Aroma Bit, Japan’s aroma sensing technology startup, adds two big-name advisors

aroma bit

(The Bridge) – Tokyo-based Aroma Bit, a Japanese startup developing a small-sized aroma sensor device, recently announced that it has appointed Batara Eto as an advisor and Atsushi Tanaka as a mentor.

Eto is the former CTO of Japanese gaming company of Mixi (TSE:2121) as well as the co-founder and managing partner of East Ventures. We were also told that East Ventures has invested an undisclosed sum in Aroma Bit.

Aroma Bit’s QCM elements

Above: Aroma Bit’s QCM elements

Image Credit: The Bridge

Tanaka is the former CFO of Japanese mobile company EMobile (acquired by Softbank in 2014) as well as the CEO of Tokyo-based JTOWER, a company focused on installing cellphone signal boosters in buildings to help mobile operators reduce the dead zones of their coverage.

Since its launch back in February 2014, Aomabit has been focused on developing a sensor visualizing the aroma and fragrance features. Quartz Crystal Modulator (QCM), their small-sized sensor, enables the visual expression of aromas, allowing users to ‘see’ scent differences between coffee, café latte, and honey latte, for example.

According to Aroma Bit CEO Shunichiro Kuroki, his company has been receiving many business inquiries from food, consumer electronics, automobile, and environmental businesses, where the quality check of their products typically relies on people’s nose but can be replaced with this sensing technology.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda, edited by Masaru Ikeda

Oddup scores $1M for its startup rating system, initially focused on Asia


Oddup is an 18-month-old startup out of Hong Kong that offers its own startup rating system based on factors it says are designed to determine risk. Websites like Mattermark, CB Insights, and Funderbeam offer similar rating systems on their platforms, but Oddup founder James Giancotti told VentureBeat that they don’t go into the kind of depth that Oddup is trying to achieve — a pursuit that has today landed it $1 million in seed funding and attracted corporate customers including J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and BNP Paribas.

Initially launched in beta back in February 2014, Oddup finally went live to the public at large this September. The $1 million funding round announced today was led by Kima Ventures, Click Ventures, and Bigcolors with participation from Big Bloom, Glooh Ventures, Justin Dry and Andre Eikmeier (CEOs of Vinomofo), and a number of angel investors, according to a release.

Factors that are used to come up with an overall rating for a startup are comprised of sub-scores in the following areas: Product, growth, location, team, market, industry, and competitors. These scores are assigned by its analysts, Oddup says, using its own patent-pending scoring methodology. Additional scores take into account things like investor quality, funding, and media buzz. Ultimately, a score of 1-100 is awarded, with a higher score suggesting a healthier, less risky startup.

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“There are a number of platforms that capture investor sentiment and probability scoring,” Giancotti said, “but none are including detailed analysis, providing buy/sell/hold ratings, and future valuations of the startup. We are wanting to provide transparency in the world of startups including visibility on investors and locations.”

But to get a taste for the platform, users will have to first sign up. Giancotti said this is because of “different jurisdictional laws [that] apply to the user base [i.e. Singapore’s laws on private company information differ from those of China’s], so for legal and regulatory reasons we need to keep the platform closed to ensure we meet all countries’ regulations.”

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With 50,000 users already, demand is being driven by a hot investment market globally and across Asia, particularly from smaller angel investors who want to dip their feet into the market but aren’t sure how to navigate all the noise. Initially, the focus is on startups in China (Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen), Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, but with 22 staff already on hand, Oddup is looking to expand to Sydney, London, Melbourne, Bangalore, and Bangkok in the next six months.

In January, an API release is coming, according to Giancotti, that will enable other platforms to tap into Oddup’s database and ratings. As for monetization and revenue, he said: “We offer a free plan, and we offer an analyst plan (which is $99 per month). We also provide a pay-to-rate service for companies not yet rated on our platform. This product launched last month and we charge $499 to give a startup a full in-depth report.” (Examples of reports can be found at the end of this article.)

“In late December we will be releasing our ecosystem report for each city Oddup has rated,” Giancotti said. “In the future, as we launch a city we will also include an ecosystem report. This report will be free to users. We are heading to iOS and Android in Q1 2016 to give users on-the-go information on all startups wherever they are in the world.”

