company will be valued at 9.51 billion yen (about $91.7 million). Its share price range will be released on January 20 with bookbuilding scheduled to start on January 21 and pricing on January 27. According to the consolidated statement as of March 2020, they posted revenue of 756.63 million yen ($7.3 million) with an ordinary loss of 1.23 billion yen ($11.8 million).

QD Laser was established in 2006 as a spin-off from Fujitsu Laboratories where QD Laser’s founder and CEO Mitsuru Sugawara was previously quantum dot lasers. Using the company’s technology, images can be directly delivered onto the device wearer’s retina from a laser projector built inside the frame, and has the potential to improve the quality of life (QoL) of the visually impaired who are not totally blind but are forced to live in a blurred world. It is also expected to be applied to augmented reality and smart glasses.

Led by Japanese computer manufacturing giant Fujitsu (26.64% through their three funds, TSE:6702), the company’s major shareholders include Tokyo Century (TSE:8439, 13.02%), Mitsui & Co. Global Investment (12.45%), Axa Life Insurance (6.80%), QD Laser’s Sugawara (5.17%), Beyond Next Ventures (2.67%), Daiichi Life Insurance, Realtech Fund (2.66%), DG Ventures (2.36%), and Nikko-SBI Innovation Fund (2.36%).

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Japanese leading beverage can maker invents connected sprayer for drone

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In order to confront an issue, you have to “monitor” it and then “take action” to solve it. People do this process unconsciously on a daily basis, but the technical hurdles may become higher when you try to do all this remotely or automate tasks with robots. Many of small drones have been limited their functions to monitoring because their limited payload for pursuing longer flight times with limited battery capacity and securing agility during flight makes it difficult to mount complex moving parts needed for action. Toyo Seikan Group Holdings (TSE:5901), one of the world’s largest beverage container manufacturers, announced this week that it has developed Sabot for Drone, a remotely-controllable spraying device which can be attached to a drone to spray liquids and chemicals at high pressure. Since the liquid or chemical is filled into the can using the company’s aerosol packaging technology, there is no need to install a pump or other complicated mechanism on the drone. The product has a variety of applications but the company introduces several use cases such as exterminating a beehive in high places using chemicals, marking on the ground and walls, and anti-corrosion and waterproofing treatment by spraying resin. Since the…

In order to confront an issue, you have to “monitor” it and then “take action” to solve it. People do this process unconsciously on a daily basis, but the technical hurdles may become higher when you try to do all this remotely or automate tasks with robots.

Many of small drones have been limited their functions to monitoring because their limited payload for pursuing longer flight times with limited battery capacity and securing agility during flight makes it difficult to mount complex moving parts needed for action.

Toyo Seikan Group Holdings (TSE:5901), one of the world’s largest beverage container manufacturers, announced this week that it has developed Sabot for Drone, a remotely-controllable spraying device which can be attached to a drone to spray liquids and chemicals at high pressure. Since the liquid or chemical is filled into the can using the company’s aerosol packaging technology, there is no need to install a pump or other complicated mechanism on the drone.

The product has a variety of applications but the company introduces several use cases such as exterminating a beehive in high places using chemicals, marking on the ground and walls, and anti-corrosion and waterproofing treatment by spraying resin. Since the capacity of the sprayer is limited, it is not suitable for spraying pesticides over a wide area or for fire-fighting work, but it will save a lot of labor and shorten the time required for work that conventionally required blocking traffic and arranging an elevation work vehicle.

The product’s first model supports an SDK (software developer kit) by Chinese drone giant DJI and is fully compatible with DJI Matrice 200 series V2. The Tokyo-headquartered company claims it has chosen DJI because of its standardization and familiarity among many industrial drone choices. They are discussing with major construction companies and power companies the potential use of the device for their maintenance work while preparing for joint development of the contents of the sprayer with major chemical and paint manufacturers.

Established in 1917, Toyo Seikan launched an initiative called the Open up! Project last year in aim to encourage innovation and new developments for the next century. As one of the outcomes from the initiative, the Sabot device is named after “skipping unnecessary work that humans do not need to do” and also an anagram of Tobas (flying) in Japanese.

In September, Toyo Seikan joined the Series A round of Shiok Meats, a Singapore-based foodtech startup creating cell-cultured shrimp meat, which was the first investment in startups. Toyo Seikan claims that they want to work with Shiok Meats to help delivering the cultured shrimp meat and other alternative crustacean foods to dinner tables in Asia, a region facing social issues such as food and protein crises, climate change, and marine pollution.

