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Apple’s dangerous path

By Lucas Matney

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review.

Last week, we dove into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week, we’re talking about something that’s a little bit more impactful on the current state of the web — Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


the big thing

In the past month, Apple did something it generally has done an exceptional job avoiding — the company made what seemed to be an entirely unforced error.

In early August — seemingly out of nowhere** — the company announced that by the end of the year they would be rolling out a technology called NeuralHash that actively scanned the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, seeking out image hashes that matched known images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For obvious reasons, the on-device scanning could not be opted out of.

This announcement was not coordinated with other major consumer tech giants, Apple pushed forward on the announcement alone.

Researchers and advocacy groups had almost unilaterally negative feedback for the effort, raising concerns that this could create new abuse channels for actors like governments to detect on-device information that they regarded as objectionable. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent story, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it had amassed more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. On top of that, close to 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called on Apple to abandon plans to roll out the technology.”

(The announcement also reportedly generated some controversy inside of Apple.)

The issue — of course — wasn’t that Apple was looking at find ways that prevented the proliferation of CSAM while making as few device security concessions as possible. The issue was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive choice that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors towards similar solutions), and was doing so without external public input about possible ramifications or necessary safeguards.

A long story short, over the past month researchers discovered Apple’s NeuralHash wasn’t as air tight as hoped and the company announced Friday that it was delaying the rollout “to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”

Having spent several years in the tech media, I will say that the only reason to release news on a Friday morning ahead of a long weekend is to ensure that the announcement is read and seen by as few people as possible, and it’s clear why they’d want that. It’s a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the issue that they were tackling. This isn’t really a dig at Apple’s team building this so much as it’s a dig on Apple trying to solve a problem like this inside the Apple Park vacuum while adhering to its annual iOS release schedule.

illustration of key over cloud icon

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch /

Apple is increasingly looking to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of this productization, has pushed development of privacy-centric features towards the same secrecy its surface-level design changes command. In June, Apple announced iCloud+ and raised some eyebrows when they shared that certain new privacy-centric features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.

You obviously can’t tap public opinion for every product update, but perhaps wide-ranging and trail-blazing security and privacy features should be treated a bit differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash was pretty egregious and certainly raises some questions about whether the company fully respects how the choices they make for iOS affect the broader internet.

Delaying the feature’s rollout is a good thing, but let’s all hope they take that time to reflect more broadly as well.

** Though the announcement was a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature wasn’t coming completely out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely felt that the winds of global tech regulation might be shifting towards outright bans of some methods of encryption in some of its biggest markets.

Back in October of 2020, then United States AG Bill Barr joined representatives from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan in signing a letter raising major concerns about how implementations of encryption tech posed “significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively called on tech industry companies to get creative in how they tackled this problem.


other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

LinkedIn kills Stories
You may be shocked to hear that LinkedIn even had a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you did already know that they were testing Stories, you likely won’t be so surprised to hear that the test didn’t pan out too well. The company announced this week that they’ll be suspending the feature at the end of the month. RIP.

FAA grounds Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight
While all appeared to go swimmingly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA has some questions regarding why the flight seemed to unexpectedly veer so far off the cleared route. The FAA is preventing the company from further launches until they find out what the deal is.

Apple buys a classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes news every month or two for spending a massive amount acquiring a popular podcast, Apple seems to have eyes on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they’re bringing the classical music streaming service Primephonic onto the Apple Music team.

TikTok parent company buys a VR startup
It isn’t a huge secret that ByteDance and Facebook have been trying to copy each other’s success at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to wander into the virtual reality game. The Chinese company bought the startup Pico which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.

Twitter tests an anti-abuse ‘Safety Mode’
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can also make the experience awful for others, a realization that Twitter has seemingly been very slow to make. Their latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing out with a new “safety mode” which pairs algorithmic intelligence with new user inputs.


extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

Our favorite startups from YC’s Demo Day, Part 1 
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first half of its nearly 400-company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators….”

…Part 2
“…Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go ‘oh wait, what’s this?’

All the reasons why you should launch a credit card
“… if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users….”


Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Lucas Matney

Report: India may be next in line to mandate changes to Apple’s in-app payment rules

By Ingrid Lunden

Summer is still technically in session, but a snowball is slowly developing in the world of apps, and specifically the world of in-app payments. A report in Reuters today says that the Competition Commission of India, the country’s monopoly regulator, will soon be looking at an antitrust suit filed against Apple over how it mandates that app developers use Apple’s own in-app payment system — thereby giving Apple a cut of those payments — when publishers charge users for subscriptions and other items in their apps.

The suit, filed by an Indian non-profit called “Together We Fight Society”, said in a statement to Reuters that it was representing consumer and startup interests in its complaint.

The move would be the latest in what has become a string of challenges from national regulators against app store operators — specifically Apple but also others like Google and WeChat — over how they wield their positions to enforce market practices that critics have argued are anti-competitive. Other countries that have in recent weeks reached settlements, passed laws, or are about to introduce laws include Japan, South Korea, Australia, the U.S. and the European Union.

And in India specifically, the regulator is currently working through a similar investigation as it relates to in-app payments in Android apps, which Google mandates use its proprietary payment system. Google and Android dominate the Indian smartphone market, with the operating system active on 98% of the 520 million devices in use in the country as of the end of 2020.

It will be interesting to watch whether more countries wade in as a result of these developments. Ultimately, it could force app store operators, to avoid further and deeper regulatory scrutiny, to adopt new and more flexible universal policies.

In the meantime, we are seeing changes happen on a country-by-country basis.

Just yesterday, Apple reached a settlement in Japan that will let publishers of “reader” apps (those for using or consuming media like books and news, music, files in the cloud and more) to redirect users to external sites to provide alternatives to Apple’s proprietary in-app payment provision. Although it’s not as seamless as paying within the app, redirecting previously was typically not allowed, and in doing so the publishers can avoid Apple’s cut.

South Korean legislators earlier this week approved a measure that will make it illegal for Apple and Google to make a commission by forcing developers to use their proprietary payment systems.

And last week, Apple also made some movements in the U.S. around allowing alternative forms of payments, but relatively speaking the concessions were somewhat indirect: app publishers can refer to alternative, direct payment options in apps now, but not actually offer them. (Not yet at least.)

Some developers and consumers have been arguing for years that Apple’s strict policies should open up more. Apple however has long said in its defense that it mandates certain developer policies to build better overall user experiences, and for reasons of security. But, as app technology has evolved, and consumer habits have changed, critics believe that this position needs to be reconsidered.

One factor in Apple’s defense in India specifically might be the company’s position in the market. Android absolutely dominates India when it comes to smartphones and mobile services, with Apple actually a very small part of the ecosystem.

As of the end of 2020, it accounted for just 2% of the 520 million smartphones in use in the country, according to figures from Counterpoint Research quoted by Reuters. That figure had doubled in the last five years, but it’s a long way from a majority, or even significant minority.

The antitrust filing in India has yet to be filed formally, but Reuters notes that the wording leans on the fact that anti-competitive practices in payments systems make it less viable for many publishers to exist at all, since the economics simply do not add up:

“The existence of the 30% commission means that some app developers will never make it to the market,” Reuters noted from the filing. “This could also result in consumer harm.”

Reuters notes that the CCI will be reviewing the case in the coming weeks before deciding whether it should run a deeper investigation or dismiss it. It typically does not publish filings during this period.

Apple announces new settlement with Japan allowing developers to link to external websites  

By Kate Park

Apple has made a settlement with Japanese regulator that it will allow developers of “reader” apps link to their own website for managing users account. The change goes to effect in early 2022.

This settlement comes after the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) has forced Apple to make a change its polices on the reader apps, like Netflix, Spotify, Audible and Dropbox, that provide purchased content or content subscriptions for digital magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, and video.

“We have great respect for the Japan Fair Trade Commission and appreciate the work we’ve done together, which will help developers of reader apps make it easier for users to set up an manage their apps and service, while protecting their privacy and maintaining their trust,” Phill Schiller, who oversees the App Stores at Apple.

Before the change takes into effect next year, Apple will continue to update its guidelines and review process for users of readers app to make sure to be a better marketplace for users and developers alike, according to its statement.

