Japanese Startups and Venture Companies to Watch in 2023
Raising financing is one of the largest challenges of any startup, yet the good news is that there are a fair number of venture capital firms in Japan willing to invest if the pitch is right, which starts with understanding the sectors that are drawing interest right now.
A careful look at successful venture-backed companies and startups in Japan can help you grasp future industry trends and opportunities where markets are expected to grow.
To find out what Japan's startup ecosystem looks like and what venture capital firms and seed accelerators are looking at in key industry sectors, we've compiled the following list of companies, businesses, and services that might give you insight into Japan's marketplace and where market experts are willing to invest.
A J-Startup selection, Kotozna aims to provide multilingual contactless translation solutions for hotels—with many other uses. Kotozna In-room is a SaaS platform developed for hotels, digitizing communications between staff and guests, providing an all-in-one solution that helps with contagious disease prevention control, and crossing language barriers.
This Japanese startup has taken its first steps toward global expansion and is continuing to seek further growth opportunities, according to Kotozna's JETRO CES page.
One of their more recent offerings uses artificial intelligence via ChatGPT 4 to provide concierge service in multiple languages.
A product for our current times, Kotozna will likely find many options for partnership on the international stage.
Japan's startups regularly spearhead innovations that provide solutions for aging populations. This is clearly shown in Plimes' first product, GOKURI, an AI product that monitors the swallowing capacity of elderly individuals.
This AI-powered point of care product comes as a wearable device around the neck, providing clinicians and medical institutions and those in the health care industry with the ability to monitor against choke risks in stroke patients and the elderly.
This device, and many others like it, show Japan's deep understanding of the needs that elderly individuals face and the innovative solutions that Japanese startups are taking to tackle these issues.
This cutting edge startup is the maker of an exoskeleton leg assist suit that enables wearers to complete long-standing tasks without straining the legs or back and with no external power supply. The exo suit, called Archelis, is attached to the legs and is adjustable to any height or body size.
Two versions are ready for sale: Archelis for Medical, for medical field workers, such as surgeons; and Archelis for Factory, for those who work in industrial settings. Making news since prototype development, Archelis won the Good Design Award, Best 100 in 2018, and the iF Design Award 2020. Not yet fully global, the startup's JETRO CES entry lists them as looking for investors.
Perhaps one of Japan's best-known robotics companies, Yukai Engineering's products have been covered by CNN, the Washington Post, Business Insider, TechCrunch, and many other international media outlets. They have won many awards, and their products have been popular globally. Still, their ambition runs deep.
Their vision is to develop robots that will be recognized as the world's standard interface. One of their latest products Bocco Emo is a cute robot that allows you to send and receive messages with your family and loved ones. Check out Yuka Engineering's JETRO CES entry page for more of their latest robot products.
BallWave Inc. has created a smart gas chromatograph that expands one's natural odor perception abilities. This invention is the size of a lunchbox yet provides high performance in warning of toxic threats within the house or in your environs. Other uses include measuring food and beverage freshness levels.
An exciting startup in the IoT and infrastructure category, BallWave Inc. is currently looking for global distributors and partners, according to their JETRO CES page.
Vanguard Industries is a Tokyo startup that specializes in concept, solution, product, and experience design. Their first product, the MOFLIN, raised over $600,000 through a Kickstarter campaign and netted them an honoree placement in the 2021 CES Innovation Awards, which acknowledges outstanding design and engineering in consumer technology products within the startup scene.
The MOFLIN is an AI pet that exhibits emotional learning patterns that provide a real-life pet experience. Its expressions will change as it is given care. Masahiko Yamanaka, Vanguard Industries' CEO, proposes that taking care of a MOFLIN could help prevent the onset of dementia and could be used in psychotherapy for elderly patients. Additionally, families that cannot take care of a real-live pet can still teach children essential aspects of sensitivity and caring for a pet through MOFLIN. Visit their JETRO CES page here.
Tokyo Supercars is a luxury car-sharing company that provides rental opportunities, day tours, racing experiences, and more in the Greater Tokyo Area, delivering a service that's the first of its kind in Japan.
