SoftBank Group’s early venture arm rebrands, to focus on AI startups in Asia

SoftBank Ventures Asia’s focused on AI in Asia comes as AI investments in the region are expected to continue to rise.

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SoftBank Group’s early venture arm rebrands, to focus on AI startups in Asia

SoftBank Ventures Korea, the early venture arm of Japanese internet conglomerate SoftBank Group, has been renamed to SoftBank Ventures Asia and will focus on finding artificial intelligence-related startups globally, with an emphasis on Asia.

The firm said in a statement it will also expand its presence beyond Seoul, Beijing, San Francisco, and Tel Aviv by opening offices and hiring investment professionals in Singapore and Shanghai. SoftBank Ventures Asia is a wholly owned subsidiary of SoftBank Group Corp. and was established as SoftBank Ventures Korea in 2000.

“Our vision is to support promising young entrepreneurs by offering unparalleled access to SoftBank’s community, resources, and network,” said JP Lee, CEO and Managing Partner of SoftBank Ventures Asia. He added that the firm invests to accelerate the “Information Revolution” and is increasingly interested in the application of AI across different industries.

With an initial focus on the Korean market, the firm later on expanded to make investments in startups globally from 2011. With a war chest of US$1.1 billion assets under management, SoftBank Ventures Asia has invested in over 250 companies across 10 countries, with a focus on AI, IoT, and robotics startups.

Among its notable investments include Tokopedia, Silicon Valley-based AI chip firm Mythic, Hyperconnect, and SNOW China, an augmented reality camera app. Most recently, the firm invested in the Series A funding round of Rael, a southern California-based menstrual care and feminine wellness company that provides comfortable, high-quality products made of natural and organic ingredients.

It also led the US$20-million Series C funding round in Gauss Surgical, a med tech company that develops a mobile vision-based platform for accurate and real-time measurement of surgical blood loss.

Since its inception in 2000, SoftBank Ventures Asia has raised over South Korean won 288 billion, or USD 255 million, excluding undisclosed amount, across six funds. In September 2018, the firm raised US$300 million for a new China-focused fund – China Ventures Fund I.

It has also made eight exits so far, with the most notable exits to include bitcoin exchange provider Korbit; Knowre, an online adaptive learning program for secondary mathematics; online video site DramaFever; and RedMart, a Singapore-based online supermarket that home-delivers groceries and essentials.

SoftBank Ventures Asia’s focused on AI in Asia comes as AI investments in the region are expected to continue to rise. According to an IDC report, more organizations begin to understand the benefits of embedding AI into their businesses and how data and analytics can help uncover new insights. The research further finds that Southeast Asian companies are firming up their AI strategies, with 37% putting adoption plans in place over the next five years.

“Organizations that do not incorporate AI in their business operations will lose out to their AI-enabled peers, which will benefit from the greater predictability, efficiency, and innovation that AI can bring,” said Chwee Kan Chua, global research director, Big Data and Analytics and Cognitive/AI, IDC Asia/Pacific.

American market research firm Forrester is also anticipating AI investments to continue to increase since its adoption in 2016. “Leaders are quickly waking up to AI’s disruptive characteristics and the need to embrace this emerging technology to remain competitive,” Forrester said at the launch of its new survey on AI adoption in May 2018.

Editor: Ben Jiang