Top 50 Emerging Leaders 2021 continued (in alphabetical order by CVC unit): Ken Sobajima, senior director of investments, KDDI Open Innovation Fund

Kenyu “Ken” Sobajima is a US-based senior director of investments at KDDI Open Innovation Fund, a corporate venture capital (CVC) vehicle for Japan-headquartered telecommunications firm KDDI that is jointly run by venture capital firm Global Brain (GB).

KDDI Open Innovation Fund was launched in 2012 with two initial capital of $50m each, and it expanded again in April 2018 with a third fund of roughly $200m. In 2019, KDDI and GB formed KDDI Regional Initiatives Fund, which invests in local companies in Japan to promote regional economic revitalisation.

KDDI Open Innovation Fund has made 83 direct investments, focusing on startups that could potentially achieve synergy with KDDI as it prepares for the global rollout of 5G, the next generation of mobile networking.

Sobajima has worked for KDDI for 25 years, having overseen incubation and acceleration programme KDDI Mugen Labo for a year from 2014. The following year, he moved to KDDI Open Innovation Fund’s San Francisco office. “When I was in Japan, I managed the US investment team and seven investments in the US,” he said. For example, in late 2014, Sobajima led a series A $10m funding for Ossia, a US-based developer of remote wireless charging technology.

After relocating to the US in 2015, he made a number of investments and managed KDDI’s business partnership with internet technology provider Google, social media company Facebook and Japan-based digital media companies Gree and Colopl, among others.

KDDI Open Innovation Fund has also scored exits. Completed initial public offerings include those of online advertising platform Logly, smartphone push message platform developer iRidge, online English learning platform provider RareJob Philippines and data centre operation services provider 21 Vianet Group.

Other exits included teachers communication service provider Edmodo, smart lock producer August Home, fashion-oriented social network Vasily and code-free app development tool developer IQP.

Edison Fu

Edison Fu is a reporter and Asia liaison at Global Corporate Venturing.