Apple Stores announced last week several updates, which allow developers more flexibility for their customer, and the company also launched the News Partner Program to support local journalists.

Apple will also apply this change globally to all reader apps on the store.

Global lawmakers have been increasingly under scrutiny over the market dominance of Apple and other tech giants. Australia’s Competitions and Consumer Commission is also considering regulations for the digital payment system of Apple, Google and WeChat while South Korea became the first country to curb Apple and Google from imposing their own payment system on in-app purchases.

Apple provides more than 30 million registered developers.

Korean 3D spatial data tool startup Urbanbase closes $11.1M Series B+ round

By Kate Park

Urbanbase, a Seoul-based company that develops a 3D spatial data platform for interior planning and design, announced today it has raised $11.1 million (13 billion won) in a Series B+ round as it scales up.

This round of funding was led by Hanwha Hotel & Resort, which is a subsidiary of South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Corporation.

Urbanbase, founded in 2013 by chief executive officer and a former architect Jinu Ha, has now raised $20 million (approximately 23 billion won) in total.

Existing investors did not join this round. The company had raised Series A funding of $1.8 million and an additional $1.2 million in 2017 and its first Series B round in April 2020, from backers that included South Korea-based Shinsegae Information & Communication, Woomi Construction, SL Investment, KDB Capital, Shinhan Capital, Enlight Ventures, CKD Venture Capital, and Breeze Investment, Ha said.

The latest funding will be used for enhancing its B2B SaaS, investing in R&D for advanced virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and 3D tools, which are considered core technologies of metaverse that is its new business Urbanbase plans to enter, according to Ha. Global metaverse market size is projected to increase $280 billion by 2025 from $30.7 billion in 2021, based on Strategy Analytics’ report.

Companies that focus on opportunities in the so-called “metaverse” have been growing as part of a next-generation approach to building viable business models in areas like virtual and augmented reality, and all the hardware and software and new tech that are being built for them. Big tech corporations, ranging from Facebook, Intel to Microsoft, are targeting to move in the area. Apple also waded into the area of virtual reality, working on developing a high-end VR headset.

Urbanbase also plans to upgrade its home interior software platform, Urbanbase Studio, that has functions to transform 2D indoor space images into 3D displays via Urbanbase’s patented algorithm, visualize interior products in augmented reality and analyze spatial images based on the AI technology.

Urbanbase claims 50,000 monthly active users with 70,000 registered B2C users. The company has about 50 B2B customers.

“Most of our B2B clients are large conglomerates in South Korea and Japan, for example, LG Electronics, Japan-based Mitsubishi Real Estate Service, Nitori Holdings, Dentsu Group and SoftBank, but we would like to extend our B2B clients base to small, midsized companies and bring more B2C users after closing the Series B+ funding,” Ha mentioned.

Urbanbase is seeking an acquisition target in prop-tech and construction technology sectors, Ha told TechCrunch. Urbanbase currently focuses on developing the interior tools for apartment buildings because about 70-80 percent of total households in South Korea and Japan live in apartments, Ha said, adding that it will diversify its portfolio by acquiring a startup that covers different types of residence.

It currently operates the platform in Korean and Japanese, but it will add English language service prior to entering in Singapore in the end of 2021, Ha said.

Japan’s B2B ordering and supply platform CADDi raises $73 million Series B funding

By Kate Park

With COVID-19 disrupting the entire manufacturing supply chain including semiconductor shortages, companies across multiple industries have been struggling to seek a procurement solution that can rebalance the gap between supply and demand.

CADDi, a Tokyo-based B2B ordering and supply platform in the manufacturing and procurement industry, helps both procurement (demand side) and manufacturing facilities (supply side) by aggregating and rebalancing supply and demand via its automated calculation system for manufacturing costs and databases of fabrication facilities across Japan.

The company announced this morning a $73 million Series B round co-led by Globis Capital Partners and World Innovation Lab (WiL), with participation from existing investors DCM and Global Brain. Six new investors also have joined the round including Arena Holdings, DST Global, Minerva Growth Partners, Tybourne Capital Management, JAFCO Group and SBI Investment.

