(Bloomberg) – Keisuke Honda, former star football player and rare Japanese athlete turned angel investor, raises up to 15 billion yen ($100 million) for his first fund focused on startups in his home country. Negotiations are underway.
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The X&KSK Fund plans to invest in approximately 30 Japanese startups. Honda said in an interview that it aims to identify at least one company that will eventually reach a valuation of $10 billion.
“I realized that because people knew me from my career as a footballer, I had access to pretty good deals,” the 37-year-old said.
In a country where celebrities avoid talking about their money and investments, the former AC Milan midfielder faces little competition from other sports stars. This is very different from the United States, where the likes of Andre Iguodala, Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James and Serena Williams have all worked their way from star athletes to VC moguls.
“I have no rivals here. I'm in a very fortunate position,” Honda said.
Honda joins an influx of investment into Japan's long-neglected startup scene. Investment in the ecosystem will reach a record high in 2022, thanks to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's five-year plan to direct more funds to startups from sources such as the Pension Investment Fund. While the value of transactions appears to have shrunk last year, the number of new entrants has increased. : According to data compiled by Japanese startup data company Initial, there were 61 new venture funds launched in the country in the first half of 2023, an increase of almost 25% from the previous year.
The well-traveled sportsman has been chasing overseas startups for years, teaming up with celebrities like Will Smith and other U.S. venture capital investors to get an edge. Dreamers VC, which Smith founded in 2018 with backing from Nomura, has invested in companies including Elon Musk's brain implant startup Neuralink and tunnel drilling company The Boring.
Honda initially planned to launch the new fund in the United States, where major investors such as Sequoia and Andreessen Horowitz offer a much better chance of an exit than in Japan. Corporate VC funds dominate the third-largest economy and don't often write big checks. Many companies backed by companies like Toyota Motor Corporation and Sony Group prioritize long-term strategic partnerships over quick profits and growth.
But Tokyo's new startup support and Honda's own track record convinced him to give Japan a chance. His KSK Angel Fund is betting on three companies that have since gone public. He is also an investor in AnyMind Group Inc., an e-commerce manager, and Progrit Inc., an English education provider. He also invested in electric scooter ride-sharing company Luup KK, blockchain company Layerx KK, and recently sold his stake in worker evaluation system HRBrain Inc.
Mr. Honda said, “When I saw the five-year plan, I thought this is it,'' and praised Mr. Kishida's efforts to support startups. “Opportunities like this don't come around very often.”
Honda plans to use its U.S. connections to help the founders raise capital and gain a foothold in the world's largest consumer market.
Yusuke Murata, co-founder of Incubate Fund, who has known and invested with Honda for seven years, said, “It's great to see such a prominent figure giving such support to Japanese entrepreneurs and spurring more activity.'' “It's important to take action and draw attention to what's going on here.” “We all need to develop a greater tolerance for risk.”
Dozens of Japanese startups, from software outsourcing companies to translation equipment makers, are preparing to list on the Nasdaq in a bid to attract U.S. investors and reduce dependence on an aging and risk-averse domestic market. ing.
“Japanese startups are playing too much of a domestic game, and one of the reasons for that is the VC here,” Honda said. “We will go after a few top startups that are hungry for growth and build them into global companies.”
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