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Chef lures new crowdfunding chief

Bloomberg

Osamu Ito, a former Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities Co. banker, is setting up a crowdfunding company that will raise money online to invest in startups, including a Michelin-starred chef’s “bento” business.

Ito, who left the brokerage Monday to become chief executive officer of Tokyo-based Crowdfunding Inc., is seeking to raise ¥35 million to start making diet boxed lunches. The business would be overseen by Shintaro Esaki, who has won three Michelin stars for five straight years at his nouveau Japanese restaurant in central Tokyo.

Ito, 34, joins a growing trend globally of crowdfunding websites that allow businesses too small to attract banks or venture capitalists to seek financing for specific projects and raise money from a large number of individual contributors. Crowdfunding platforms raised an estimated $5.1 billion in 2013, compared with $2.7 billion in 2012, according to Crowdsourcing LLC’s research website Massolution.

“I am only interested in projects that will set the trend in the new era,” Ito, who was selling financial products at Morgan Stanley MUFG to institutional investors and companies, said in an interview in Tokyo. “I want my investors to feel and be excited about how they can change the world with their own investments.”

A working group under the Financial Services Agency has been discussing ways to lower barriers for crowdfunding platform operators that are required to be registered with the regulator, while protecting potential investors interested in such investments.

Entrepreneurship in the U.S. in 2010 was about half the level in Japan in part because of a lack of risk-money that was willing to support nascent businesses, a report by the group showed in December.

Ito and Esaki want to sell ¥50 million of the low-sugar, low-calorie bento lunches in the first 12 months, ¥80 million to ¥90 million in the second year and about ¥120 million in the third, Ito said.