Meet six of Nagoya’s pioneering tech startups

5 min read
15 Feb 2021

agoya is at the center of one of the most concentrated manufacturing areas in the world and has Japan’s largest concentration of high-tech industries. From automobiles to aerospace, there’s a wide range of industries here, with many Nagoya-based companies ranking among the top in their field. The region also has a wide base of small and medium enterprises with excellent technological capabilities, and is increasingly supportive of new founders and startups. 

Informed by Startup Guide Nagoya, here are some Nagoya startups using cutting-edge technology to transform healthcare, logistics, agriculture and more.

Ryuichi Onose, CEO and cofounder of Craif, was working at Mitsubishi while both of his grandparents were suffering from cancer. This experience inspired him to move his efforts to improving cancer patients’ lives. Venture capital firm ANRI introduced him to Takao Yasui, an associate professor at Nagoya University who was working on developing nanofabrication technologies for biological applications. One promising use of the technology is a liquid biopsy, a method for detecting cancer from body fluids such as blood and urine. Ryuichi and Takao met in March 2018 and cofounded Icaria, later renamed Craif, to bring their technology to market.

The technology provided by Craif enables the measurement of exosomes from a single drop of urine, allowing early cancer detection. It also has the potential to indicate the optimal treatment for each patient, despite the complexity of cancer’s pathology. Craif leverages nanomaterial technologies, an area where Japan shows a competitive edge globally, to address one of the world’s most significant medical issues.

Masaki Niwa and Michitaka Notaguchi started GRA&GREEN in 2017, with an intention to maximize agricultural productivity and sustainability using technology developed at Nagoya University. Masaki, cofounder and CEO, says, “Various issues surround the food and agriculture field, such as climate change, population growth, the shortage of farmers and the need to diversify food.” 

One technique that can help address such issues is grafting, an ancient method of connecting two different plants to produce a crop that is more resilient, disease resistant or quicker to fruit. But stable production of grafted seedlings is difficult and requires highly skilled workers. To improve the rate of success, GRA&GREEN developed its grafting cassette, a device that enables anyone to mass-produce consistent grafted seedlings. 

The company also utilizes proprietary technologies, such as gene editing, to combine different plants and create new traits in seedlings. GRA&GREEN aims to build a new agro-food value chain based on contract farming. Masaki says, “This would improve agricultural productivity and contribute to a sustainable society by maximizing the potential of plants through advanced technology.”

i Smart Technologies was born in 2016 and is dedicated to the development of IoT systems for the manufacturing industry. It started out as a project at Asahi Tekko, an auto-parts manufacturer, and went on to develop a system that later became known as iXacs. The genius behind iXacs is a combination of sensors and software that can continuously capture data by applying devices externally to older machines. It provides new life for aging factories and equipment by optimizing their output. 

The initial IoT system achieved an average productivity increase of 43% across one hundred lines and a cost savings of ¥300 million. i Smart Technologies’ focus is on kaizen, a Japanese business philosophy that emphasizes continuous improvement and efficiency in both processes and logistics. The goal is to prioritize the acquisition of relevant data and continuously increase productivity step by step, utilizing the client's existing hardware. Management of all data occurs in the cloud, and there is no server or LAN installation required.

Today, iXacs is a service that combines hardware and software along with extensive support. Until now, many small and medium-sized companies could not afford the capital investment required to enter the realm of IoT, but i Smart Technologies’ service is relevant to a broad market due to the low cost of implementation and the resulting savings.

As a freshman at Nagoya University, Optimind’s president and CEO Ken Matsushita came across the concept of combinatorial optimization and was impressed by its utility. Combinatorial optimization uses combinatorial methods to solve optimization problems and determine the best result from a fixed set of probabilities. Ken focused his studies on the method and contemplated how it could be used in technological applications. In 2015, he created Optimind to optimize distribution routes.

“Optimind’s primary customers are involved in home delivery, such as Japan Post and Nitori,” Ken says. “Another customer category is liquor wholesalers that sell beer and meat to restaurants. Construction companies also utilize our services, delivering water valves and building materials to construction sites. So basically, we are involved in home delivery and wholesale delivery.”

Tier IV’s founder and CTO Shinpei Kato created the company when he was an associate professor in the Graduate School of Information Science at Nagoya University. Professor Kazuya Takeda, who now serves as president of Tier IV, supported Shinpei in his research on open-source software for autonomous driving. The model that he developed received so much attention that Shinpei decided to develop it as a venture, launching Tier IV in December 2015. 

The concept of open-source software for autonomous driving is appealing to automotive companies both domestically and abroad because it is challenging to create such technology from scratch. Several such companies came to Tier IV to customize the software for their products.

Tier IV’s goal is to create intelligent vehicles for everyone. Through Autoware, the world’s first open-source software for autonomous driving, the company aims to build an ecosystem of global partners worldwide that contribute to autonomous-driving technology. True to his goal of making the software open and accessible, Shinpei transferred all rights to Tier IV’s technology to the nonprofit Autoware Foundation.

TOWING was founded in February 2020 by two brothers, CEO Kohei Nishida and COO and CTO Ryoya Nishida. The company develops highly productive food-cultivation systems for locations where growing food is either difficult or expensive. 

In recent years, many companies have attempted to create and implement resource-recycling cultivation systems but found them to be expensive and time consuming to develop. TOWING’s technology uses a proprietary algorithm to determine what types of artificial soil and organic fertilizer are appropriate for each location. Its approach dramatically shortens the setup period for optimizing the soil environment.

The company aims to expand its system to Europe and North America, where organic food markets are mature. The technology also has an application in developing countries, where demand for food is rapidly growing in relation to expanding populations, as it allows food production in harsh environments such as deserts and alpine regions. 

As part of the SPACE FOODSPHERE program, a Tokyo-based initiative, TOWING is working on ways to cultivate food on the International Space Station, the moon and Mars.

Want to know more about Nagoya and its startup community? Order your copy of Startup Guide Nagoya now.

Written by Carter Witt.

Repackaged by Hazel Boydell.