Even as much of the attention last year was around the massive investments flowing into Indian start-ups from China, Japan was silently establishing its pole position in the ecosystem in 2017.

According to data collated by research and analytics platform Tracxn, Japan led venture capital investments in India surpassing both China and the US in 2017.

At $4.9 billion, Japan’s investments in 2017 increased about 13 times from a mere $387 million the previous year.

Investments from the US and China were at $4.6 billion and $3.5 billion, respectively, last year compared to $3.2 billion and $662 million in 2016, respectively. However, American investors pumped in money in more number of rounds compared to their Japanese and Chinese counterparts.

Tracxn data also showed that against five venture capital firms for China and the US, about a dozen Japanese investors showed interest in the emerging outfits of the world’s fastest growing economy.

New avenues

Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank led the Japanese pack with investments in start-ups such as Flipkart, Paytm, Grofers, Ola, Oyo, Policybazaar and PropTiger. Other Japanese investors included Beenos, Digital Garage, Gree Ventures, Dream Incubator, Rebright Ventures, and Asuka Corporation. Industry experts say that with the Japanese economy growing at a mere one per cent and bank deposits yielding negative returns, it’s important for investors to find investment avenues outside the country.

“India is a large economy growing at over 7 per cent and offers a lot of possibilities for Japanese investors. Culturally and geo-politically, Japan has strong ties with India. We can expect more Japanese funds deploy risk capital in Indian start-ups,” said Pallav Pandey, a serial investor/entrepreneur and founder of Fastfox.com.

He said typical cheque sizes would be smaller (sub-$1 million) and can come as co-investment with someone who can lead the round.

Pandey also said the approach and strategy of Japanese investors are different from Chinese. Japanese make small, early-stage investments just on merits regardless of whether a similar model has played out or not in Japan. However, for Chinese investors look at companies that have followed successful Chinese models.

Different strategy

“There are plenty of early-stage investment opportunities in China. So we are not seeing early- stage risk capital being deployed in India. Instead, it is larger, bigger, surer bets being taken in India by Chinese investors on opportunities that have played out in China,” Pandey said.

Sandeep Aggarwal, Founder, and CEO, droom.in, which has eight Japanese investors, said: “Japanese investors are detail-oriented; for them chemistry with the founder is very important.. I have equal exposure with Chinese investors and they are also equally amazing, but have a different style.”

Several start-up evangelists are hopeful that Japan will continue to surpass China in 2019 too. There are reports of a large fund being set up by Mistletoe, founded by Masayoshi Son’s brother, Tazo Son.

Also the 80-year-old car-maker Toyota, through its investment arm, has already invested $30 million in the automobile marketplace Droom along with other existing investors. Another mid-size fund, Incubate, is also looking to enter the Indian market.