Salesforce doubles down on Japan with dedicated $100M fund

It’s been a good week for Japanese startups. Fresh from Google making a rare investment in the country when it backed AI startup Abeja, so Salesforce — another U.S. tech titan — has announced a $100 million fund for enterprise startups in Japan.

The Japan Trailblazer Fund is Salesforce Venture’s first local fund in Asia. The firm’s VC arm has backed 40 startups in Japan since 2011, that’s a fractional of its portfolio of over 275 startups. While, at $100 million, the Japan fund is also a small part of the overall investment thesis which has seen Salesforce Ventures plow over $1 billion into companies worldwide.

Nevertheless, the dedicated focus on Japan is positive news for the country, which has struggled to attract overseas investors despite running the world’s third-largest economy based on GDP. For Salesforce, Japan’s public cloud services market is expected to increase more than two-fold to reach $13 billion by 2022, according to figures from IDC.

Salesforce Ventures’ existing portfolio includes startups like accounting service Freee, which raised $60 million in August, and contact management business Sansan, which this week closed $26.5 million for expansion into Southeast Asia.

Google invests in Japanese AI and machine learning startup ABEJA

Google has made a rare investment in Japan after the company led a follow-on round for AI and machine learning startup ABEJA.

The deal amount is undisclosed but a little digging suggests that it is likely a single-digit million US dollar figure. That’s because six-year-old ABEJA did confirm that it has now raised JPY 6 billion ($53 million) from investors to date. The company has raised $45 million in disclosed capital, according to Crunchbase, which leaves around $8 million unaccounted for — although that covers both the Google investment and a previous Series A deal in 2014, which was also undisclosed.

Numbers aside, the deal is notable not only because it represents a Google deal in Japan, but because it is strategic in nature.

“Going forward, ABEJA and Google will collaborate on AI and ML solutions across various sectors, including retail and manufacturing, driving the application of AI solutions, along with further growth in the Japanese AI sector,” ABEJA said in a statement.

The startup’s core offering is a ‘platform as a service’ that uses machine learning to help over 150 companies develop business analysis and insight from their data piles. There is a specialist product for retail stores which hones in on customer and retail data — that’s used by some 100 corporate customers, according to ABEJA.

“ABEJA has strong technical capabilities and ML expertise, and is respected across the industry for its track record of collaboration and the effective deployment of its tech solutions,” said Shinichi Abe, Managing Director of Google Cloud Japan, in a pre-prepared statement. “This investment paves the way for collaboration with ABEJA in innovative solutions in the retail and manufacturing sector, as well as other verticals.”

Google has placed significant emphasis on AI and machine learning in China — where it opened a lab in Beijing one year ago — but that aside the majority of its research and focus has come from the U.S. and also Europe, where its Deep Mind unit is headquartered. Google did acquire startups in India and Singapore that include AI and ML capabilities, but those deals were aimed at growing its in-house product teams which are customizing and creating services for those growing local markets.