Samurai Incubate CEO “Ken-Samurai” arrived in Israel with a goal to bridge the startup ecosystems of Israel and Japan
In a traditional kimono with a plastic yukata sword on his hip, Samurai Incubate’s CEO Kentaro Sakakibara began his Demo Day at Israel’s Google Campus on July 9. Needless to say, the CEO and his Tokyo-based incubator are in Israel to shake things up. Sakakibara, better known locally as “Ken-Samurai,” is on a personal mission to strengthen the relationship between the startup communities of Japan and Israel.
His effort began about one year ago in July 2014, when Samurai House in Israel opened near Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Blvd. as Samurai Incubate’s first overseas base. Since then, the incubator has invested in 16 Israeli startups, with the goal to invest in 100 by 2019. The most recent Demo Day invited 15 early stage startups to each give two-minute pitches to Israeli investors.
Three startups in particular caught our attention.
yapQ has the algorithm that travel-lovers dream about: It rates the popularity of millions of places across the globe. The web and mobile app has a search tool in which users can enter a city and discover the “Must-See” places to visit there. Users can also compile their own lists of “Must-See” places. Based on the user’s location, yapQ generates the “most interesting” route through the city, though not necessarily the fastest or most efficient.
Within the app, for every interesting landmark, yapQ includes a brief audio summary of that spot. Thanks to information from Wikipedia, the app becomes a tour guide that understands the nature of attention spans and can speak in 12 languages. As CEO Yossi Neiman said at the event, yapQ wants to “change the way you explore a city.”
CouponRoller is a gamified savings platform that lets shoppers play casino-style games online as they look through coupons. Players get “CouponRoller Coins” that may be exchanged for gift cards. Apparently, the platform increases a person’s time on a website from the industry average of 42 seconds to 3 minutes and 2 seconds.
CEO Shaun Waksman has been programming since the age of eight, and co-founder and CTO Dana Meromsky served in the Israel Defense Force Unit 8200. Yu-kai Chou, the world’s leading expert on gamification, is also part of the team.
StartupEast’s goal resembles that of Samurai House: The first Israeli pan-Asian accelerator wants to bridge the startup networks of Israel and the rest of Asia. In addition to its accelerator, StartupEast offers a three-week boot camp in Tel Aviv, internships in Israel and Asia, B2B courses, and other training workshops. Their “hubs” are strategically located in Tel Aviv, Singapore, Seoul, and Hong Kong.
“I think today there is a very big missed opportunity for most Israelis. Most people are looking west — Silicon Valley — where the real opportunity is lying east,” said StartupEast chairman Amir Ofek.
Looking east might be very good advice, given the strengthening relations between Israel and Asian markets in recent years. Israel has been actively increasing trade ties with Asia; according to Reuters, 25% of Israel’s exports go to Asia, not a far cry from the 27% that goes to Europe and 27% that goes to the U.S.
A few of the other startups at Samurai Demo Day have a direct connection to Asia as well:
- Aniwo, founded in Israel by Japanese entrepreneurs, has a web portal to bring together startups and investors.
- Marketing platform CyberTiger assists Japanese startups and mobile app developers to enter the worldwide market.
- Go Watermelon develops social casino games, currently aimed towards the world’s biggest gaming market in Japan.
- Zerobillbank, founded by Japanese entrepreneurs, rewards community engagement with its own token currency.
Other startups at the event were a mix of web and mobile based platforms:
- Waveit is a photo-sharing app in which users can share quality content so that the average person’s content may go viral.
- Dogiz connects dog owners with each other and uses the community intel to find the best doggie services.
- WonderVoice is a voice assistant that lets users interact with apps in a hands-free manner.
- WiseFuture is an online investment marketplace.
- Actifile protects digital information for small- and medium-sized businesses.
And some of the startups were just plain fun:
- themego helps theme park enthusiasts plan their amusement park outing from the rides to restaurants to hotels.
- Style app TrendiGuru matches an image of clothing, such as a celebrity’s dress, with opportunities to shop for similar pieces.
- righTune strives to increase business performance by providing background music on websites customized to the user.
Ken-Samurai treated his guests to sushi and has fed startups with capital, but his larger vision remains: to nourish the relationship between the startup ecosystems in Japan and Israel.
Featured Image Credit: Samurai Demo Day’s Facebook page