The business provides a platform, enabling owners of luxury supercars to share their rides with car enthusiasts, allowing users to experience cruising through Tokyo at night in a Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, or another vehicle from their high-end lineup. Founded by a small team with a capital of ¥51,000,000 and a passion for supercars, Tokyo Supercars' services include car-sharing, rental, corporate incentives, and partnerships.
Offering up new experiences in the Tokyo area helps to further international interest and domestic tourism and provides an experience-based source of entertainment unassociated with the food and dining industry.
As addressed in a previous article, the number of procedures required to start and run a business in Japan are lengthy and notorious. SmartHR solves a lot of that. They provide software that companies can subscribe to, streamlining various human resources tasks, such as employment contracts, new-hire onboarding procedures, year-end adjustments, online payslips, and various of Japan's many labor procedures.
Established in 2013, SmartHR won several awards from various startup conventions right from the start, winning startup funding rounds and then series B funding of ¥1.5 billion ($13.3 million) in 2018. Today, this is one of the top Japanese startups and is worth ¥490 million, and Rakuten and Mercari are among SmartHR's strategic partners.
SmartHR software allows middle managers and staff to concentrate on their business's primary purpose, rather than wasting time on the mind-numbing amount of paperwork required to run a business in Japan.
A venture company focused on boosting Japan's move toward digitalization, MailMate offers virtual mailboxes and virtual addresses to both English and Japanese users.
This start up company was founded in 2019 with the mission to make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to do business in Japan.
As part of their services to English users, they provide business addresses for company incorporation to new businesses, along with a virtual mail service that comes with translation summaries for those who can't read Japanese.
Working professionals who work from home can also use their address service to separate their work-related mail from being sent to their private address.
The “world's most comfortable shoe” company opened its first store in Tokyo on January 10, 2020. After seeing vast success online and with an A-list lineup of individuals who wear Allbirds footwear, Allbirds chose Harajuku for their first store location in Japan. The company uses merino wool and eucalyptus fibers for the shoe body. The sole is made from sugar cane, the insole is made from castor oil, and the shoelaces are made from recycled PET bottles.
In an interview with Forbes Japan, co-founder Joey Zwillinger stated that as a startup company, he had always wanted to open his store in Harajuku, where people gather who have a startup spirit and are sensitive to fashion trends.
Allbirds sneakers' use of environmentally friendly materials is one of its most significant growth and attraction components as climate change awareness and activism spread worldwide. Shop location in Harajuku also places Allbirds squarely within the sights of its target demographic.
A different take on the average babysitting agency, CareFinder is a Tokyo startup that aims to build and support connections between families and babysitters. Caregivers are selected through rigorous screening and interviews and preferred networks, such as ID checks (licenses and passports) and work visa checks. Many sitters are from various countries and are bilingual in English, Japanese, and other languages.
Founded in 2013 by Megumi Moss, a former Sony employee, CareFinder stands apart by welcoming international babysitters with a wide range of skills, giving special attention to bilingual caregivers, so that children can become fluent in English and Japanese when language-acquisition peaks.
This is one of the fastest-growing babysitting communities in Tokyo, providing parents with the ability to search for a sitter with a particular skill set and then negotiate directly on fees and hours. First gaining popularity among the expat community, it has since grown to become popular for Japanese working mothers and parents who are looking to provide their children with an at-home English environment.
Mymizu won 2020's Good Life Award, a Minister of Environment Prize, and it's simple to see why. The Good Life Award celebrates the top eco-friendly initiatives in Japan, which are tackling large-scale environmental problems. Mymizu does that through its app that guides you to the nearest water fountain or eco-friendly cafe that offers free refills.
The mission? Eliminating the use of plastic bottles—and promoting personal bottle use by pointing you to free refill spots so you can refill your bottle on the go. Initial funding was completed within the first 48 hours of the project on Kickstarter. Mymizu has since received funding from several sources, including the iF World Design Award “Social Impact Prize 2019” that came with a monetary prize.
Apps like this are needed to combat plastic consumption, which is likely to peak with incoming spectators, athletes, and related individuals.
The Japanese startup ecosystem has many delightful entries, from startups that focus on business development to those that provide an online platform that boosts remote work capabilities.
These startups all contribute toward Japan's growing startup economy and have created products that feel timely, not just for Japan's economic growth, but also for developing countries and markets worldwide.
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