Online counselling by Japanese venture capital experts helps Taiwan-based startups foray into Japan

Sandy Du, DIGITIMES, Taipei 0

IoT is poised to become the backbone for the future of smart living. Some research institutions have projected the IoT market will have 50 billion connected devices and reach a scale of US$100 trillion by 2030. As a global high-tech hub, Taiwan has built up strong innovation capability.

To help Taiwan-based startups tap into worldwide markets, especially during the times of COVID-19 pandemic when business travels become very costly and in many cases impossible, Taipei Computer Association (TCA) and InnoVEX co-hosted the AIoT New Generation Life Application Taiwan Startups Webinar - an online matchmaking forum targeting the Japan market. The event engaged nine Japanese venture capital and Japanese startup ecosystem experts who provided professional counselling to eight outstanding Taiwan-based startup teams with respect to their products and marketing strategies to help lower the entry barrier to the Japanese market.

The nine Japanese experts invited to the event included: PKSHA Capital, focusing on AI technology investments; Bridge, a Japanese media website dedicated to local startup news; GiTV, funding all kinds of digital innovations worldwide; aKtivevision, devoted to matchmaking between startups and large enterprises; Orange Lab, a large-scale French incubator which holds two startup contests each year; TEP, centered on fostering academic startup teams; Pan Pacific Innovation Ventures, mainly investing during seed and pre-A rounds; Global Brain, holding a JPY5 billion capital and also providing technological resources; and TPTF with a Taipei branch office making full efforts to connect Asian startups with American and European markets.

Targeting precise user groups

The recent rapid advances in the combination of AI and video surveillance technologies have helped ensure security in people's daily lives. However, it is not easy to find the balance between privacy and security. Beseye Cloud Security's AI image recognition system protects security without compromising privacy. To Beseye Cloud Security's smart platform, PKSHA Capital managing partner Ebihara offers the advice that Beseye Cloud Security will have to differentiate itself from local Japanese firms in order to successfully introduce its technologies to Japan. He suggests that the team develop special-purpose systems targeting specific application scenarios or user groups so that its marketing strategies have a more precise target.

Compared to other market sectors, few startups have thought of developing rental property management systems for income-producing real estate investments. The founder of JGB Property has more than 10 years of property investment experience in different countries and thus knows very well the pain points of property management. This prompted JGB Property to develop a smart platform that integrates 720-degee VR-enabled vacancy management, electronic lease signing, real-time bookkeeping and remote smart lock control. The all-in-one SaaS platform allows real estate agencies and property managing firms to significantly save costs and raise efficiency. In view of Japan's large rental property market, Bridge co-founder Ikeda thinks JGB Property can partner with other startups to further enhance the benefits of its platform. For example, target users will embrace the platform more enthusiastically if it can help reduce the vacancy rate.

Industry 4.0 is the most critical trend to the manufacturing sector in recent years. KDH Design has built a smart warehousing system targeting Industry 4.0 applications based on a variety of advanced video technologies and the manufacturing experience of Foxconn subsidiary FHnet. In complimenting the technological content of KDH Design's product, GiTV co-founder Kinoshita further suggests that KDH Design gear its market strategy toward a more refined user group and develop a tailored warehousing system that closely matches the needs of a specific type of manufacturers.

The senior market has enormous demand and clear needs, thus attracting a slew of startups. With an aim to help senior citizens cope with dementia and sarcopenia, LTPA Solution has designed an interactive somatosensory device that integrates IoT, cloud and AI technologies for cognitive rehabilitation training. Kawabata, aKtivevision founder, comments that with an aging population, seniors caring for other seniors will become the norm in both Taiwan and Japan, thus LTPA Solution's device has great potential going forward. He also points out that governments around the world have instituted healthcare laws and advises that startups gain a good understanding of local regulations and market conditions before venturing into foreign markets.

Products with creativity and usability

Energy management is a key research area where governments and corporations around the world are focusing. NextDrive provides a comprehensive energy service solution that enables power companies and energy retailers to make use of the Internet of Energy (IoE) platform and create a sharing, co-thriving, sustainable and renewable energy system and circular economy. In offering advice to NextDrive, Orange Japan strategic partner manager Nishikawa notes the market already has a wide range of remote energy control solutions competing fiercely against one another. The fact that NextDrive is already marketing its solution in Japan proves the feasibility of its solution. For NextDrive to expand its market footprint, Nishikawa suggests that NextDrive develop power systems for specific application scenarios. By offering both general-purpose and special-purpose systems, NextDrive can build up leadership in this market segment.

Pet owners have strong demand for all kinds of pet products, giving rise to immense innovations in this market segment. Shenli International has created a pet potty that cleans pet waste in just three seconds without the need for water or electricity. The company looks to apply the design concept to long-term care in the future. TEP chairman Ozaki thinks Shenli International's product has tremendous potential in Japan and suggests enhancements to its functionality by incorporating high-tech features. For example, by adding sensors and combining with smart appliances or smartphones, the pet potty can automatically detect pet waste and clean it up with corresponding smart devices. This will further strengthen the product's usability.

Starting Point focuses efforts on optimizing attendee experience for physical events and facilitating event organization with the help of technology. Users can leverage Starting Point's website and app to easily plan an event and manage the process. They can also make use of data analytics to select the most suitable promotional products. There is also an internal meeting system for event planners to make it easier for them to complete the tasks. Pan Pacific Innovation Ventures Taiwan general manager Sekiguchi acknowledges that Starting Point's platform can ease the workload for event organizers and it is ideal for the Japanese society. He suggests that Starting Point target Japanese advertising agencies, public relations firms and local governments. In particular, Japan is actively promoting "local revitalization" so if Starting Point can strengthen the platform's connection with Taiwan and attract Taiwanese tourists to Japan, it will definitely strike it big.

A fire can lead to serious and significant property damage and even loss of life. If a fire can be extinguished in the early stage, casualty and damage can be kept to a minimum. SunJet Robotics developed a solution integrating smartphones, sensors, surveillance cameras, AI technologies and big data analytics that can detect and put out an incipient stage fire. Global Brain partner Tatsuoka thinks the solution is viable but the deployment cost may be too high and hinder its widespread adoption. He suggests that SunJet Robotics adjust the deployment and maintenance costs and add more functions to expand the application scope and thereby increase market acceptance.

Localization strategies

Commenting on the Japan-Taiwan collaboration, the experts agree that Taiwan, with robust hardware capability, market agility and strong execution, and Japan, with robust software capability, premium brand image and refined marketing planning, can complement each other and together achieve great success in worldwide markets. The experts also point out a few things to Taiwan-based startups looking to expand into Japan. First of all, they need to hire Japanese talent to help map out their localization strategies. Many Taiwanese may think they have a good understanding of the Japanese society but in fact Japan's business culture and practices are quite different from most other countries. Taiwan-based firms targeting the Japan market must take an in-depth look into the local needs. As to Japan's startup community, Tokyo still hosts the largest startup cluster while Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka also have complete startup ecosystems. In conclusion, the experts note Japan is the perfect first step on Taiwan-based startups' road to global expansion as Japan offers an open and fair market, it is in close proximity to Taiwan and the businesses and citizens of both countries maintain good relationships. They look forward to strengthened collaborations between the two countries going forward to jointly capture smartization opportunities in the IoT era.

Participants at the

Participants at AIoT New Generation Life Application Taiwan Startups Matchmaking Webinar
Photo: Digitimes, December 2020