Spread Your Propellers
The future of air-mobility with Drone Fund Founder Kotaro Chiba
Drone Fund is the first fund in Japan focusing on investing in drone technology and air-mobility startups. Founded by Japanese angel investor Kotaro Chiba, its vision is to support the preparation, creation, and advancement of drone-based societies across the globe, which was a passion of Chiba’s from an early age.
“Since childhood, I have imagined the future with scores of drones in the sky and robots in our daily lives, like in the movies. Now, it’s our mission to turn this dream into reality,” he says.
Japan’s low birth rate and aging population also play into Chiba’s belief that air mobility will help to alleviate critical labor shortage issues–something he is confident about, considering that the country is at the forefront of hardware development and manufacturing.
Drone Fund raised ¥1.6 billion for its first fund and aims to more than triple that number to reach ¥5 billion for its second fund. At the time of writing, Drone Fund II has ¥3.7 billion of committed capital from notable investors including Mizuho Bank, footballer Keisuke Honda, Canal Ventures, and FFG Venture Business Partners. The firm has invested in a total of 26 startups since its founding.
When evaluating a possible portfolio company from a tech perspective, Drone Fund looks at its technical superiority, intellectual property potential, and management ability. It has a dedicated Drone IP Lab to help portfolio companies obtain patents both regionally and on an international level.
The fund’s portfolio companies range in specialization and product offering, and one that stands out to Chiba as especially innovative is Aeronext’s 4D Gravity Control. This technology comprises an inserted gimbal structure that connects the mounting and flight sections, meaning the drone’s center of gravity allows for more advanced altitude control.
Aeronext is anticipated to broaden industrial applications and facilitate growth in new markets by improving drone reliability and safety. Their goal is in line with Drone Fund’s idea that manufacturers need to develop robust mobility technologies in order to expand the industry internationally.
Apart from working on drone technology, Chiba understands that he and his team need to increase public awareness about the benefits of air mobility.
“We hope to take an omnidirectional approach to innovation, not just in terms of developing the technologies needed to lead innovation in sky infrastructures, but with a service-based strategy as well.”
Drone Fund has made efforts to reach and connect with the public. The fund has an official character, Misora Kanata, who is a high school girl living in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward in 2022. She is featured in a series of illustrations that explores how drone technology can interact with people, from picking up packages to delivering supplies following a natural disaster.
Far-off as it might sound, the depicted drones are not concocted by science fiction writers, but based on real innovations by Drone Fund’s portfolio companies. It’s an exciting demonstration of how their products can be applied to many areas of our lives and help streamline everyday tasks.
Japan was among the first countries to regulate the flying of hobby drones, banning them from densely populated areas, and only allowing the operation of drone taxis in remote islands and mountainous regions. The government is encouraging the development of drone technology with the implementation of deregulated zones for testing, open bandwidth for drone communications, and facilitation of commercial applications.
That being said, the safety of integrating drones into society is still a major concern, and one deadly accident could set the industry back by years. Additionally, military applications and increasingly stringent regulations have encouraged the perception that drone technology is somewhat dangerous.
Chiba, however, doesn’t see such perceptions as obstacles for a drone-based society, but a process all new technologies must go through.
“Could you have imagined a world without iPhones, Instagram or Twitter in 2000? It’s the same with drones. We cannot imagine the future yet.”
Kelly is Jumpstart’s Editorial Assistant.