NTT DoCoMo to launch $125 million Japan-focused startup fund and incubator program in 2013

NTT DoCoMo to launch $125 million Japan-focused startup fund and incubator program in 2013

Japan’s startup ecosystem is set to gain a big boost from NTT DoCoMo, after the mobile operator revealed plans to introduce a new $125 million (10 billion yen) fund aimed at nurturing early-stage tech and mobile businesses by the end of March 2013.

“The DoCoMo Innovation Fund will invest in promising startups and venture companies, primarily in Japan, that possess innovative business models or advanced services or technologies related to mobility and have the potential to be developed as all-new or upgraded offerings from parent DoCoMo,” the company said in an announcement on its website.

In addition to the fund, it will also introduce the DoCoMo Innovation Village, an incubation program which will collaborate with other local Japanese incubators and startup schemes. The Innovation Village will work like a standard incubator to offer office space and business support services, while arranging to provide insight and mentorship from DoCoMo itself and external experts and companies.

The operator says that the fund and incubator will launch by March 31 2013, by which time it will have established an entity to manage it.

The venture will focus on mobility across the following sectors: media/content, finance/payment, commerce, medical/healthcare, machine-to-machine (M2M), aggregation/platforms, environment/ecology, and security/safety. Some, but not all, of the startups funded will come from the Innovation Village, the company explains.

Big businesses dominate in Japan, where the culture of startup companies is yet to reach anything like that of Silicon Valley proportions. However, high-profile exits do happen in the country; Yahoo Japan — the joint venture owned by Softbank and Yahoo Inc. — recently scooped up app-maker Community Factor for $12.8 million, and last week it bought a 50 percent stake in Kakao Talk’s Japanese business.

New Yahoo Japan CEO Manabu Miyasaka is aiming to grow its business in social and mobile, and those two areas look like they will be addressed by DoCoMo’s new startup-themed ventures.

Japanese business are often known for being blinkered with a sole focus on their homeland, but DoCoMo is very much an exception to that rule. This year alone, the operator bought Italian mobile content firm Buongiorno and completed its investment in a joint-venture in China with search giant Baidu.

The operator has business interests in a range of countries — including India, Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan — and it has offices across Asia and in Europe and North America.

The new fund will be distinctly different from its existing international VC arm — DoCoMo Capital — through which the operator has stakes in a range of startups, including Cooliris, Swype, Evernote and others.

Image via Getty / AFP / Yoshikazu Tsuno

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