10 blossoming start-ups from Tokyo to watch

4 Apr 2019

Image: © f11photo/Stock.adobe.com

Tokyo is rich in start-up potential, drawing on Japan’s powerful legacy in tech innovation and building global-oriented businesses.

For much of the late 20th century, Japan rather than Silicon Valley was the place where most people perceived the next big thing in tech would emerge from.

That legacy is still enormous and very much alive thanks to iconic consumer tech companies such as Sony and Panasonic or carmakers such as Toyota. From the portable transistor radio to the Walkman, the VCR and Blu-ray to NTT DoCoMo setting in train the data-powered smartphone future, and now the oncoming augmented-reality (AR) and holographic generation, Japan has always played a fundamental role in the march of technology.

Now, young tech start-ups are ready to carry the mantle forward and it is no surprise that the organiser of Slush chose Tokyo for its recent Asian edition.

The start-up scene in Japan is characterised by a lot of M&A and IPO activity with traditional businesses either buying tech firms or creating funds to back start-ups.

For example, American Express recently acquired Japanese restaurant reservation start-up Pocket Concierge while NTT DoCoMo acquired a 40pc stake in another restaurant reservation platform, Toreta. In addition, Japanese investment firm AStart recently launched a $46m spacetech fund.

Active venture capital players include B Dash Ventures, Incubate Fund, CyberAgent Ventures and e-commerce giant Rakuten. Start-up hubs and communities include Hive Shibuya, The Terminal, Creative Lounge and Mistletoe (Startup Dojo).

And so, here are 10 Tokyo start-ups to watch.


600 offers a cashless kiosk-in-a-fridge or unmanned convenience store service for offices. Founded in 2017 by Kei Kubo, the company recently raised 100m yen from Asahi Media Lab Ventures, SMBC Venture Capital, AG Capital and Apricot Ventures.


Aeronext provides centre-of-gravity control technology to enhance the basic performance of drones. Founded in 2017, the company was a finalist at the Slush Tokyo 2019 pitch battle. It is currently developing an aeroplane capable of vertical take-off and landing with fixed wings, utilising its own multicopter technologies.


Group of young Japanese tech founders leaning against a wall.

Members of the open source collective. Image: BoostIO

BoostIO is the creator of the Boostnote note-taking app for developers and the IssueHunt bug bounty website. Founded in 2016, it is a collective of open source enthusiasts. It raised $881,000 in a Series A round in December led by Japanese venture fund Anri.


Winner of the Slush Tokyo start-up pitch battle, Clarity is designed to help women in Japan returning to the world of work after having kids, matching them with companies that appreciate work-life balance. The company was founded by Satomi Fuluya in 2018.


Cinnamon is an AI platform that automates the extraction of data from unstructured documents. Founded by Miku Hirano, Dr Hajime Hotta and Yoshiaki Ieda in 2012, the company recently raised $13.7m in a Series B round and is currently expanding into the US market.


A group of workers in Japan gathering around a computer for training.

Image: © ChenPG/Stock.adobe.com

Coursebase is a web app for managing employee and customer training. Founded in 2012 by Kosuke Kuroda, Hideyoshi Kuroda and Frank Chung, the company raised $1.6m in investment in 2014 and its investors include SunBridge Global Ventures, CyberAgent Ventures, Digital Garage and 500 Startups.


Tokyo and San Francisco-based HoloAsh is creating a virtual assistant for adults with ADHD. A holographic interface based on cognitive science and the natural language processing technique, HoloAsh helps people with ADHD to keep organised. Founded by Yoshua Kishi, who himself has ADHD, the company last year raised funding from Indee Japan, SG Capital, Blanq and AbbaLab. The start-up was adopted recently as a participant in Y Combinator’s Startup School and was a finalist of the Accenture HealthTech Inovation Challenge in Tokyo.


Mashroom is the creator of an authentication technology, a payment service and a smart delivery box that can be controlled by smartphone for secure delivery and shipping when you are not at home. It was founded in 2017 by Kiyofumi Takimoto, Taketo Yamase, Yoichiro Hara and Yutaro Kyono.


Epitomising Japan’s mobile shopping obsession, Mercari enables people to easily buy and sell secondhand items in a mobile marketplace with their smartphones. It was founded in 2013 by Shintaro Yamada, Tommy Tomishima and Ryo Ishizuka. Last year it held an IPO on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, raising $1.2bn in the process.


Meleap is an AR sport platform provider that also has its own franchise of arcade stores. Founded in 2014, the company recently raised about $6.3m from I-Mercury Capital, DBJ Capital, Incubate Fund, Canal Ventures, Yugengaisya Hide Inter and SMBC Venture Capital, bringing total funding to $10.5m, according to Crunchbase.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years