Japan’s Slideflow, turns your slides into website in seconds, launches on Product Hunt

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Bubble and Webflow are popular as low-code and no-code tools for building websites while WIX and Squarespace are thought better for creating simple pages. In Japan, we have recently seen that the developer of AI-powered website building assistant for engineers Front-End.Ai secured about $1 million US last week while landing page builder startup Peraichi announced in September that its 49% stake has been acquired by Japanese online printing and on-demand logistics startup Raksul (TSE:4384). And now, a new startup has emerged from Japan that aims to make it easier to build websites using the graphics tools we use every day such as Google Slides and PowerPoint (no mention of whether or not Keynote will be supported in the future, which is curious for me as a Macintosh user). Tokyo-based startup Yagocoro unveiled its latest product called Slideflow on Product Hunt on Saturday, which allows users to build websites using presentation slides from Google Slides and PowerPoint. The company is developing English and Japanese versions of the service in parallel, and expects to launch it in January next year. Yagocoro was launched in 2018 by Shinnosuke Ito and Masahiro Kawasaki, the founders of Laughtech (previously known as BitGather), who launched Japanese…

Image credit: Product Hunt

Bubble and Webflow are popular as low-code and no-code tools for building websites while WIX and Squarespace are thought better for creating simple pages. In Japan, we have recently seen that the developer of AI-powered website building assistant for engineers Front-End.Ai secured about $1 million US last week while landing page builder startup Peraichi announced in September that its 49% stake has been acquired by Japanese online printing and on-demand logistics startup Raksul (TSE:4384).

And now, a new startup has emerged from Japan that aims to make it easier to build websites using the graphics tools we use every day such as Google Slides and PowerPoint (no mention of whether or not Keynote will be supported in the future, which is curious for me as a Macintosh user).

Tokyo-based startup Yagocoro unveiled its latest product called Slideflow on Product Hunt on Saturday, which allows users to build websites using presentation slides from Google Slides and PowerPoint. The company is developing English and Japanese versions of the service in parallel, and expects to launch it in January next year.

Yagocoro was launched in 2018 by Shinnosuke Ito and Masahiro Kawasaki, the founders of Laughtech (previously known as BitGather), who launched Japanese ‘viral mills’ CuRAZY back in 2014. Laughtech was acquired by Japanese PR agency Vector (TSE:6058) in 2016, and CuRAZY continues to be operated by Smart Media which was merged the three web media operating companies acquired by Vector, including Laughtech. Subsequently, Ito and his team launched an offshore software development business in Vietnam, which triggered them to think about creating a service that can be used globally, and they started developing Slideflow.

Disclosure: Bridge is run by PR Times (TSE:3922), a subsidiary of Vector (TSE:6058).

Ito says,

It is easy to forget when we are immersed in the IT industry that there are still many people who feel that even WIX is difficult to use. Even business professionals working at globally-renowned consulting firms, who usually create business presentations with PowerPoint every day, come to me for an advice on how to build websites with WIX. I think there should be no big difference in the UX skill needed for both presentation slides and websites.

Image credit: Yagocoro

Given the fact that even WIX is still difficult for some people to use and it has no much variety in design templates (about only 600), Ito came up with an idea leveraging PowerPoint slides to create a website because the Microsoft tool is used by 500 million people globally which can help lowering the learning cost. Thanks to more than 320 billion slides available on the Internet, this approach may help them curate template designers more easily.

PowerPoint can also export slides in HTML format, but this is not enough functionality to create a website. Slideflow categorizes images and text in the slides by layer, and arranges them using HTML and CSS, however, this is not enough to support responsiveness, links, and forms, so they made it possible by integrating open source tool Webiny for the code generation process.

Ito continues:

Our target for the first year is to have 6,000 templates consisting of 10 pages each on average ready. We would like to differentiate our product from other tools like WIX in the number of templates while focusing on polishing user experience.

The platform’s detailed pricing structure has not yet been disclosed, but it appears to be based on a monthly subscription fee. Ito told us that their annual recurring revenue (ARR) after three years since the official launch is target around $10 million US. The company also plans to offer additional functions like website marketing, analytics, and e-commerce integration as well.

Yagocoro has secured a seed round of funding from B Dash Ventures, East Ventures, The SEED, and Advantage. Detailed financial terms have not been disclosed.

