A Gathering of International Accelerators: Startup Pitches and Mentoring Event in Osaka, Kansai (January 25, 2021)

The Startup Pitches and Mentoring Event in Osaka, Kansai was held on January 25 as an online event with the aims of discovering highly promising startups based out of Osaka, Kansai and offering mentoring (viewable to the public) by members of international accelerators.

The event was hosted by the Osaka Prefecture and the Kansai Economic Federation (Kankeiren) ABC Platform alongside cosponsors Osaka Startup Ecosystem Consortium and Osaka Innovation Hub (OIH), with additional support from Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City, Hyogo Prefecture, Kobe City, the Kansai Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI Kansai), and Kyoto Chiesangyo Sozonomori.

The Osaka Startup Ecosystem Consortium (hereafter, “the Osaka Consortium”) is an organization founded with the goal of bringing together companies, government organizations, economic organizations, universities, support groups and others to foster an environment that facilitates the continual creation of globally active startups. Currently, the Osaka Consortium has 44 member organizations and the Osaka Business Development Agency (OBDA) serves as its office.

Together with joint signatories Kyoto and Kobe (Hyogo), the Osaka Consortium has been selected as a Startup Ecosystem Global Hub City under the Cabinet Office’s “Strategies for creation of startup ecosystem to compete with the world top ecosystems” program. Utilizing Kansai’s strengths in fields such as the life sciences, members hope to leverage the powerful synergy achieved through collaborations in the Kyoto–Osaka–Kobe region while making use of national government support in their efforts.

The Startup Pitches and Mentoring Event in Osaka, Kansai was held with support from various parties and, through publicizing of startups’ pitches as well as mentoring support efforts, the event provides opportunities for more people to learn about participating startup’s activities and the shared challenges they face. Following startup business pitches, participating mentors led a Q&A session to answer questions from startups who had not taken part in presentations.

Toshikazu Muroi, Executive Director of the Osaka Prefecture Department of Commerce, Industry and Labor’s Small and Medium Enterprise Support Office, said a few words to open the event, including, “As we pursue numerous large-scale projects, including Osaka’s Expo 2025 and redevelopment of the Umekita [northern Umeda] district, there is high demand for social system innovations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as other new, creative ideas.”

In this regard, many are expecting big things from the startups who will lead such innovations. Muroi introduced a wide range of available support to facilitate startup growth in areas such as funding, finding of management personnel, global resource development and so forth. Commenting on the event itself, Muroi added, “Mentoring from members of leading startup accelerators from around the world can spur further growth, so I encourage as many startups as possible to make use of information from this event.”

Each participating startup was given a maximum of 15 minutes to present, during which they spent about 7 minutes pitching and then spent the remaining time receiving questions and comments from the three mentors.

Things proceeded at a steady pace. Shumpei Kobayashi of Plug&Play Japan Ventures Associate, Ayumi Ode of 500 Startups /Japan Country Lead, Innovation & Partnerships, and Tadashi Yoshida of Rainmaking Innovation Japan/ Startupbootcamp Scale Osaka Director Business Development served as mentors.

Protecting the Environment through Development of 100% Biodegradable Plastics

The first pitch was from AC Biode Co., Ltd. a company that focuses on chemical technologies and has developed the world’s first standalone alternating current (AC) battery, a catalyst that chemically breaks down plastic waste, and other such innovations. They have already released some of these for purchase on the market. One such innovation is their 100% biodegradable plastic, which they achieved by overcoming common shortcomings and problems such as competitiveness with food, intermixing of petroleum-derived ingredients, and difficulties in material shaping and processing. AC Biode’s biodegradable plastic can be broken down in a matter of weeks, is easy to shape, and comes in multiple variations.
Mentor Yoshida asked, “Even though environmental protection measures are receiving worldwide attention these days and a lot of people are interested in the issue, your product will be processed as standard plastic waste, so wouldn’t it be beneficial to propose a full recycling model alongside it?” Responded AC Biode CEO Tadashi Kubo, “Currently, there isn’t that much demand for biodegradable plastics, so we plan to market the product as a plastic that can be dumped into the sea while also utilizing this product advantage in branding efforts.” Although the company only offers samples of their product at the moment, Kubo said that major-brand companies in fields including cosmetics and beauty have shown interest in using it for products including plastic chips, bottles, forks and cups.

