Latest Kenji Kasahara News
Mar 23, 2021
HoloAsh announced on Monday that it has secured 73 million yen (over $670,000 US) in a pre-seed round. Participating investors include Akatsuki’s Heart Driven Fund, Miraise as well as angel investors like Kenji Kasahara (founder of Mixi), Hiroshi Tomishima (formerly at Mixi), and Shokei Suda (CEO of Enigmo). At the same time, the company also announced that it will pivot its main business to a community app for teenage minorities. Founded back in 2018, the company secured a pre-seed round from Hiroshi Takato (Momentum) in 2019 following an angel round from INDEE Japan, Takeshi Soga (SGcapital), Takashi Shibayama (BLANQ), and Osamu Ogasahara (ABBALab) in 2018. The latest round brought the company’s funding sum to date up to about 100 million yen (about $925,000 US). Founded by Yoshua Kishi, who himself has been also suffering from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), his startup has been aiming to alleviate the symptoms leveraging technology. Following his first product of a cognitive science-based holographic interface , he launched a mobile app called Nao allowing users to receive the experience similar to the aforementioned product with a virtual character using a messaging app. The Delaware-incorporated startup consisted of French, Indian, and Nigerian members in addition to Japanese CEO Kishi has been focusing on the global market since their day one. The company lauched the weBelong social community app in January, intended for teens of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer), Black, Hispanic and other minorities in the US and the rest of the world. Functions of the weBelong app Image credit: HoloAsh In an interview with Bridge, Kishi says, Our app targets minority teenagers who are less understood by society about their gap. 76% of LGBTQ kids say they don’t belong according to Human Rights Campaign’s survey. They are confined to their homes, less understood by their parents about their gap, and in some cases they are abused. TikTok is becoming popular in the US but it is mostly white girls receiving attention there. In contrast, our app wants to create a community where minority kids can belong and they could upvote each other. When I was a little boy, I had the experience of getting a hug from my school’s principal for brushing my teeth well, which filled my heart with joy. I want to deliver that kind of experience through the app. With the recent emergence of various social networks, it has been reported that some users, in order to satisfy their desire for self-expression and approval, over-present themselves, resulting in mental exhaustion. It is also interesting that weBelong is designed to promoting peace of mind and encouraging users to motivate but never to hate each other, as the content posted “ephemerally” disappears. Currently, weBelong has more than a few hundred users. By country, 70-80% of the users are from the US, followed by Canada, the UK, and Japan. The average time spent by users per day is about 40 minutes, which is longer than that of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. In this particular niche , Dubsmash, a short video app for minorities, was acquired by Reddit last year while other notable apps include LEX (LGBT community app), Blue Fever (community app for Gen Z), and Quilt (minority community for adults). Related news Kawasaki, Kanagawa-based LexxPluss announced on Wednesday that it has secured an undisclosed sum in a seed round from Incubate Fund, SOSV Investments, and Sumitomo Corporation. For the startup, this is the first funding from third-party investors except founders. SOSV and Sumitomo are known for jointly operating HAX Tokyo , the regional chapter of globally renowned hardware startup accelerator HAX, where LexxPlus was incubated in the program’s second batch. Masaya Aso Image credit: LexxPluss LexxPluss was founded in 2020 by Masaya Aso, a former employee of German auto parts giant Bosch. In addition to LexxPluss, he serves as the president for Deep4Drive , an open mobility development community focused on automated driving and reinforcement learning. LexxPluss is working on automated transport robots for logistics warehouses and manufacturing plants while there are many competing manufacturing automated transport robots in the world including Kiva which is often seen in Amazon’s footage films. According to Aso, about 80% of logistics warehouses in Japan have not even begun considering the use of robots because there are few robots which can collaboratively work with humans. What is an collaborative robot for the logistic industry? For example, it is the one that brings what you want exactly where you want it. Such a highly-collaborative robot may become a key differentiator in the transport robotics industry because of giving higher safety and efficiency. Automated transport robots manufacturers can be divided into two roles – hardware developers and software developers – while LexxPluss can deal with both of these functions. In addition, these robots can be categorized into two types – AGV (Automated Guided Vehicle) and AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robot) – while the company’s robot is a hybrid of these functions and can meet all kinds of on-site needs. Aso says, From my experience at Bosch, there was no solution to a physical