State-backed Innovation Network Corp. of Japan agreed to buy a minority stake in Squse Inc., a Kyoto-based maker of robotic hands, three people with knowledge of the matter said.
The fund known as INCJ will spend as much as 500 million yen ($4.9 million) to acquire about a 20 percent stake in Squse, said the people, who asked not to be identified before an announcement. Squse is targeting an initial public offering in Japan in two years, one of the people said.
INCJ joins Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN:US) and Google Inc. (GOOG:US) in investing in makers of robotic devices that can move items around warehouses and pick up goods on production lines for auto parts and processed food. Amazon’s $775 million purchase of Kiva Systems Inc. in 2012 helped stir INCJ’s appetite to invest in robotics companies in Japan, one of the people said.
Closely held Squse produces robotic hands that make human-like movements, picking up and moving soft objects like food that weigh as much as 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds), according to its website. The company, founded in 1997, also sells automated production lines with its robotic hands preinstalled.
Squse, which has been selling its products in Japan, aims to export them to industrial users in Asia, Europe and the U.S. in the next five years, one person familiar with the plans said. Spokesmen for INCJ and Squse declined to comment.
Google said in December it had bought seven companies for a robotics project led by Andy Rubin, former head of the Mountain View, California-based company’s Android software unit, to expand beyond online search. The acquisitions included Schaft Inc., a Tokyo-based maker of two-legged humanoid robots.
INCJ was founded in July 2009 to invest in technology that would make the Japan’s industries more globally competitive. It has completed about 60 deals, investing a total of 700 billion yen, according to its website.
The fund has 280 billion yen of funds from the government and companies, and has the capacity to invest as much as 2 trillion yen backed by government guarantees, the website shows. Last year, it invested in Prism Pharma Co., a Japanese drug-discovery company, and Royal Gate Inc., a Tokyo-based developer of mobile payment devices, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
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