A Tokyo-based startup recognized for its laundry-folding robot has gained entry to an international competition for venture firms, and hopes to represent Japan as a country of innovation.
Seven Dreamers Laboratories Inc. was chosen as Japan’s entry for the Startup World Cup on Wednesday night in Tokyo, beating out nine other competitors in a business presentation contest.
The Startup World Cup was launched last year by Silicon Valley-based Fenox Venture Capital with the aim of connecting more startups and investors worldwide.
The final round in this year’s competition will be held in San Francisco in May, and will feature 32 firms that have each won their regional preliminary rounds. The overall winner will receive a $1 million (about ¥113 million) investment.
“I honestly didn’t expect that (the judges) would pick us,” said Seven Dreamers Laboratories CEO Shin Sakane.
His firm was founded in 2014 and unveiled its laundry-folding robot called Laundroid in 2015, saying that the machine could save people time from tedious chores.
The bold-concept robot has received lots of attention since then, and Sakane said his firm signed up for the Startup World Cup to showcase the product’s innovation, engineering and design.
“I’ve been frustrated that many people within and outside Japan think that innovation doesn’t really occur in Japan,” he told reporters, referring to the perception that innovative products such as the iPhone are created only in other countries, especially the United States.
“I want to prove that wrong to the world,” Sakane said.
The Laundroid is a 2.2-meter robot that looks like a wardrobe but is equipped with artificial intelligence to identify and sort through various articles of clothing, and folds the laundry with its robot arms.
Seven Dreamers Laboratories is accepting a limited number of orders for the robot, which is priced at ¥1.85 million (about $16,000) and will be shipped in fiscal 2018. Sakane said in his presentation that the firm hopes to lower the price to under ¥200,000 (about $1,800) once they are adopted more widely and preparations for mass production are complete.
Pina Hirano, chief judge for the Japan preliminary round and CEO of Infoteria Corp., said winners are selected based on seven criteria including business motivation, marketability and presentation, and that Seven Dreamers Laboratories caught attention with their unique product.
“Also, this is an international competition, so it is a plus that the product has something people around the world can relate to,” with many finding folding laundry a chore, Hirano said, adding that Sakane’s presentation was also good.
The contestants were allowed to present a 30 second introductory video, give a presentation on stage — which had to be in English — for up to 3 minutes and 30 seconds, and conduct a Q&A with the judges for 90 seconds.
In addition to Seven Dreamers Laboratories, the competition assessed startups making AI systems, agricultural technology and communications robots.
Sakane added that because another Japanese startup won the championship last year, he hopes that Seven Dreamers Laboratories will extend the nation’s win streak.
Unifa, a Tokyo-based startup that makes digital solutions for nursery schools, became the first champion of the Startup World Cup.
Unifa CEO Yasuyuki Toki said winning in the world contest was a critical event for the company.
“I think what we gained most is time,” he said, adding that the company raised ¥1 billion this year.
“We’ve received a variety of offers from investors around the world and inquiries from potential customers. Normally, it would’ve taken maybe five years or 10 years, but we got those instantly in a way,” he said.
According to Fenox, 74 venture firms applied for Japan’s preliminary round while 10 firms made it to Wednesday’s event.
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