Rakuten saw its first international cohort of startup ventures graduate from the Singapore-based Rakuten Accelerator, Powered by Techstars, in October of 2018.
This pioneering class, which included startups from Singapore, Canada, Hungary, Lebanon, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, the U.K. and the U.S., worked to develop solutions to disrupt and revolutionize how companies and consumers use messaging to conduct business and stay connected, driven by Rakuten’s focus on strengthening the ecosystem around Rakuten Viber.
As of June 2018, Viber has more than 1 billion registered users. Rakuten plans to offer Viber’s users additional offerings through collaborations with the graduates of Rakuten Accelerator, who have developed solutions ranging from AI chatbots and adtech to payments and collaboration tools.
Retarget Links: Democratizing digital advertising
Serge Salager, CEO of Retarget Links, which aims to democratize digital advertising and counts the likes of WPP as clients, shared: “We saw a lot of synergies with what Rakuten was doing, particularly with the opportunity to leverage the Japanese ecosystem.” He continued, “Most of our traction comes from small businesses and online merchants — we have about 3,000 companies using our platform today — and have done a pilot project with Rakuten in Japan targeting merchants in Shibuya.”
“Another pilot we did with Rakuten focused on working with affiliate marketing. These are links where bloggers and other publishers who publish content online can monetize through advertising for brands. Some of the brands we service are major global corporations.”
AND Global: Microlending for the under-banked
Meanwhile, Bayarsaikhan Volodya, COO of the Singapore-based financial inclusion platform AND Global, which offers machine learning-enabled microlending, had a strategic imperative in mind when joining the Rakuten Accelerator.
He explained: “We had two clear objectives from the start. The first objective was to build a long-term partnership in order to integrate our solution with Viber’s messaging platform. The second was to explore how we could collaborate with different Rakuten services, such as Rakuten Capital, and other business arms.”
“We’re aiming for a complete integration of our solution with the Viber messaging platform. Our intention with Viber is to use it to enter large markets where its brand is strong, especially the Philippines and Myanmar. We’re still engaged in further talks with different Rakuten services, and we hope to establish an even stronger relationship with them.”
The startups were accelerated in Singapore — the location of Rakuten’s Asia Regional Headquarters. Since the turn of the 21st Century, the city-state has transitioned into a pan-Asian innovation hub, underwritten by a pro-business environment, international talent pool, favorable government policies and global connectivity.
Jazzy Pay: Solving social challenges with IT solutions
Coming from the neighboring Philippines, Jazzy Pay, a unified payment platform that enables mobile payments for schools, clinics and hospitals, also experienced positive results from its participation in the accelerator program.
Speaking on her experience with Rakuten Accelerator, Kathleen Acosta, co-founder of Jazzy Pay, elaborated: “At first, nobody was talking to us in the Philippines, where it’s very hard to raise funds. We had to bootstrap everything from start to end. Then we applied to Rakuten Accelerator, as they were seeking startups that solve social problems, like us.”
Her co-founder, Joshua Marindo, added: “Once we joined the accelerator, everything happened so fast! We were able to catch up and complete our development. What we expected to take 8 to 12 months, was completed in 13 weeks.”
Talk-A-Bot: Changing the way companies communicate with customers
For Hungary’s Talk-A-Bot, its participation in the Rakuten Accelerator was significant for both personal and professional reasons. Co-founder Akos Deliaga shared: “I had to relocate here [Singapore] with my wife and son, who was just three months old at the time, so it was a major commitment personally and professionally.”
He added “It has greatly added to our growth. In fact, we are planning to set up an office in Singapore to embark on our expansion into the region. The experience [with Rakuten Accelerator] was quite overwhelming due to the pace — three months sounds like a lot, but when you are in the program, it actually runs really fast.”
Deliaga, whose company is the first Hungarian startup in the Techstars portfolio, concluded: “I think it’s a great initiative from Rakuten to create an accelerator program which provides a structure to incubate all these small startup businesses. It’s something I think every corporation needs to consider.”
Considering the tremendous value of the program to both participating startups and the Accelerator’s hosts, Rakuten Accelerator is now searching for its next class of founders — who are working on technologies that apply to communication, data marketing and digital commerce — to join the 2019 program. Applications are open from January 7 to April 7, 2019, with the program starting in July and Demo Day scheduled for October.