problem that could be solved by software or hardware developer alone. We also found that simply buying and implementing robots developed by manufacturers often did not meet the needs of clients. That’s why we decided to work on both software and hardware aspects in an integrated manner. In particular, Our AGVs can be controlled to with an error of less than plus or minus one centimeter, which is totally based on our unique technology. Typical AGVs may be out of designated position as they continue to work, but ours can properly work so that this does not happen. Aso makes a pitch at the Incubate Camp 13th showcase in October of 2020. Image credit: Masaru Ikeda LexxPluss’s business model may be more flexible by providing both hardware and software in an integrated manner. The company aims to build a structure in which automated transport robots are provided to customers at close to the cost of manufacturing and development and then earn revenue from charges for software controlling robots and the cloud for analyzing cost-effectiveness and further efficiency. This is an interesting RaaS (robot as a service) model that does not rely solely on the leveling of implementation costs. SOSV’s HAX, based in Shenzhen China, has been inviting budding but prominent hardware startups from all around the world. With the latest funding from investors including SOSV, LexxPluss is looking to expand its automated transport robotics business globally. In addition to HAX, SOSV operates biotech-focused accelerator IndieBio (San Francisco), Chinaccelerator (Shanghai, China), mobile-focused accelerator MOX (Taipei), and decentralizzation and blockchain technology-focused accelerator dLab. Related news Image credit: Agrist Updated at 11pm on Wednesday: We learned this round does NOT include debt financing. The title was adjusted while the affected part was deleted. Japanese AgriTecch startup Agrist, based out of Miyazaki on Japan’s Kyushu Island, announced today that it has secured a series A round. Participating investors are Dogan Beta, Miyazaki Taiyo Capital, ENEOS Innovation Partners, Miyagin Venture Capital, Jafco Group (TSE:8595) and Incubate Fund while the startup has received debt financing from an unnamed regional financial institution . This round follows their seed round back in 2019. The company has not disclosed how much they raised in the Series A roundbut it is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of yen, as the company’s post Series A round valuation is estimated over 1.6 billion yen (about $15 million US) according to Japanese startup database Initial . According to the Japanese agricultural ministry, Miyazaki Prefecture accounts for one-fifth of the entire domestic production of green peppers . Agrist was founded in a town of 17,000 people in the prefecture. The company’s founder, Junichi Saito, is well known as a regional revitalization producer having developed lychee production and encouraged many entrepreneurs to move there. Junichi Saito Image credit: Agrist The company is an AI-powered harvesting robot called “L” to solve the labor shortage in agriculture. Aiming to develop a practical system rather than an expensive robot with flawless performance, the team has worked with local pepper farmers to develop the robot that can move around using aerial wires rather than over uneven soil in a vinyl greenhouse. The robot uses computer vision to fully automate the harvesting process. This year, the company will start developing Agriss, an operating system to increase the harvest rate of agricultural products. In an interview with Bridge, Saito told us that his team hopes to make the robot a data-driven one by integrating with the operation system. We want to increase the harvest rate of agriculture around the world, and this can be done by collecting data from all over the world as more and more farmers adopt our robot and use it to further improve their harvesting methods. In the future, we would like to roll out the system not only in Japan but also in China, Africa, and other regions suffering from food production problems. There have not been many examples of Japanese agriculture changing the world’s agriculture, and the source of this change has been produced near vinyl houses in rural areas (like us). Agrist is collaborating with Japanese petroleum giant Eneos Holdings (TSE: 5020, formerly known as JXTG Holdings), the parent company of ENEOS Innovation Partners, one of the investors in this round, on the development of a farming and power generation package. This aims to develop the one in which solar power generation equipment is installed in the upper space of crop production areas, and AI automatically increases the harvest rate while also generating electricity. It is expected to contribute to agriculture in off-grid areas as well as to the development of SDG businesses. The team won the third place in the IVS 2020 Online “LaunchPad”, and has been selected for the FY2020 “Smart Agriculture Demonstration Project by Japanese Agricultural Ministry” for an operational demonstration with six farmers and six harvesting robots. In addition to the launch of an experiment of automated harvesting robots in Kamisu City, Ibaraki Prefecture, which is also well known for green pepper production, the company won the Deep Valley Agritech Award sponsored by Fukaya City, Saitama Prefecture, planning