Japan-Based News Startup SmartNews Becomes Unicorn After Raising $28M in Series E

SmartNews, a Japan-based startup that uses artificial intelligence to aggregate news, has become the first unicorn startup in the news business since BuzzFeed and Vox Media Inc four years ago, according to a Bloomberg report.

Japan Post Capital, the investment arm of Japan Post Group, led the $28 million Series E investment in SmartNews. The latest funding amount brings the Japanese news aggregation startup’s total funding raised to date to $116.3 million. Bloomberg said that amount values the business at $1.1 billion.

SmartNews, founded in 2012, offers curated news apps both in Japan and the US. The fresh funds will be used to invest further in the US where the company saw its app’s audience increasing sixfold annually.

It sources articles from almost 400 publishers in the US, including big-name publications such as The Associated Press and Bloomberg. Instead of keeping their readers clueless of the original links to the news, SmartNews said it sends its readers to the original article’s link.

“SmartNews provides news that matters to our millions of users thanks to our unique machine learning technology and relationships with over 400 US publisher partners,” it said. The company has employees and offices in Tokyo, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Shanghai, New York, and Fukuoka.

Beyond the current offices of Tokyo and San Francisco, already home to more than 60 engineers, SmartNews said it will open three new R&D centers in Palo Alto, Shanghai, and Fukuoka.

In June, SmartNews announced the appointment of Ken Kutaragi, known as the father of the PlayStation, to the SmartNews board as an Outside Board Director.

Two new global executive hires also included Youlin Li, who previously served as Head of News Feed Infrastructure at Facebook, based in Palo Alto, and Yi Ren, previously CEO of DeNA China, based in Tokyo.

In a statement, SmartNews co-founder and CEO Ken Suzuki said he is pleased with the startup’s strong progress in the US.

“We will continue to share our vision of informed, balanced media consumption with our current and future users in the U.S. and all over the world,” he added.

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