Kubo added that the company’s cofounder and CTO has called upon past experience developing new materials for a major corporation, applying that experience to enable product development using existing rather than new facilities at AC Biode. Additionally, the company receives support for plastic molding operations, and can therefore offer the advantage of lower initial costs (which are normally high) for these production operations compared with competitor companies.

Development of Japan’s Only Comprehensive Operations System for Small and Medium-sized Hotels

AZOO Co., Ltd. develops and sells the WASIMIL hotel system aimed at improving efficiency in the numerous tasks required of small and medium-sized hotels, which are seeking improved operating efficiency in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Traditional hotel systems handle individual functions separately, requiring complex coordination of multiple system at once. In contrast, WASIMIL brings together reservation management automation and various other functions in a single, unified package, and even offers this system based on a subscription model to reduce user costs.
One of WASIMIL’s biggest advantages is its marketing automation features, which entail analyzing customer data and applying the results in marketing campaigns while measuring campaign effectiveness.
CEO HirokoYokota founded AZOO in January 2020 together with another Canadian member. From their base of operations in Kyoto, they plan to expand the company’s activities out to the global market and show meaningful results within five years’ time. Mentors at the event pointed out the importance of digital transformation in the hotel industry, and praised the clarity of AZOO’s target of strengthening small and medium-sized hotels in order to revitalize the market.

During Q&A, AZOO introduced their seminars sponsored by local financial institutions covering topics such as user interfaces and marketing to target users, and emphasized that online lodging reservation services could be approached in a cooperative rather than competitive spirit as a means of forging new partnerships.

Utilizing AI to Develop Comprehensive Health Support Services for Women Facing Pregnancy

Flora Maternity Co. utilizes proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to provide novel solutions to persons who are looking to get pregnant, plan to give birth or are already raising children. Currently, the company focuses primarily on healthcare support via app development and other such projects, intended for use by women who are pregnant or have recently given birth. In Japan, one in three women give birth at the age of 35 or later, which places a large physical and mental burden on these mothers.

Flora Maternity is currently developing the Flora Pregnancy App to serve as a personal maternity support “midwife” that fits in your pocket. Through this app, a smartphone is used to collect and visually display the user’s health-related information. Using proprietary AI developed by Flora Maternity, the app serves as a support system for the user’s dietary and nutritional needs while also providing mental support via a chatbot feature.

The app provides individual support and user-specific content for all stages of the process, from initial efforts to get pregnant through to child-rearing after birth and post-birth return to work. The ad-free, B2B beta version of the app released in December 2020 was tested by 300 users over a one-month period and received high praise. The company plans to take part in an accelerator event in Singapore, and during their pitch at the Osaka event they unveiled their roadmap and sales projections along with other information.
CEO Anna Kreshchenko explained that the femtech and babytech markets, which have been gaining attention around the world for their focus support for the health of women and young children, are forecasted to grow fivefold over the next five years. She added that, even though Japanese local governments provide support in the femtech field, they still don’t offer the same levels of support as their counterparts in the West, which is why Flora Maternity chose to target the Japanese market.

Patented Matching Platform Service for Live Streaming of Exhibitions

toraru co., ltd. develops multiple solutions to address COVID-19 era limitations, which prevent us from traveling and going to the places we want to go. Their “genchi” cloud-based service connects users with streamers located onsite in places that other people want to go but cannot. For the Osaka pitches and mentoring event, toraru chose to showcase their use of genchi at exhibitions.
A human-run service not unlike Uber, genchi has people onsite at exhibitions stream the event live. It provides everything from streamer–user matching to payment processing and streamer rating, and has been patented as a body-sharing platform service.
CEO Jun Nishiguchi explained, “Over a period of three to four months, we have recruited several hundred people to stream live from events, and there is demand from the viewer end as well.” In the future, the company hopes to use remote-controlled robots, VR drones and other such technologies while also enabling users to physically feel, smell, and taste things as part of their experience. Mentors praised the company’s efforts highly, commenting on the uniqueness of the idea and easy-to-understand services.