Certainly a new startup (for startups) out of Hong Kong to check out.

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This wearable walkie-talkie could change the way we experience outdoor sports


(The Bridge) – A product that might completely change the way we have fun outdoors has come onto the scene. The Bonx wearable transceiver started its crowdfunding campaign in October and will be ending soon, a huge success, having raised over $180,000 surpassing their initial funding target of about $8,000 (1 million yen) in about 40 days.

Worn on one ear, Bonx is set up to work as a Bluetooth earphone connected to a dedicated smartphone app. The device was designed to allow users to be able to smoothly communicate with their friends nearby while skiing, snowboarding, or doing some other kind of outdoor activities.

Bringing real-time communication to outdoor sports

It may be difficult to imagine for people who aren’t into outdoor sports, said Takahiro Miyasaka, CEO of Chikei, the startup behind Bonx, but “until now there were a lot of different difficulties involved in communicating with your friends while doing outdoor activities.” These days it’s possible to get a cellphone signal even in the mountains and other remote places, but, as Miyasaka explains, it was always a pain to have to take your phone out of a pocket and take off your gloves just to talk with your buddies, and it was never possible to smoothly stay in contact.

Being a long time snowboarder involved with an NPO that teaches kids how to snowboard, Miyasaka felt there was something lacking when just to communicate with the kids he had to have everyone stop and convene every time. “I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if we could have real-time communication for outdoor activities,” and that was the start of the idea the led to Bonx’s development. The concept of Bonx could even be called the GoPro of communication.

One characteristic of the dedicated smartphone app connected product, is the ability to transmit data between the hardware and the app over both Bluetooth and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). The surrounding area is scanned for people with Bluetooth and those people are displayed in the app, then a group can be created for the people near you. After that you will be able to talk to the members of your group by pushing the button on the Bonx hardware. The hardware is also equipped with a hands-free mode which begins transmission automatically when the user’s voice is detected.

One thing that leaves a strong impression is Bonx’s user interface (UI), which reflects the needs of long-time outdoor activity enthusiasts with its simplicity. The device is tailored for its users, with just two main buttons, one big and one small, which can be easily pushed while wearing gloves, and an app with a simple UI designed to be used on location. Furthermore, the hardware is set up to only transmit data when speaking to conserve battery life, and in locations where signal is weak, the device will temporarily save voice messages until the signal is restored before sending. This device has been uniquely developed using voice recognition technology and their patent-pending voice data transmission system to handle use even in harsh conditions such as excessive noise or signal interruption.

The Bonx team: (L to R) CTO Yuta Narasaki, CEO Takahiro Miyasaka, CCO Akihiro Momozaki, engineer Hodaka Saito

Above: The Bonx team: (L to R) CTO Yuta Narasaki, CEO Takahiro Miyasaka, CCO Akihiro Momozaki, engineer Hodaka Saito

Image Credit: The Bridge

Chikei has brought this product forward with about one year of development. To start they will be focusing on the Japanese and American markets, looking to continue expansion into the global market in the future. Additionally they are considering future collaborations with other companies to further increase Bonx’s features.

Of course by combining the outdoor sports market with the commercial transceiver market, the breadth of potential markets to reach is quite large. We’re very much looking forward to seeing how this product and business progress.

Translated by Connor Kirk, edited by Masaru Ikeda

A cloning company wants to produce up to 1 million cattle a year starting in 2016


What costs $500 million USD and can churn out up to 1 million cattle embryos a year? A new livestock cloning facility in north China is hoping to do just that, starting production in the first half of 2016, according to one of the companies involved.

The project is a joint venture between Boyalife Group, Peking University, the Tianjin International Joint Academy of Biomedicine and Korea-based biotech foundation Sooam.

Along with cattle, the plant also plans to produce sniffer dogs, pet dogs, and racehorses. While cloning projects have been undertaken by Chinese scientists since the early 2000s, there is yet to be a commercial enterprise for cloned livestock.

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Boyalife says in a release that they have cloned three Tibetan mastiff puppies as part of their first joint venture with Sooam in September 2014. However increasing output to 1 million head of cattle per year seems somewhat unrealistic in the near future.

The company says it will start with 100,000 cattle per year, scaling up to the 1 million mark in an unspecified time range.