CADDi was founded by CEO Yushiro Kato and CTO Aki Kobashi in November 2017.

The post-money valuation is estimated at $450 million, according to sources close to the deal.

The new funding brings CADDi’s total raised so far to $90.5 million. In December 2018, the company closed a $9 million Series A round led by DCM and followed by Globis Capital Partners and WiL and Global Brain.

The funding proceeds will be used for accelerating digital transformation of the platform, hiring and expanding to global markets.

“We enable integrated production of complete sets of equipment consisting of custom-made parts such as sheet metal, machined parts and structural frames. Using an automatic quotation system based on a proprietary cost calculation algorithm, we select the processing company that best matches the quality, delivery date and price of the order and build an optimal supply chain,” CEO and co-founder Yushiro Kato said.

The goal of CADDi’s ordering platform is to transform the manufacturing industry from a multiple subcontractor pyramid structure to a flat, connected structure based on each manufacturers’ individual strengths, thus creating a world where those on the front lines of manufacturing can spend more time on essential and creative work, Kato said.

CADDi’s ordering platform, backed by its unique technology including automatic cost calculation system, optimal ordering and production management system, and drawing management system, offers a 10%-15% cost reduction, stable capacity and balanced order placement to its more than 600 Japanese supply partners spanning a multitude of industries.

“The demand for CADDi’s services has seen significant acceleration. Our business has been growing very fast, and our latest orders have grown more than six times compared to the previous year, leading to the company’s expanded presence into both eastern and western Japan in order to meet this increase in demand,” Kato said.

“Going forward, in addition to continuously expanding our ordering platform, we will also start to provide purchases (manufacturers) and supply partners with our technology directly to promote digital transformation of their operations, for example, the production management system and drawing management system,” Kato continued.

“As a start point, in the near future, we are thinking about selling ‘Drawing Management SaaS,’” which has been used internally for CADDi’s ordering operation, to help customers solve operational pains in handling piles of drawings. “Our ‘Drawing Management SaaS’ technology will not only help manage drawings as documents properly but also allow utilization of data of drawings in a practical way for future decision-making and action in their procurement process.”

CADDi’s next axis of growth will be other growing markets, especially in Southeast Asia, Kato pointed out. “Many of our Japanese customers have subsidiaries and branches in these countries, so it’s a natural expansion opportunity for us to strengthen our value proposition and provide more continuity and seamless service to our customers,” Kato added.

Kato also said it wants to continue investing in hiring, especially engineers, to further the development of its platform CADDi and new business. It plans to hire 1,000 employees in the next three years. CADDi had 102 employees as of March 2021.

The company aims to become a global platform with sales of USD 9.1 billion (that is 1 trillion YEN) by 2030, Kato said.

COVID-19 had a different impact on different industries in the procurement and manufacturing sector, with “the automobile and machine tool industries were negatively affected by the pandemic and experienced an up to 90% temporary drop in sales, while other industries such as the medical and semiconductor industries have experienced explosive growth in demand. The overall result of COVID-19 is that the company has captured more demand because CADDi’s system rebalances receipts across multiple industries,” according to Kato.

Masaya Kubota, partner at World Innovation Lab, told TechCrunch, “CADDi’s solution of aggregating and rebalancing supply and demand has once again proven to be indispensable to both purchasers and manufacturers, with the pandemic disrupting the entire supply chain in manufacturing. We first invested in CADDi in 2018, because we strongly believed in their mission of digitally transforming one of the most analog industries, the $1 trillion procurement market.”

Another investor principal at DCM, Kenichiro Hara, also said in an email interview with TechCrunch, “The pandemic made the manufacturing industry’s supply chain vulnerabilities quite clear early on. For example, if a country is on lockdown or a factory stalls the operations, their customers cannot procure necessary parts to produce their products. This impact amplifies, and the entire supply chain is affected. Therefore, the demand for finding new, available and accessible suppliers in a timely manner increased in importance, which is CADDi’s primary value-add.”