Mentor Shumpei Kobayashi asked, “How immersed in the event or place does the user feel?,” to which Nishiguchi responded, “Visuals are important for immersing the user in the experience, and we have a lot of know-how in this area.” The company is also considering a future framework to specifically designate persons with certain skills.

Active Learning that Links Schools Together Online, Both in Japan and Around the World

Through online classes linking schools in Japan and other parts of the globe, With The World Inc. pursues active learning which entails education centering on discussion and debate on social issues. The company was founded in 2018 and already coordinates with 330 schools in 54 countries worldwide. In 2020 alone, their system was used by a total of 1,000 people. With The World handles everything from screening and selection of overseas schools to learning program creation, online usage support and results evaluations, and their hard work has led to many repeat customers.
“We want to deliver education to every corner of the earth.” So says CEO Shunta Igarashi, who explained that his company’s program inspires students to look more deeply into the region in which they live, and that learning English through personal experiences gives one more confidence in their abilities. The company’s education programs even include homestay experiences, and student satisfaction has climbed as high as 93 percent.
When asked by Kobayashi if the program has the potential for use outside of schools, Igarashi responded, “We are already pursuing several such projects, and there is demand for new employee and leader training.” Igarashi received many other questions as well about how wide the range of eligible schools will be expanded, pricing decisions, and how project frequency is determined.

Three Main Question Types and Specific Advice and Support Efforts

During the Q&A session, questions revolved around three major themes. The first was funding, and on the topic of standards used for deciding where to make seed capital investments, Kobayashi commented, “Although there’s no single correct approach, at Plug&Play we look at three factors: market scale, personnel and teams, and the product. Honestly, because the relationship between the startup’s founder and its investors will continue for a long time, personal compatibility is a big part of it.”

Regarding specific fund raising approaches, Mentor Ayumi Ode introduced examples such as LinkedIn and paid investor-search services for gathering information, explaining that “one must decide specifically which investor sources they want to use for funding.” Added Ode, “Participating in conferences, accelerator programs, demo days and so forth can be effective, but you should be careful to avoid the common mistake many Japanese companies make of creating excessively wordy informational materials, because people won’t read these.”

The second theme for questions was overseas business expansion. “Generally speaking, one should rely upon organizations that are equipped to help,” commented Tadashi Yoshida, explaining that overseas branches of organizations such as the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) as well as local government organizations and financial institutions offer support frameworks, and even inquiring at the country’s Japanese embassy can be effective. Yoshida also mentioned that learning to speak the local language and visiting the country or region in question to personally get to know local communities is ideal, and encouraged caution when using guidebooks as these sometimes contain outdated information.

“Applying standard Japanese business practices and approaches overseas will end in failure,” said Ode, “It’s important to be flexible and adapt to the local style.” Added Kobayashi, “The decision-making process is an important consideration when doing business overseas.”

The third theme for questions was accelerator programs, and various inquiries were made about the advantages of participating in such programs. Ode explained that, at 500 Startups, they try to remain flexible while holding regular events tailored to local region needs, providing matching services with large companies, offering support for expansion into Southeast Asia, and carrying out educational programs in Kobe City. Kobayashi said that Plug&Play holds several events per year that focus mainly on coordination between large companies, and added that their program aimed at fund raising and provision of sales opportunities selects about 100 companies each time (half from Japan and half from abroad). Venture capital firms each have their own unique qualities, and Yoshida’s organization Rainmaking has a particularly strong European network and is most suitable for startups with clearly defined services and goals.

To conclude the event, General Manager of the Kansai Economic Federation’s International Affairs Department Tsuyoshi Morishita spoke, introducing Asia Business Creation Platform and efforts undertaken therein. ABC Platform was founded in 2019 with the aim of supporting new business creation and business expansion between Japan and the rest of Asia, and in January 2020 they established their Startup Working Group as part of these efforts. Said Morishita, “We provide information on companies and their products, so we hope you will make use of it.” Thus concluded the event in Osaka.

About the Event

A Gathering of International Accelerators: Startup Pitches and Mentoring Event in Osaka, Kansai

Date:25th January, 2021

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