This article was originally published by Finnish Venture Capital Association.
The number of members of FVCA has increased over the early half of 2019, and one of the new members is NordicNinja. All the way from Japan, NordicNinja is a venture capital fund supporting scale-up goals in the Nordic and Baltic region.
When and why was Nordic Ninja founded?
The NordicNinja was an initiative from Japan, more specifically Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). JBIC had created a new unit called JBIC IG Partners which’s responsibility is to create VC/PE funds globally. During 2018 it was agreed with BaltCap to create a joint venture VC fund located in Helsinki.
The joint venture raised its fund from Japan. In addition to JBIC, it is backed by three large tech corporates: Honda, Panasonic, and Omron. The partners offer support and cooperation possibilities for startups, but the actual investments and development are done independently by NordicNinja.
The fund was launched in January 2019 and covering the Nordic and Baltic region from its offices in Helsinki at Maria01’s startup hub, Stockholm at Epicenter and in Tallinn in co with BaltCap’s office.
Why did Nordic Ninja decide to create an office in Finland? What is special about the relation between Japan and Finland?
First of all, the fund could have been established anywhere in the world, but the Nordic and Baltic region was picked because of its viral startup ecosystem and the request for additional scale-up funding. Helsinki was a natural choice as the price level is reasonable and the direct flights to Japan and Asia are very convenient.
The cooperation has been very fluent and the cultural history of Finnish and Japanese has always had an especially positive tone. As Japan is not famous for having a strong startup culture, there is now a great demand to learn and create cooperation among Japanese tech companies.
Tell us more about the team behind Nordic Ninja?
The team consists of five people of which two moved from Tokyo to Helsinki in January 2019. Tomosaku Sohara and Shinichi Nikkuni both brought their families with them and manage the NordicNinja as the Managing Partners. Tomosaku has worked around the world including Latin America with different kinds of technologies, also including energy-related projects at Olkiluoto. Shinichi is focused on healthtech and has his background from Cambridge where he also worked with his own company.
Team’s Investment Director Claes Mikko Nilsen is based in Helsinki and has previously worked with business angel networks in the Nordics and was a co-founder of FiBAN, the Finnish business angels Network.
The small team also receives a lot of support from their back offices in Tallinn and Tokyo. Consequently, the third Managing Partner Marek Kiisa is based in Tallinn. Marek is an experienced early-stage investor who speaks fluent English, Finnish, Swedish and Estonian. The latest recruit is Jesse Saarela, who is the Associate Partner based in Tallinn.
We’re also proud to have Matts Andersson as one of our advisors. He is one of the grand persons developing the Nordic venture capital market at Sitra and also one of the founders of FVCA.
What kind of companies are you investing in? How do you support your portfolio companies?
The geographical mandate covers Nordics and Baltics with a very broad industry interest within tech. Especially robotics, automation, health tech, AI and mobility. The preferred investment scale is 2–4 million euros and we would love to co-invest.
Our definite special twist is our expertise with the Asian market, especially Japan and we’re happy to help with expansion related topics. Also our tech partners, Panasonic, Omron, and Honda, are actively offering their support and we’re happy to link interested startups for closer discussions.
Are there startups or technologies that you are currently excited about?
Since our launch half-a-year ago we have invested in three companies: MaaS Global (Whim), Flexound (3D audio) from Finland and Bolt (Taxify) from Estonia. We have several interesting companies in the pipeline and there seems to be a positive demand for our level scale-up funding.
It has been fascinating to notice the huge role MaaS Global has been able to gain in Japan and it is already said to be one of the most known Finnish business brands in Japan. The Japanese love mobility solutions!
How do you see the future of the Nordic venture capital scene? Does Japan have a role in it?
It has been interesting to notice the limited amount of corporate resources channeled to the early-stage growth scene in the Nordics. So far, we have received excellent feedback and a lot of interest towards our corporate partners. We would assume that we’ll see more global tech giants finding their way to the Nordics with these joint-venture models. Especially Estonia and their eEstonia related startups and governmental solutions seem to gain global interest.
So, we recommend looking for more global partnerships (for example at Slush Tokyo)! The New Nordics is HOT!
Claes Mikko Nilsen claes.mikko at nordicninja.vc