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IDJ-ENGLISH Investing Japanese Funds in Emerging Countries’ Companies

SME Special Feature Stories

Investing Japanese Funds in Emerging Countries’ Companies
Rebright Partners  Supporting Asian Startups

Takeshi Ebihara ,
Representative Managing Director and Founding General Partner,
Rebright Partners Co., Ltd

In the emerging countries of Asia, a variety of innovations called “leap frog” are occurring. Takeshi Ebihara, speaks out on the investment environment in Asia and the challenge faced by Japanese companies. He is a Representative Managing Director and Founding General Partner of Rebright Partners Co., Ltd., which is a venture company based in Japan, India and Singapore that invests in start-ups.

Changing Investment Environment in Asia

The spread of COVID-19 has caused significant changes in the investment environment in Asian countries. The world is in the midst of a dynamic Digital transformation (DX) that seemed to happen in just two months, which would have occurred over two years prior to the COVID-19 crisis. This trend is the same in Southeast Asia and South Asia. DX is a challenge that can be undertaken by large corporations and developed countries once the established legacy has been demolished. On the other hand, for startups and emerging countries that do not have it, it will be realized in the near future via the leap frog process.

There are three main themes that the so-called tech companies are working on how to try to change society through technology. The first is DX.

And the second is social impact. In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ESG investment, businesses that solve social issues in the world are advancing. In addition to venture capital firms like Sequoia in the U.S. and ours, there are also moves by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and social impact funds like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) by the Facebook founders. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) also established a venture investment fund in 2020.

The third is emerging markets. There is a next frontier into which affluent liquid money can be poured, and excellent human resources are gathered intensively. For example, in logistics, if you go to a convenience store in an emerging country and enter a pickup order with your smartphone, staff will come to pick up your luggage within 20 minutes. It also accumulates customer data and can be used for route optimization and non-life insurance businesses.

In the distribution industry, there are many small shops such as stalls called “Warung” in Indonesia.  They also offer solutions toward more efficiency. A “micro business revolution” is underway to efficiently manage popular products and funds using QR codes on smartphones. Digitalization is also spreading what is said to be financial inclusion. In the Philippines, about 70% of the population does not regularly use bank accounts, but if you register with a mobile phone, you can send money and withdraw cash at convenience stores. You no longer need a bank account, and you don’t have to build an ATM network across the country.

In medical care, remote diagnosis has been deregulated due to the COVID-19 disaster in Japan, and medical applications are rapidly spreading in emerging countries. In Indonesia, more than 18 million users of an app called “Halodoc” were used. There are still no-medical villages in the country. And there are many villages with poor medical access where it takes an hour to drive to the clinic just to wait another four hours. However, medical apps can be used to receive remote diagnosis, deliver blood collection kits, and sell drugs through e-commerce. There is also an agricultural revolution that will support farmers’ production through digitalization and strengthen supply chains. There are also attempts to improve educational access.


Fund management with a Japan-India mixed team 

In Southeast Asia, a venture boom began around 2011. In India, after Narendra Modi’s administration was inaugurated in 2014, the digitalization of the economy and fintech businesses have been promoted.  Japanese companies such as Softbank made significant investments in India. Looking at market trends in emerging countries, we have invested in startups in Southeast Asia and India by forming funds from approximately 50 Japanese companies.    Currently based in Japan, Singapore and Bangalore, India, it operates with a mixed team totalling less than 10 people, including Japanese and Indian.

Among companies engaged in venture investment, we are proud that our company is unique in that we are working across borders and focusing on promoting cooperation among the stakeholders in each country. Specifically, we are working on cooperation support and open innovation activities with Japanese companies that will deploy innovative Asian technologies and services to Japan. In particular, when Japanese companies advance their Asian market strategies, the major challenge is to attract and retain global management talent.

In that regard, India has produced many human resources at the top of global companies. There has been a movement encouraging Japanese companies to acquire Asian venture companies and promote the executives of the head office from there.

