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Rakuten Launches $100 Million Global Fund For Fintech Startups


Calling all fintech startups, Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten is keen on you… so keen that it has officially launched a $100 million fund dedicated to supporting startups in the financial sector.

I use the world “officially” because the fund, and its Managing Partner Oskar Mielczarek de la Miel, have been busy doing deals for some time — including a $12 million Series B round for Latin America-based Uber rival Cabify, a Series C for UK-based Currency Cloud, andbitcoin enabler Bitnet.

Rakuten already runs Rakuten Ventures, a $100 million fund that invests across a range of verticals, but now it is literally doubling down on finance. Rakuten Ventures has done most of its deals in Asia but it is global in scope. The fintech fund, however, is more focused on Western markets, with plans to follow-on and invest in portfolio companies as well as find and back new mid-stage startups.

“The fund will target investments in startups and growth companies primarily in the U.S. and Europe and build on the success of previous fintech investments made by Rakuten,” the company said in a statement.

“While the fund’s immediate focus will be on companies based in fintech centers such as London, San Francisco, New York and Berlin, Rakuten FinTech Fund plans to gradually expand operations around the globe,” Rakuten added.

So there will be opportunities for those in Asia and other emerging markets over time.

Rakuten is best known for its e-commerce business — which has expanded globally with acquisitions deals like Ebates ($1 billion) and Overdrive ($410 million) — but, in its native Japan, it operates a number of top financial businesses, too. Its domestic business includes internet banking, credit cards, insurance, securities and asset management — with some of those services also available overseas.

Despite its formidable presence in Japan and growing interest in investments, through both the parent company and its investment funds, Rakuten hasn’t gotten access to some of the more exclusive investments in the U.S., and its biggest deals so far have had issues. Itinvested in Pinterest back in 2012 but never joined any follow-on rounds, and it led Lyft’s Series E earlier this year, but Lyft has arguably has fallen further behind Uber while China’s Didi Dache is now a (seemingly very) strategic investor in the Uber rival.

On the other hand, the Japanese company’s fintech investments focus, at this point, looks to be an area where it can add greater value and expertise — Bitnet, for example, is already working with Rakuten to enable bitcoin payments for its global businesses. This fund will mean more investments and thus more examples for assessing Rakuten’s value as an investor.

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