Chairman of Boyalife says that “Chinese farmers are struggling to produce enough beef cattle to meet market demand.”

China’s demand for beef is indeed rising, with live exports expected to double to 200,000 in 2016. China is expected to consume 7.4 million tonnes of beef in 2016, with the country expected to produce approximately 90% of that amount according to the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service.

Recently Australia signed a hotly debated deal to allow 1 million head of annual live exports to China beginning in 2016. Interestingly, it’s exactly the same amount Boyalife and Sooam are hoping to ‘manufacture’ in their single cloning facility.

Boyalife says the project will also include a research laboratory, gene bank, and museum.

Currently beef consumption sits at just 15% that of pork due to prohibitive pricing. As China’s middle class expands, the demand for reasonably priced beef could bolster cloning projects. However China is still in the process of opening itself up to new markets for beef imports, including Brazil.

This year the European Parliament voted in favor of a ban on similar commercial cloning techniques citing animal welfare issues.

This story originally appeared on TechNode.

On China’s fringes, cyber spies raise their game

An employee operates a forklift to transport a pallet stacked with bundles of the Apple Daily newspaper, published by Next Media, at the company's printing facility in Hong Kong, China November 26, 2015.

(By Clare Baldwin, James Pomfret, Jeremy Wagstaff, Reuters) – Almost a year after students ended pro-democracy street protests in Hong Kong, they face an online battle against what Western security experts say are China-sponsored hackers using techniques rarely seen elsewhere.

Hackers have expanded their attacks to parking malware on popular file-sharing services including Dropbox and Google Drive to trap victims into downloading infected files and compromising sensitive information. They also use more sophisticated tactics, honing in on specific targets through so-called ‘white lists’ that only infect certain visitors to compromised websites.

Security experts say such techniques are only used by sophisticated hackers from China and Russia, usually for surveillance and information extraction.

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The level of hacking is a sign, they say, of how important China views Hong Kong, where 79 days of protests late last year brought parts of the territory, a major regional financial hub, to a standstill. The scale of the protests raised concerns in Beijing about political unrest on China’s periphery.

“We’re the most co-ordinated opposition group on Chinese soil, (and) have a reasonable assumption that Beijing is behind the hacking,” said Lam Cheuk-ting, chief executive of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, which says it has been a victim of cyber attacks on its website and some members’ email accounts.

U.S.-based Internet security company FireEye said the attacks via Dropbox were aimed at “precisely those whose networks Beijing would seek to monitor”, and could provide China with advance warning of protests and information on pro-democracy leaders. The company said half its customers in Hong Kong and Taiwan were attacked by government and professional hackers in the first half of this year – two and a half times the global average.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Public Security Bureau and the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region did not respond to requests for comment. The Defence Ministry said the issue was not part of its remit. China has previously denied accusations of hacking, calling them groundless, and saying it is a victim.

The Hong Kong police said its Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau works with other law enforcement agencies to combat cross-border crime, but did not respond to questions on how much information it shares with mainland Chinese authorities, the origin of the Hong Kong cyber attacks, or whether these might be a source of instability or concern.

Police data show a drop in reported “unauthorized access”, which includes Internet or email account abuse and hacking, over the past two years. Many of the victims Reuters spoke to said they hadn’t bothered to report being hacked.

Switching tactics

Like other groups taking on the might of Beijing – from Uighurs and exiled Tibetans to some Taiwanese – Hong Kong activists, academics and journalists have become more savvy and adopted tactics that, in turn, force hackers to get savvier still.

When Tibetan exile groups stopped clicking on files attached to emails, to avoid falling victim to a common form of ‘spear phishing’ attack, hackers switched their malware to Google Drive, hoping victims would think these files were safer, said Citizen Lab, a Canada-based research organization which works with Tibetans and other NGOs.

Hackers also recently used Dropbox to lure Chinese language journalists in Hong Kong into downloading infected files. FireEye, which discovered the attack, said it was the first time it had seen this approach.

“We don’t have any arrogance to think we can beat them,” said Mark Simon, senior executive at the parent company of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, a media group on the front line of the attacks.

Strange words

Trying to stay ahead of the hackers, activists and others use multiple mobile phones with different SIM chips, encrypted messaging apps, apps that automatically delete tweets, and code words to set up meetings. If someone thinks they may be arrested, they remove themselves from group chats.