Apple launches a new iOS app, ‘Siri Speech Study,’ to gather feedback for Siri improvements

By Sarah Perez

Apple recently began a research study designed to collect speech data from study participants. Earlier this month, the company launched a new iOS app called “Siri Speech Study” on the App Store, which allows participants who have opted in to share their voice requests and other feedback with Apple. The app is available in a number of worldwide markets but does not register on the App Store’s charts, including under the “Utilities” category where it’s published.

According to data from Sensor Tower, the iOS app first launched on August 9 and was updated to a new version on August 18. It’s currently available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Taiwan — an indication of the study’s global reach. However, the app will not appear when searching the App Store by keyword or when browsing through the list of Apple’s published apps.

The Siri Speech Study app itself offers little information about the study’s specific goals, nor does it explain how someone could become a participant. Instead, it only provides a link to a fairly standard license agreement and a screen where a participant would enter their ID number to get started.

Reached for comment, Apple told TechCrunch the app is only being used for Siri product improvements, by offering a way for participants to share feedback directly with Apple. The company also explained people have to be invited to the study — there’s not a way for consumers to sign up to join.

Image Credits: App Store screenshot

The app is only one of many ways Apple is working to improve Siri.

In the past, Apple had tried to learn more about Siri’s mistakes by sending some small portion of consumers’ voice recordings to contractors for manual grading and review. But a whistleblower alerted media outlet The Guardian that the process had allowed them to listen in on confidential details at times. Apple shortly thereafter made manual review an opt-in process and brought audio grading in-house. This type of consumer data collection continues, but has a different aim that what a research study would involve.

Unlike this broader, more generalized data collection, a focus group-like study allows Apple to better understand Siri’s mistakes because it combines the collected data with human feedback. With the Siri Speech Study app, participants provide explicit feedback on per request basis, Apple said. For instance, if Siri misheard a question, users could explain what they were trying to ask. If Siri was triggered when the user hadn’t said “Hey Siri,” that could be noted. Or if Siri on HomePod misidentified the speaker in a multi-person household, the participant could note that, too.

Another differentiator is that none of the participants’ data is being automatically shared with Apple. Rather, users can see a list of the Siri requests they’ve made and then select which to send to Apple with their feedback. Apple also noted no user information is collected or used in the app, except the data directly provided by participants.

WWDC 2021 on device privacy

Image Credits: Apple WWDC 2021

Apple understands that an intelligent virtual assistant that understands you is a competitive advantage.

This year, the company scooped up ex-Google AI scientist Samy Bengio to help make Siri a stronger rival to Google Assistant, whose advanced capabilities are often a key selling point for Android devices. In the home, meanwhile, Alexa-powered smart speakers are dominating the U.S. market and compete with Google in the global landscape, outside China. Apple’s HomePod has a long way to go to catch up.

But despite the rapid progress in voice-based computing in recent years, virtual assistants can still have a hard time understanding certain types of speech. Earlier this year, for example, Apple said it would use a bank of audio clips from podcasts where users had stuttered to help it improve its understanding of this kind of speech pattern. Assistants can also stumble when there are multiple devices in a home that are listening for voice commands from across several rooms. And assistants can mess up when trying to differentiate between different family members’ voices or when trying to understand a child’s voice.

In other words, there are still many avenues a speech study could pursue over time, even if these aren’t its current focus.

That Apple is running a Siri speech study isn’t necessarily new. The company has historically run evaluations and studies like this in some form. But it’s less common to find Apple’s studies published directly on the App Store.

Though Apple could have published the app through the enterprise distribution process to keep it more under wraps, it chose to use its public marketplace. This more closely follows the App Store’s rules, as the research study is not an internally-facing app meant only for Apple employees.

Still, it’s not likely consumers will stumble across the app and be confused — the Siri Speech Study app is hidden from discovery. You have to have the app’s direct link to find it. (Good thing we’re nosy!)

Japanese sneaker platform SODA raises $56.4M, acquires rival Monokabu

By Catherine Shu

Just half a year after leading SODA’s Series B, SoftBank Ventures Asia is raising its bet on the Tokyo-based sneaker resell platform. The early-stage venture capital arm of SoftBank Group announced today it has returned to lead SODA’s Series C, which currently totals $56.4 million.

