Bloomberg News

Founder of Robot Startup Bought by Google Eyes Hidden Japan Gems

January 09, 2014

Florida DARPA Robotics Challenge

A humanoid robot, called Schaft, created by Google's acquired Japanese venture company Schaft Inc., comes down ladder at the U.S. military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Robotics Challenge in Homestead, Florida, on Dec. 20, 2013. Photographer: The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

Takashi Kato, co-founder of the robot venture Schaft Inc. bought by Google Inc. (GOOG:US) in November, opened a fund to invest in technologies from Japanese startups and universities that have been overlooked by investors.

Kato’s 246 Capital plans to raise about 2 billion yen ($19 million) in the next six months mostly from wealthy Japanese, he said during an interview at Bloomberg News’s Tokyo office yesterday. The fund will focus on biotechnology and energy efficiency.

Kato, 35, struggled to get funding for Schaft even though it had some of the best humanoid robot technology in the world, which persuaded him there are other similar opportunities in Japan. He was turned down by ten Japanese investment firms and ultimately got funding from the U.S. government.

“A slew of intelligent scientists and engineers are out there in Japan, thirsty for money to develop next-generation technologies that could make our lives easier,” said Kato.

Kato’s 246 Capital may seek to raise as much as 10 billion yen for an additional fund in the next five years.

Mountain View, California-based Google acquired seven companies for a robotics project led by Andy Rubin, former head of the Android software unit, as the world’s largest online search provider pushes beyond its roots. The effort, which included the purchase of Tokyo-based Schaft, came after Rubin stepped down in March from Android, which he built into a leading smartphone operating system.

Hidden Technologies

Kato declined to disclose financial terms of Schaft’s sale to Google. The startup, whose two-legged robot weighs 95 kilograms (209 pounds), won first place in a competition hosted last month by the U.S. Department of Defense’s research unit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Schaft was founded in May 2012 with two engineers at Tokyo University, who sought Kato’s help to produce disaster response robots after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, according to Kato.

“I want to invest in technologies hiding in Japanese college- and government-supported labs and startups,” said Kato. “They could some day surprise big firms such as Google, like Schaft did.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Mariko Yasu in Tokyo at myasu@bloomberg.net; Shigeru Sato in Tokyo at ssato10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Tighe at mtighe4@bloomberg.net


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