Some things are kept offline.

“If we want to talk, we have some signal,” said Derek Lam, a member of student group Scholarism that helped organize the protests. “It’s a few words … if I say some words that are really strange it means we have to talk somewhere privately.”

Law professor and protest organizer Benny Tai stores personal data, such as names, email addresses and mobile numbers, on an external hard drive that he says he only accesses on a computer without an Internet connection.

The pro-democracy Apple Daily, which says it is hacked on an almost weekly basis, has tightened its email security software, and has its lawyers use couriers rather than email. FireEye last year connected denial of service (DDoS) attacks against Apple Daily with more professional cyber spying attacks, saying there may be a “common quartermaster”. It said China’s government would be the entity most interested in these “political objectives”.

Sophisticated hacks

Steven Adair, co-founder of U.S.-based security firm Volexity, said that code hidden on pro-democracy websites last year, including those of the Democratic Party and the Alliance for True Democracy, suggested a group he said “we strongly suspect to be Chinese… who is very well resourced.”

He said such tactics were more usually seen employed by Russian hackers, aimed at very specific targets and designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. “It’s a real evolution in targeting,” he said.

In the run-up to Hong Kong district council elections earlier this month, hackers used more basic techniques, breaking into at least 20 Gmail accounts at the Democratic Party, according to party officials and Google logs seen by Reuters.

Between April and June, many hacked accounts were forwarding emails to [email protected] An examination of the hackers’ IP addresses by the party’s IT experts found some appeared to originate in China, party officials said.

(Reporting by Clare Baldwin and James Pomfret in HONG KONG and Jeremy Wagstaff in SINGAPORE, with additional reporting by Teenie Ho in HONG KONG and Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

The Pepsi Phone may not reach its crowdfunding goal

pepsi phone

Last month we detailed the upcoming Pepsi smartphone, a mid-range smartphone model that would share the beverage brand for a China-only release.

The device launched on JD’s crowdfunding site JD Finance this month and has been live for a week, attracting significant media attention. However with only eight days left it’s yet to reach half of its 3 million RMB ($470,000 USD) goal.

Pepsi has chosen to partner with Koobee, a lesser-known Chinese smartphone vendor, to push the phone valued at approximately $250 USD (the price of the Koobee H7, which features virtually identical specs).

Those who got in early paid less than $78 USD for the a version of the limited edition phone, while early bird-options are still available for approximately $110 USD. After that users will have to pay $156 USD for the phone, or just over $200 USD for a combo including the phone and a selfie stick.

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The phone itself features a 5.5-inch 1080p display with 16GB of internal storage, 2GB of RAM and a fingerprint sensor located on the back of the device. Design-wise, there are hints of the Huawei Mate S that come to mind, though it’s definitely participating in a lower price range.

Limited release branded smartphones are not unusual in the Chinese market. This year ZTE launched an NBA version of their Axon Mini exclusively to the Chinese market, drawing on the popularity of the NBA franchise in China to boost the sales of their latest flagship.

This story originally appeared on TechNode.

Japan’s Monomy wants you to design fashion accessories via smartphone


(Via The Bridge) — Monomy is an iOS app that offers an online marketplace for creatives, allowing people to make accessories they like with ease using smartphones. The platform was recently launched by Fun Up, the Tokyo-based company which has been running several online services since 2011.

We interviewed Eri Yamaguchi, the company representative, about their upcoming app.

Users can design accessories with over 1,500 parts

The Monomy app enables users to design their own accessories by putting accessory parts together in your own style. Over 1,500 kinds of parts including rhinestones, natural gemstones, and charms are provided in the app. More design-active users put up their accessory designs for showcasing on “Monomy MyPages” for other users. When one finds a design one likes, it can just be purchased by inputting credit card and address details.

The difference between trendy marketplaces for handmade goods and Monomy is that users only need to design the accessories they want. What happens is that Monomy takes care of the whole process from receiving orders through production in their own workshop. They can take large orders such as orders for 1,000 items and make them all in their workshop, with the accessories being made by experienced craftspeople by hand.

