NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s leading mobile operator, has announced that it will invest in 500 Startups as it prepares to launch a 10 billion JPY ($109 million USD) venture fund in late February. The accelerator program will focus on the development of new businesses for smartphones and tablets.
DoCoMo’s investment in 500 Startups is part of the Tokyo-based company’s plan for its new incubation program and will be carried out by DoCoMo Capital, its international VC arm which was stakes in startups including Evernote, Fab and Cooliris.
NTT DoCoMo said back in October that it planned to create a fund to support early-stage tech and mobile startups by March of this year. This should be welcome news to entrepreneurs in Japan, where the startup industry is relatively low profile and early-stage funding is difficult to secure. The Next Web notes, however, that there have been some high-profile exits in the country, including Yahoo Japan’s October acquisition of app-maker Community Factor for $12.8 million.
In a statement, DoCoMo said it “aims to strengthen cooperation with venture companies through initiatives such as investments, primarily in Japan, to help upgrade services and technologies for smart devices in existing fields of business” on behalf of its parent company NTT Group.
The new venture fund also seeks to:
”accelerate development of business models, services and technologies in eight new strategic fields: media/content, finance/payments, commerce, medical/healthcare, machine-to-machine (M2M), aggregation/platforms, environment/ecology and security/safety. Such efforts are expected to rapidly expand DoCoMo’s involvement with integrated services centered on mobility.”
DoCoMo is looking for companies “developing mobile-related services that have the potential to become global standards.” The application period for the incubation program is until March 11. Startups and venture companies selected for the program will receive mentoring, get the use of office space, and up to 2 million JPY ($23,000 USD) seed funding in convertible notes. DoCoMo and 500 Startups will also help participants learn how to enter markets in North America and other regions.