to introduce automatic cucumber harvesting robots in the city. It was also selected for the second batch of Japan Agricultural Cooperatives’ accelerator program. Related news This is a guest post by Trista Bridges. Its Japanese translation is available on Bridge’s Japanese edition . Trista is a strategy and sustainable business expert, who’s passionate about changing business for good. Strongly believing that sustainable business = smart business, she co-founded Read the Air to shift mindsets, business strategies, and ways of working towards business models that put sustainability at the core. By now, you are undoubtedly aware of how sustainability has emerged as the zeitgeist of the moment – ESG investments have grown leaps and bounds in Japan and elsewhere, while the SDGs have been embraced by governments, businesses and individuals alike. Although there is no shortage of “ greenwashing ” at the moment, it’s undeniable that there’s a fundamental change afoot in respect to our vision of society. There’s widespread awareness that our world has some pretty audacious problems to address – from social equality to climate change and everything in between. The urgency of addressing these issues has increased, but the verdict is still out on how to best fix these problems and whose responsibility it is to do so. Businesses are being asked to do more In the past, we instinctively turned to the state to fix problems such as these. But we now know that government won’t be able to tackle these challenges on its own. We have transitioned to a multi-stakeholder world, one in which various entities are being compelled to take on a greater role in addressing global challenges. And there are few stakeholders who are being expected to step up more at the moment than business. Companies of all sizes are being asked to embrace a more sustainable business model, namely one that minimizes its negative “impact” on the environment and society and maximizes its positive ones. For example, moves such as Japan’s recent 2050 net zero pledge mean than businesses of all sizes will need to take steps to reduce their carbon emissions. We’ve already seen Apple’s promise to achieve 100% carbon neutrality across its entire supply chain by 2030. Others will need to take similarly bold steps. This growing importance of impact is a sign that we are in the early stages of recalibrating how we define business value. While financial strength will always be important, there is a growing belief that companies that don’t pay attention to their environment and societal impact, as well as their own governance, are, in fact, putting their success at risk. Image credit: 401(K) 2012 via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic The impact revolution coming to tech Until recently, this has largely been a publicly listed company phenomenon, with tech startup ecosystems generally being left outside of this debate. But now, it’s coming to tech with full force. While the ESG spotlight was first shown on Big Tech, startups, VCs and other ecosystem players are starting to be scrutinized on sustainability factors as never before. But what do innovators and their investors need to be most aware of? Here are some thoughts on how this trend is changing the game for the two core players of the tech ecosystem – VCs and startups: VCs Adoption of sustainability-oriented principles and practices has been spotty, to say the least, across venture capital. While private equity firms have made strides integrating ESG in recent years and, in some cases, even developing specific impact investment funds (see TPG’s Rise Fund ), venture capital funds have been slow to come on-board. European VCs have perhaps seen the best progress to date, with funds like Idinvest/Eurazeo , Atomico , and Balderton being early movers on ESG or making sustainability commitments. More recently, the US venture capital space has seen an uptick in thematic funds around topics such as climate and diversity. Finally, stalwart funds like Sequoia have announced that they are actively investing in sustainability, especially in climate tech. Yet, it’s clear that this is only the beginning and that the VC community still has a ways to go. Nevertheless, there are three key reasons that we should see an acceleration in this area in the coming years: Risk mitigation: With an increasingly challenging regulatory environment for finance and tech alike, a growing conscious consumer movement, and shifting norms around what constitutes “good business,” it’s an increasingly risky proposition to invest in startups without considering how they’re approaching these issues. Using ESG criteria (at a minimum) to screen investment opportunities gives investors a tangible way to help de-risk their portfolios. Limited partner (LP) interests: While these entities are still looking for market leading returns from funds, sustainability is also quickly moving up their agendas. In some instances, it’s their stakeholders (shareholders, customers, contributors) who are demanding it. In others, such as family offices, individuals want to reflect their values in how they invest. In the future, it may be difficult for VCs to raise funds from reputable LPs if they don’t integrate ESG principles and practices in their fund operations and investment activities. Opportunities: Earlier tech waves