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Yamaguchi explained:

The market for handmade items has been growing a lot recently with some items surpassing 1,000 orders a month. However, they are all handmade items so individual craftspeople make the accessories, meaning that even if they worked without any sleep, they wouldn’t be able to keep up with production; it’s not unusual to see items sold out or with a waiting time of several months.

Using the Monomy app, it takes about a week on average for a product to arrive after placing the order. The whole process is taken over by Monomy’s operation department so users can just enjoy designing and gaining their own accessory brands. The app offers a system where the item one wants to give someone can be delivered when one wishes.

The impression Monomy gives is one of femininity and cuteness, but its user interface is very simple. The main focus is on the user’s own accessory brands. The company aims to offer an app design and user interface that is reasonably simple so that their platform doesn’t distract users from the true function of the site.

Also, the key factor when representing real items and actions online is how to replicate the actual feel on a flat smartphone display. A good example is an electronic book reader, which emulates reality by having users turn pages on books and magazines using fingertips. It is indeed a challenge.

Touching the app, you can see how well it has been made by simulating the feel of making accessories by hand: through use of a gaming engine with technology that can calculate truelife physics and replicate gravity, parts can be moved delicately using fingertips while naturally wobbling a little when parts are added. A lot of time has been spent to make this app so the feel of making something seems real.

Yamaguchi added:

I think that the most important thing is for users to experience joy by making items and enjoy being part of the community before selling. There are some users that just silently design on the app when they can’t really get to sleep. We are aiming for a service where users get into designing so much that they can’t keep their hands from designing.

Building a platform for creating things

When Yamaguchi was studying at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo and experienced purchasing and sales, product development and commerce business, she thought about challenging the apparel field one day by creating something new. She traveled around the world and visited parts of Asia including Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong for two years to conduct market surveys, enabling her to come up with the inspiration for making the Monomy app.

Yamaguchi elaborated:

It is not easy to find accessories that one likes in accessory shops and online in Japan. For example, without pierced ears even if what one finds and likes earrings, if they are only for pierced ears, you couldn’t buy anything. Similarly, if one is allergic to metals, there is no alternative. There still isn’t a market that specializes in accessories, so it would be great if we could solve such problems through Monomy.

Seventeen parts distributors are associated with Monomy; it has created its own system for receiving orders and delivering products without the risk of carrying stocks of accessory parts. By applying this system, it can lessen the burden on the user by making it cost almost nothing. Yamaguchi’s concept is to laterally expand the model by associating with production plants in Japan in a variety of areas, including made-in-Japan furniture, bags, glasses, nail polish, and ceramics. Accessories are just the beginning.

Yamaguchi continued:

There are so many areas that cost too much from planning through to product sales at the shop. I could have made the name prettier-sounding than Monomy, but I gave it a name that is unisex, Monomy, to make it mean “starting a revolution” on ordinary production in the future. I hope to build a new platform for making things which is closely intertwined with production plants and general consumers.

Community building first, group buying in the future

Monomy is going to add more functions like following users or items. Another function is trying on items to let users find what they want. For promotions, the plan is to utilize Fun Up’s existing business, influencer marketing, while mulling brand development through reader models and bloggers. Also, the plan aims to enhance the community by holding a contest for posting accessories that suit the new releases of popular brands.

After establishing the community, introduction of a group-buying and incentive system is on the drawing board. Currently the scale has difficulty handling orders that take time and effort. Group buying could allow a certain number of people who want the same products during a period to decrease the cost per item as they’d be made in bulk, allowing items to be offered at reasonable prices.

Yamaguchi said:

Accessories where the cost price is cheap can be halved in price if the number of items being produced increases to 20. If the number of buyers increases, then the price could decrease by 30 percent to 80 percent. We are considering something where any user who post their designs could be given incentives in the future. Upon launch Monomy is just an MVP (Minimal Viable Product).

The focus is on user experience first, so “users can enjoy designing accessories and Monomy can receive recognition,” said Yamaguchi; the next move will be deliberated upon after a look at user reactions and feedback, she added.

If you make the design and deliver it, then that limits how much they can produce and how many people would want to do it. But Monomy’s “design only” business model can allow more things to be made. We look forward to the feedback from people and how many ladies will go for Monomy.

Translated by Chieko Frost via Mother First, edited by “Tex” Pomeroy and Masaru Ikeda