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It is a well-known fact that Asia is a completely different world, but the startup sphere is actively developing in it as well. And it is definitely worth paying attention to! Therefore, today we will tell you about the most successful and promising startups of 2021 in two Asian countries — Japan and China.
We talk to startups and investors, you get the value.
Japan is an amazing country where technological progress is combined with loyalty to traditions, the neon skyscrapers of Tokyo peacefully coexist with ancient churches, and the same people can introduce innovative ideas and hold evening tea ceremonies! In Japan, business is respected and appreciated: the role of small and medium-sized businesses in the country accounts for about 55% of GDP — this is one of the highest indicators in the world. At the same time, quite a few years have passed since the moment when technology companies from Japan smashed the world market and were at the forefront of business.
Now in the land of the rising sun, they are trying to catch up with the development of startup culture. The Japanese government is actively developing the J-Startup program, aimed at building an ecosystem of startups in the country and implementing the best business ideas. And as part of the strategy adopted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2018, at least 20 technological “unicorns” should appear in the country by 2023.
We will wait, but in the meantime, the year 2021 is in the yard. We present some of the most promising Japanese startups that are already there.
Cinnamon: a new approach to information search
The startup Cinnamon is revising the process of searching and reading information. The idea is as follows: the Flex Scanner algorithm uses artificial intelligence to scan a large amount of information (for example, a technical text or a document) and selects a key one from it. Another development of the company is a search engine based on natural language processing technology, designed to search for customers by online stores.
Amusing fact is that initially the company developed an application for private photo sharing, but over time it switched to working with ideas based on artificial intelligence. By 2021, the company was financed by MT Partners, Money Ventures and RPA Holdings, the amount of investment is kept secret.
More and more companies are trying to make more efficient processes that seem to be something unshakable: the way we sleep, how we read and perceive information, how we think, see, hear. The potential of such ideas is huge, because they can change the lives of the entire population of the planet in a few decades.
CureApp: the doctor is in your pocket
With the help of the Care App, users can take notes on their health status, getting a forecast of the development of diseases in the body. The application also offers individual tips on adjusting nutrition, lifestyle and habits, and helps in the fight against smoking and chronic diseases. The collected health data of users is sent to the main centre for static research. During the year of its existence, the startup has already caused a real stir among investors: in February 2021, about $15M was invested in the company by Keio Innovation Initiative, Dai-ichi Life Group, Iwagin Jigyo Souzou Capital and others.
The idea is simple and effective: the startup offers not to fight diseases, but to prevent their occurrence by constantly scanning the state of the body. Such an approach can significantly help in solving one of the main tasks of humanity — the prolongation of life. By the way, the Japanese, as a nation of centenarians, definitely know a lot about this kind of idea.
EveEve: dating with a trial period
The dating market is a fertile ground for business: just remember how popular Tinder and Badoo are in the world. In the Japanese dating service Eve, each new user is subjected to a two-stage verification system, in which moderators and other users participate. Users who like each other can use the “trial period”, during which they will communicate in the application at a strictly defined time (for example, from 22:00 to 00: 00). MarketDrive liked this idea, and it invested $1.5M in the development of the application in 2020 and $1M in 2021.
The idea of online dating services has existed since the days of ancient sites for “lonely hearts”, this market is always in demand, and the number of users is growing. Therefore, now the players in this business are competing to make their application the most comfortable, safe and effective for users.
EmBodyme: the magic of video calls
The idea of the EmbodyMe app conquers at first glance: it can turn you into anyone! At least for the duration of the video call. And this is already quite a lot, given the number of business communications in 2021 we are making using Zoom. The application’s algorithms read the user’s facial expressions and gestures in real-time and can organically overlay any image on it. Animation is superimposed every second in accordance with facial expressions and movements. How does it work? Now you can appear at a conference in a business suit with a needle, sitting in pyjamas in bed. Or you can go further and come to a working meetup in the image of Darth Vader. The application is integrated with all the leading video services-Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Twitch.