In the past, when expanding into Asia, it was often due to JVs with local conglomerates, but it would be good to work with startups in the future.

By the way, according to a survey conducted in 2012 by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), about 40% of companies have an operating deficit for “independent investments and joint ventures” by the type of Japanese companies entering the markets.

On the other hand, nearly 80% of companies have an operating surplus if they are “acquiring or investing in local companies.”. In the collaboration between Japanese and Asian companies that we have already contributed to, there are businesses such as e-commerce in Indonesia, anti-money laundering business in Singapore using AI, and supply of materials for hospitals in India.

DX is at the forefront in the field of small- and medium-sized enterprises

Among the customers of Japanese companies, there are many small- and medium-sized enterprises. There are many second-generation managers with strong ownership, and sensitivity to awareness about the problem is high, and decision-making is quick. However, there are many traditional industries, and the focus is on how to realize innovation. A little while ago, e-commerce, games, and online advertising were at the stage for innovation, but now they are moving to agri-tech, health, and education, etc. The frontier of DX is the field that small-and-medium-sized enterprises have been responsible for.

For example, a company we have recently invested in in India is the egg industry. Digital technology is also used to manage feeding and other processes to produce eggs with excellent quality and quantity. In India, many vegetarians also eat eggs as a valuable source of nutrition. In these fields, there could be collaboration to introduce technologies and know-how from Japanese SMEs. The fishery field such as fish farming and food processing are also promising.

On the other hand, it is not easy to succeed globally in the service industry. Alibaba and other Chinese companies have also partnered with local companies to develop local brands and other products. In the case of Japanese companies, manufacturers should make use of manufacturing methods and work with local partners to gradually make inroads.

I also have high hopes for Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA). When considering the spread of ODA, for example, telecommunications and ITC, it will be necessary to consider launching small satellites rather than laying electrical wires. DX is now involved in startups in all industries. How will Japanese companies get involved in this and advance coexistence and co-prosperity? Further acceleration of support for startups that will be responsible for tomorrow through ODA will greatly contribute to the economic development of the partner countries.

Japan has accumulated many years of element technology. However, when applied to emerging countries, it is likely to fail due to over-specs and other reasons. Local companies should be responsible for marketing and sales, and other local knowledge and technologies should be used appropriately. We will continue to help mediate this.  (Interviewed by Yukifumi Takeuchi)


中小企業特集 ―途上国ビジネスの潮流


代表取締役 兼 ファウンディング・ゼネラル・パートナー
蛯原 健氏



技術で社会を変えようとする企業(テックカンパニー)が取り組む主なテーマは、3つある。第一は、DX。そして第二は、ソーシャルインパクトである。持続可能な開発目標(SDGs)やESG投資の文脈でも、世の中の社会課題を解決するビジネスが進展している。米国セコイアや私たちのようなベンチャーキャピタルのほか、ビル&メリンダ・ゲイツ財団や、フェースブックの創業者夫妻によるチャン・ザッカーバーグ・イニシアチブ (CZI)のようなソーシャルインパクト・ファンドの動きもある。アジア開発銀行(ADB)も2020年、ベンチャー投資ファンドを設けた。







日本は一つ一つの要素技術で長年の蓄積がある。しかしながら、それを新興国に応用すると、オーバースペックなどが原因で失敗しがちだ。現地企業にマーケティングや販売営業を担ってもらうなど地元の知見や技術を適切に使っていくべきだ。私たちは微力ながら、引き続き、それを媒介するお手伝いをしていきたい。(聞き手:竹内 幸史)

[略歴] 蛯原 健氏 1994年、横浜国立大学経済学部卒、日本合同ファイナンス(現ジャフコ)入社以来、20年以上にわたり、ベンチャーキャピタル、スタートアップ経営に携わる。2008年にリブライトパートナーズを日本で設立。13年にシンガポール、15年にインドに拠点を開設し、投資活動を本格化させている。










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