Japan’s DoCoMo launches $109m incubator program, partners and invests in 500 Startups

Japan’s DoCoMo launches $109m incubator program, partners and invests in 500 Startups

Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo has announced that it is investing in 500 Startups, as part of a deal that sees it launch its own mobile-focused incubator in Japan in partnership with the US company.

DoCoMo revealed plans for its own startup-focused venture last October, and it says that the project is worth 10 billion yen — that’s  approximately $109 million today, though the conversion was $125 million when first announced last year. Now the operator has confirmed that it has launched the program today, via a new operating company and with support from 500 Startups.

The new DoCoMo incubator program is focused on tablet and smartphone related startups in Japan, as you’d well expect from a mobile operator. The deadline for applications for the DoCoMo Startup Village closes on March 11. Applicants that are successfully chosen will get 2 million yen ($23,000) in seed funding, as well as office space, mentoring, business development advice and other learning opportunities that are typical of similar programs.

As well as mobile, DoCoMo says it is keen to recruit startups in the following fields: media/content, finance/payments, commerce, medical/healthcare, machine-to-machine (M2M), aggregation/platforms, environment/ecology and security/safety.

“Additional support will be offered to companies that develop promising services or technologies, including collaboration with DoCoMo services and sales promotion,” the company’s announcement explains. There is also the possibility that incubated startups could land further, follow-on investment from the program.

500 Startups, which has added China to its widening global network and hosted demo day for its latest accelerator batch today, will be involved to help give the startups global opportunities. The company will specifically help them tap into the North American market, but will assist with other regions too, as they look to progress outside of Japan.

Part of that arrangement will see the US incubator, which is led by Dave McClure, arrange “short study programs in Silicon Valley” to help connect the DoCoMo-backed young businesses with the right people in the US, and get an opportunity to learn more about the market there. DoCoMo says that its own staff will also be involved and will work with 500 Startups to “enhance their incubation know-how”.

Japan has long been a producer of technology, and in particular hardware, for the global market, but its startup ecosystem has yet to take off with same regional or global influence. There are some young companies with a global focus from Japan, but the DoCoMo program is sure to give a number of interesting new startups and young entrepreneurs an international opportunity.

The operator already has two North America-based arms — research and development-focused DoCoMo Innovations and VC firm DoCoMo Capital — and it says that its investment in 500 Startups will come via its US operations.

DoCoMo has been focused on growing its content business for some time, and last week it launched a bid to buy top Japanese e-commerce site Magaseek for upwards of $13 million. Last year, the operator bought Italian mobile content firm Buongiorno for $267 million and invested $22.5 million in a joint-venture in China with search giant Baidu.

Video startup Cinemacraft is flying the flag for Japan as the sole member of 500 Startup’s latest accelerator program from the country. 500 Startups is placing increased emphasis on emerging markets, particularly Asia, and the US firm recently made its first investment in Korea. The deal with DoCoMo will further its footprint in East Asia.

Headline image via PHILIPPE LOPEZ/Getty Images

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