Lab To Market Podcast: Sota Nagano of Abies Ventures on Japan’s Deep Tech Scene

Hi! Ben, Partner @ SOSV here- the early stage deep tech fund focused on hardware and biology, via our programs HAX and IndieBio. I hope you’re coping well with Covid, wherever you are!

new episode of our podcast Deep Tech: From Lab to Market (@LabToMarket) is up.

  • It features Sota Nagano, Partner at Abies Ventures and former co-founder and CFO of GLM, Japan’s Tesla that IPO for $1.5 bln in 2017.

  • Abies is a $40m early stage deep tech fund based in Japan and backed by Taizo Son (the also-billionaire younger brother of Masayoshi Son, of Softbank / Vision Fund).

  • Abies is industry-focused, but also invested opportunistically in space and biotech.

Note: If your time zone is compatible with European Time, our friends at Hello Tomorrow (an NGO running possibly the best and largest deep tech conference in the world — recently postponed) have announced a few cool things:

  1. A discussion this Thursday (11AM CEST) on the impact of Covid-19 on European deep tech funding, with Atomico, Airbus Ventures and Future Positive Capital. I will be moderating the panel. RSVP here.

  2. A nice mapping of 1,000+ funds active in deep tech. Send your comments or updates!

  3. A newsletter on "Investing in Deep Tech" featuring the best startups from their past events. Subscribe here for the first edition next week.

About Sota Nagano and Abies Ventures

Sota Nagano is a Partner at Abies Ventures, a $40m early stage deep tech fund based in Tokyo backed by Taizo Son, a billionaire and active tech investor, and younger brother of Masa, creator of the famous Vision Fund.

  • Abies Ventures invests in Japan and abroad in industrial tech,

  • But also opportunistically in multiple sectors including advanced sensors, space tech and life sciences.

Prior to Abies, Sota studied in the US and Italy, worked on Wall Street. He then co-founded an automotive engineering startup named GLM, which Financial Times called Japan’s Tesla, and which he took public for $1.5B in 2017.

Image: The Tommy Kaira ZZ electric sports car by GLM

Note: SOSV is also investing in Japan. Our hardware accelerator program HAX opened an office in Tokyo in 2019 with the support of Sumitomo, one of our key Japanese LPs.

Episode Overview

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Sota’s journey to deep tech investment.

  • The origins and competitive advantages of Abies thanks to their broad industry network.

  • The most promising deep tech sectors in Japan and the opportunities for exits, notably with fast IPOs.

  • Finally, Sota shares his thought about the cost of failure in Japan, and the parallels he sees between Japan’s tech sector and the situation described in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

References Mentioned

  • Mistletoe: Taizo Son’s global investment vehicle for the startup ecosystem.

  • Euglena (Japan): $600m public company using ‘euglena’ (a single cell flagellate eukaryotes) for food supplements, beauty care, biofuel and more. The stock peaked around $2 bln in 2013.

  • Cyberdyne (Japan): the ominous-sounding $500m public company makes futuristic exoskeletons. The stock peaked over $3 bln in 2016.

  • JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency): Japan’s NASA.

  • Ultrasense Systems (USA): small ultrasound 3D sensors for next-generation UI.

  • Algal Bio (Japan): a biotech startup that uses thousands of strains of algae to produce functional nutrients, fatty acid, and carotenoids that have applications in food products, cosmetics, medicine, and fuel.

  • Pixie Dust (Japan): ultrasound array technology for control and interfaces, founded by Dr. Yoichi Ochiai (@ochyai on Twitter, with over 400k followers, on YouTube and video program on Newspicks, in Japanese). Raised $55.1 million.

  • Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

  • Layer Cake, a movie starring pre-007 Daniel Craig as a cool-headed drug lord.


Seth Bannon, Founding Partner of Fifty Years

  • Fifty Years is a $50m early stage fund investing in science startups solving the world’s biggest problems.

  • Seth explains about how science startups build the future.

Kelly Chen, Partner at DCVC

  • DCVC is $725m deep tech fund active in agtech, space, industry and biology.

  • Kelly shares her views on investing in Old School Industries.

Manish Singhal, Managing Partner of pi Ventures

  • pi Ventures is a $30m deep tech fund focused on India.

  • Manish talks about India’s deep tech landscape.

John Ho, Partner at Anzu Partners

  • Anzu Partners is a US-based $190m fund investing nationwide.

  • John talks about investing in Breakthrough Industrial Technologies

Matt Clifford, Cofounder of Entrepreneur First (EF)

  • EF is a $115m fund investing in deep tech pre-team and pre-product.

  • Matt explains how they apply the lean startup to team formation.

Share it if you like it, and let us know if you have suggestions on content / format / guests or else. We’ve been thrilled by the response so far!

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Until next time!

Benjamin Joffe
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SOSV is a global early stage deep tech fund with over $700m under management and running specialized accelerators.