The pandemic has become a catalyst that has moved business processes online: it makes no sense to go back now. The idea of EmBodyMe solves a seemingly trivial, but actually painful problem — the appearance during conferences. Studies have shown that the growth in the use of Zoom and similar services correlates with the growth in demand for plastic surgeons’ services in different countries.
Perhaps China is the most fertile place for business and creating startups right now. There is a huge user market: about 1.4 billion people live in the country, there is fierce competition among startups, businesses receive large subsidies, and the economy is actively growing… The figures speak for themselves: already in 2019, the Celestial Empire surpassed Silicon Valley in terms of the number of newly appeared “unicorns”. Whether it will still be! In the meantime, let’s look at the most successful startups in China in 2021.
Byte Dance: a global giant
Unambiguous №1 in this list: in 2020, ByteDance became the most expensive “unicorn” in the world with a total valuation of $140B, and now its capitalization has reached a fantastic $425B. The company owns the TikTok social network, its Chinese counterpart is Douyin, the Indian Helo social network in several languages, the Chinese news service Toutiao and several other services.
And the trend in business that ByteDance demonstrates is the creation of an ecosystem from a number of businesses that support each other. Yandex, Beber and many other companies in the CIS are already following this path.
Pony.ai and WeRide: leaders of the drone market
Startup Pony.ai appeared in 2016, and since then this business has been flying up as rapidly as drones. Now Pony.ai — one of the most expensive “unicorns” in the world in the field of developing technologies for drones. The main direction of the company’s work is autonomous delivery, and the company is also developing its own robotic taxi. Investors Pony.ai became Sequoia Capital China, Toyota Motor Corporation and FAW Group. During the third round of the exchange in February 2021, the company’s valuation was $5.3B.
Another major player in the drone market is the startup WeRide, which is also located in China. The company has already released its robotaxi, launched 100 drones and received permission to move without drivers. Car companies — Nissan, Renault, Mitsubishi-are investing in the startup. In 2021, the company has already attracted $310M of investments in Round B.
Here, startups from China get a big head start due to the huge user market, the state’s loyal attitude to business and new technologies and cheap labour.
Zuoyebang: a leader in the field of Chinese EdTech
The company holds the current record in the field of EdTech — in the fall of 2020, 10M users were recorded on the platform in online broadcasts, which is comparable to the population of an entire state! Zuoyebang offers online lessons, courses and personal teacher consultations for schoolchildren and preschoolers. At the end of last year, Alibaba Group, Tiger Global Management, SoftBank Vision Fund and Sequoia Capital China invested $1.6B in the startup in Round B. In total, the platform raised $2.9B.
In the CIS, due to regional peculiarities, ideas for online educational services for schoolchildren are rarely developed, while in China this business is actively growing. Schoolchildren need to study, their number will only grow every year, and at the expense of parents, this audience is always solvent.
We Doctor: Universal Medical assistant
The startup WeDoctor offers the user a whole range of services in the field of healthcare: the service began with the idea of an application for an online appointment with a doctor, now with the help of WeDoctor you can get an online consultation, write a prescription, and a built-in algorithm based on artificial intelligence will help to diagnose. In 2018, the startup was valued at $6B, and in 2020, the business raised $1.34B of investments from Tencent in Goldman Sachs Holdings Ltd, Morningside Group, Hillhouse Capital Group.
The service aims to create a system that will meet all possible human health needs-from consulting a doctor to regular diagnostics using artificial intelligence. A sound idea!
Considering that the year 2021 continues, we will probably still witness the rise of new companies from Japan, China and other Asian countries. But already now we can state the fact: developed Asian countries are becoming a full-fledged competitor of Silicon Valley, they have a number of advantages on their side — from the size of the potential user market to state support for business and other regional bonuses. And this is great — competition develops business, and new ideas and startups help to move forward the general human progress.