addressed many first-level problems, such as connectivity, efficiency, and information discovery; the next wave will tackle much more fundamental societal and environmental challenges. Future value is going to be driven by innovations that solve these complex issues. Image credit: nosita via Pixabay Startups When an entrepreneur is trying to build a company with limited resources, generally, the last thing they’re thinking about is the impact their product will have on the environment or society. Understandably, their focus tends to be more towards business fundamentals, such as product-market fit or customer acquisition. However, startups are not building their businesses in a bubble. Many of the societal and environmental dynamics mentioned in this article will impact startups’ success going forward. While there are many more support systems now to help startups scale (funding, training, etc. ), the environment they are operating in is, in many ways, more complex and competitive than the one faced by their peers merely a decade ago. And this has been even further complicated by the pandemic. What can startups do to prepare and succeed in this new paradigm? Anticipate risks and prepare accordingly: Startups today are innovating in areas that their predecessors shunned for fear of overregulation or sheer complexity. While this is commendable, it also presents them with new risks. Taking an approach early on which considers societal and environmental impact will help them avoid potential problems down the road. For example, are entrepreneurs innovating with AI considering potential problems around biases or possible nefarious use of the services they develop? What actions can they take to avoid these potential challenges? Or, are food delivery services thinking about fair labor practices or the environmental impact of mounds of plastic packaging waste? Getting ahead of these issues early on can help avoid potential problems, regulatory, reputational, or otherwise, down the road. Respond to investors’ shifting priorities: Naturally, as VCs increasingly embrace sustainability, they are going to look to startups that do the same or are willing to do so. As VCs make commitments, they need to demonstrate to their LPs and other stakeholders that their fund and portfolio companies are moving in lock step. It goes without saying that this is a big ask of many startups. To make this work, VCs will need to support startups differently and, often, more proactively than they have in the past. Lean in to sustainable innovation: Encouragingly, there are endless opportunities for startups in areas like climate tech, food tech, sustainable fashion, fintech, and healthcare. Startups that build products and services that can do things like efficiently and inexpensively capture and store carbon, significantly reduce inequalities in healthcare access, or shore up the resilience of our food systems, will be the next generation of winners. And with burgeoning success stories like Northvolt , Impossible Foods , and Japan’s own Euglena , there’s evidence that this is already coming to pass. Working today on opportunities that drive positive impact will pay dividends tomorrow. Related news Image credit: Uncovered Fund It’s been almost three years since young Japanese investor Takuma Terakubo announced the launch of his sub-Saharan Africa-focused Leapfrog Ventures . It has since been rebranded into the Samurai Africa Fund , and its management has been taken over by Samurai Incubate, the Tokyo-based VC firm that Terakubo previously worked for. After Leapfrog Ventures (also known as Samurai Africa Fund I) finished its investment activities, Terakubo apparently moved on to establish a new fund. We just learned that he established Uncovered Fund in July last year, named it after regions or areas where backing entrepreneurs is considered insufficient, with a targeted total of 1.5 billion yen (about $14.2 million). It has secured funds from institutional investors as well as Japanese footballer Keisuke Honda’s KSK Angel Fund. The fund is expected to invest in early-stage startups in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and other East African countries, as well as larget market such as Nigeria and South Africa. It will be focused on retail, fintech, healthtech, logistics, MaaS, agritech/foodtech, and smart city verticals, with an eye on “Africa in 2030” when the fund will mature. Its ticket size is ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 US. Uncovered Fund’s portfolio startups at the moment Image credit: Uncovered Fund SkyGarden (Kenya), helping retail stores digitize offline and online sales Rxall (Nigeria), building a safe drug distribution infrastructure leveraging a fake drugs detection system LipaLater (Kenya), enabling postpaid payments at e-commerce stores in East African countries Gozem (Togo), offering a car-hailing service in West African countries. Send (Nigeria), a digital freight forwarder and customs broker, expected to grow as the AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) was launched last month Apart from Uncovered Fund, there are an increasing number of funds from Japan investing in African startups. In addition to the aforementioned Samurai Incubate, Double Feather Partners , Asia Africa Investment & Consulting (AAIC) , Kepple Africa Ventures are active these days.