In A Bid To Enter The Japanese Market, Kids’ Tablet Maker Fuhu Raises $5M From Telecom KDDI

Japanese telecom KDDI just announced the first U.S. deal for its Open Innovation Fund — a $5 million investment in Fuhu.

The Los Angeles-headquartered startup offers a number of products and services (when Fuhu raised its Series B from Acer, we described it as an “avatar startup”), but the one that attracted KDDI’s interest is the nabi 2, an Android tablet built specifically for kids.

KDDI Chief Strategy Officer Kazuhiko Masuda told me that there’s a big opportunity in Japan to move kids’ content and educational content into the digital world, and his team decided that the nabi tablet was the best way to make that happen. He was particularly impressed by the kid-friendly interface and Fuhu’s good relationship with various content providers. Masuda said that KDDI’s reach (among other things, the company has 35 million wireless subscribers through its au brand, making it the second-largest cellular provider in Japan) should give Fuhu a big push into the Japanese market. However, the company isn’t ready to offer any details about the Japanese version of the product, or to provide a launch date.

Since launching the $60 million Open Innovation Fund earlier this year, KDDI has already invested in four Japanese startups — Tolot, Giftee, Social Lunch, and JMTY. Masuda said he’s definitely interested in making more U.S. investments, especially since the tech industry is moving at “top speed” here: “The Japanese market is more conservative.”

To that end, KDDI also opened a small office in San Francisco last year to scout out possible partnerships and investments. Yesterday, for example, Twilio announced that KDDI would be its first big international licensing partner.