Plimes secures $1.4M seed round, helps hospitals monitor swallowing ability of elderly patients

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See the original story in Japanese. Plimes, a healthcare startup spun-off from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, announced in late March that it has raised nearly $1.4 million US in a seed round from robotics venture Cyberdyne (TSE: 7779), a fellow University of Tsukuba native for the startup. Plimes is also allying with Cyberdyne to accelerate the development and market expansion of their product. In general, people’s swallowing ability decreases with age, which puts the elderly at risk of aspiration and in turn increases the chance of pneumonia and/or death. Physicians may choose to alter the diet of patients with the decreased ability to swallow by switching them from solid food to mashed pastes, or in some cases patients may require gastrostomy for direct nutrients. Gokuri, the startup’s product, is a medical support device designed to improve the quality of life (QoL) for such eldery people. The device routinely measures whether or not swallowing is normal from the sound picked up using a microphone attached to a user’s neck, and it aims to improve the efficiency of user rehabilitation. The ability to accuratly monitor swallowing increases the possibility that the user can regain the power to eat and enjoy…

Plimes founders – From left: CCO Atsushi Nitasaka, COO Tomoya Shimokakimoto, CEO Kenji Suzuki, CTO Dushyantha Jayatilake
Image credit: Plimes

See the original story in Japanese.

Plimes, a healthcare startup spun-off from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, announced in late March that it has raised nearly $1.4 million US in a seed round from robotics venture Cyberdyne (TSE: 7779), a fellow University of Tsukuba native for the startup. Plimes is also allying with Cyberdyne to accelerate the development and market expansion of their product.

In general, people’s swallowing ability decreases with age, which puts the elderly at risk of aspiration and in turn increases the chance of pneumonia and/or death. Physicians may choose to alter the diet of patients with the decreased ability to swallow by switching them from solid food to mashed pastes, or in some cases patients may require gastrostomy for direct nutrients.

Gokuri, the startup’s product, is a medical support device designed to improve the quality of life (QoL) for such eldery people. The device routinely measures whether or not swallowing is normal from the sound picked up using a microphone attached to a user’s neck, and it aims to improve the efficiency of user rehabilitation. The ability to accuratly monitor swallowing increases the possibility that the user can regain the power to eat and enjoy tasty solid foods.

The Gokuri swallowing monitoring device
Image credit: Plimes

This is seed funding for the Plimes team after 10 years since they started basic research at the University of Tsukuba and the University Hospital of Tsukuba back in 2010 (not yet incorporated at that time). Funding was made possible by Gokuri’s high level of accuracy, 97.3% or more, with regards to measuring normal and abnormal swallowing conditions, and the establishment of a business model using hospitals as sales channels. The current business model assumes that hospitals will adopt the solution to improve medical services for patients.

Plimes COO/Co-founder Atsushi Nitasaka says,

For example, hospitals don’t want to see any patient with a brain tumor is cured by surgery but goes on to die of aspiration pneumonia the first time he ate. […]

During the process of starting development and advancing the product market fit, we realized that there is a need for doctors to monitor the patients’ diet. However, doctors cannot be continuously looking after them. This is where our solution can help. Our business model supports hospitals with their goal of discharging patients quickly.

In collaboration with Kyotango City in Kyoto, Tarumizu City in Kagoshima, and Fukuoka Prefecture, and other local governments, the company has been conducting practical tests with elderly participants at local medical facilities. Plimes feels that Japanese startups are uniquely skilled at developing solutions for aging societies, and since aging is a social issue common to developed countries, they have started global business expansion. Plimes is currently conducting demo tests in the US, Germany, and Denmark.

The Gokuri swallowing monitoring device
Image credit: Plimes

In line with the latest funding, Plimes will begin recruitment of skilled team members for each speciality: testing for swallowing, monitoring studies, medical device development, business development, speech therapy, cloud application development, and AI technology. Cyberdene, one of the investors in thiis round, has its hands in health and medical related business, so we can expect to see emerging synergy. Plimes will receive widespread support from Cyberdyne for engineering, back office functions, and the development of sales channels.

Plimes was adopted into the Japan Science and Technology Agency’s startup business “JST Start” initiative back in 2015 followed by being incorporated in 2018. Additionally, the company has had excellent results at numerous startup events and initiatives, including receiving the IP Bridge Award at the Asian Entrepreneurship Award 2018 and winning the 2nd “Startup Accelerator Tsukuba” Demo Day.

Translated by Amanda Lynn
Edited by Masaru Ikeda

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.