Other investors include South Korean sneaker reselling platform KREAM (another SoftBank Ventures Asia portfolio company), Altos Ventures and JAFCO.

Launched in 2018, SODA runs SNKRDUNK, one of Japan’s largest sneaker reselling platforms with about 2.5 million monthly users. Along with its new funding, SODA announced it has acquired rival Monokabu. SODA said that the deal means its share of Japan’s sneaker resale industry is now 80%, making it the market leader by far.

A SoftBank Ventures Asia spokesperson told TechCrunch the fund decided to invest in SODA again because the company’s growth has increased rapidly since its previous funding. SODA’s post-money valuation is now about 24 billion JPY, or about $218 million USD.

Part of SODA’s Series C funding will also be used to expand into other Asian markets, starting with Indonesia and the Philippines next year because both countries have growing e-commerce markets and a large percentage of Generation Zs, an ideal combination for SNKRDUNK.  

 

The company’s previous funding, its $22 million Series B, was announced in January. At the time, Uchiyama told TechCrunch demand for sneakers remained high despite the pandemic’s economic impact and increased adoption of online shopping also helped drive sales.

SODA claims it hit record sales in May 2021, growing 900% year-over-year. Despite COVID-19, many sneaker C2C marketplaces, like StockX, have also seen their sales increase.

SNKRDUNK will work closely with KREAM to share knowledge about sneaker authentication, inventory management, logistics and other operations-related areas, with the goal of increasing their share of the Asian sneaker resell market.

In addition to KREAM and SODA, SoftBank Ventures Asia is also an investor in China-based sneaker trading platform Nice.

UTEC launches a new initiative to help deep-tech founders commercialize their work

By Catherine Shu

The University of Tokyo Edge Capital Partners (UTEC) is launching a new program to address a problem the venture capital fund says many deep-tech founders face. They may raise pre-seed capital from an incubator or accelerator program, but reach a funding gap before moving on to early-stage rounds. Without financial resources, it takes longer to commercialize their technology, no matter how promising.

UTEC, an independent venture fund associated with The University of Tokyo and other academic institutions, created the UTEC Founders Program (UFP) to address that gap. It offers two tracks: equity, which invests up to $1 million with flexible terms, and grants, a non-dilutive donation of about $50,000 (or occasionally up to $100,000) awarded to recipients every six months.

UFP’s applications are open to deep-tech researchers and founders anywhere in the world.

UTEC launched a $275 million fund in May, and typically writes first checks of about $1 million to $5 million. Its aggregated assets under management are about $780 million, which the firm says makes UTEC the largest venture capital fund in Japan for science and tech companies, and one of the largest deep-tech funds in Asia.

After getting feedback from deep-tech researchers and entrepreneurs, the fund’s partners realized that even though they might have developed potentially impactful tech, it might not be immediately ready for seed funding. Many teams would also benefit from swift funding to continue preparing their tech for commercialization, instead of waiting through a lengthy due diligence process.

In an email, UTEC principals and UFP leads Hiroaki Kobayashi and Kiran Mysore told TechCrunch, “Just like entrepreneurs who create new product offerings to cater to unmet market needs, we at UTEC endeavor to be more nimble and offer new investment products to serve science and technology researchers and entrepreneurs. UFP is UTEC’s attempt to channel over 15 years of deep-tech investing experience and learnings into an early-stage technology commercialization initiative.”

The equity track is primarily for seed and pre-Series A startups, and offers flexible investment terms like SAFE notes, KISS and J-KISS (the Japanese version of Keep It Simple Security), convertible notes and bonds, or common stocks. It accepts applications throughout the year, and successful candidates are contacted for a first interview within three days. Mysore said that the entire due diligence and investment committee process will be completed within four weeks of the first interview.

The grant track is aimed at pre-launch or early-stage startups, and the funds can be used for things like prototyping, testing the market and recruitment. Applications are opened every six months, with about five teams selected each time. The deadline for the first batch of applicants is July 31 and decisions will be made in September.

Deep-tech teams who participate in UFP also get access to UTEC’s network of more than 115 Japanese and global startups, academic institutions, government organizations and corporations.

 

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