Kei Onishi, CEO of Yamaha Motor Ventures, is one of the 100 leading corporate venturing professionals in our 2024 Powerlist.

Yamaha Motor Ventures may not have had the most outwardly active 12 months but the investment unit continued an ongoing evolution, launching a $100m third fund and adding seven new startups to its portfolio under managing director and chief executive Kei Onishi. 

“2023 was a year of learning, adaptation and growth,” says Onishi. “We’ve remained agile, to capture the great opportunities in this evolving tech landscape. 

The unit announced its second Exploratory Fund in 2023, bringing its overall assets under management to $300m. The first fund launched in 2018 and since then, Yamaha Motor Ventures added fintech, big data and artificial intelligence to its investment areas. And the launch of its latest fund also turned out to be fortuitous.  

“We announced that fund on the Monday right after the Silicon Valley Bank crisis, and it was actually great timing for us,” Onishi says. “It sent a message to the market that we have a strong commitment to keep supporting the innovators in the startup ecosystem.”  

Onishi joined Yamaha Motor Ventures at the start of 2022 having already spent 12 years with the corporate, initially as an engineer, before moving to new business development. He was promoted to manage its digital strategy division in 2019, a position that entailed leading digital marketing and data analytics teams. The experience has helped him undertake an evolution in how the unit targets portfolio companies. 

“We were looking at five or ten-year horizons in the past but we are currently looking at three to five years, in some cases shorter than that”

“I took this role two years ago, and since then we’ve started making slight adjustments in how we interact with the parent company as well with the startup ecosystem,” Onishi says. “The biggest change we made is that we started looking at the companies that can bring immediate impact to existing business units. 

“We were looking at five or ten-year horizons in the past but we are currently looking at three to five years, in some cases shorter than that. We started making investments and introducing the business units to startups in adjacent areas to our core businesses.” 

Those introductions mean Yamaha Motor Ventures would be hitting key performance indicators even without investing. Onishi says it introduced 80 startups to the corporate’s business units last year, of which 10 ended up signing commercial agreements. 

The second Exploratory Fund was announced just eight months after the unit’s $100m Sustainability Fund, which in turn has led to it exploring new areas like the circular economy and net-zero metals production.  

But Onishi is perhaps most excited about the potential of AI, particularly in manufacturing.  One recent investment he cites is the $17m seed round for a portfolio company called Atomic Industries, which uses AI to cut the design time of a complex manufacturing mold from two weeks with an experienced engineer to just a one day. 

The next step for Yamaha Motor Ventures, he says, would potentially be to structure a way of accelerating the adaptation of innovative technologies provided by startups. Although it has firm relationships with the company’s business units, even helping with due diligence for their own strategic investments, startups in general could still do with help finding early adopters for their products. 

“On the investment side, we want to keep sourcing interesting startups in the AI space, robotics, the sustainability space and alternative fuels,” Onishi says. “At the same time, the biggest value a corporate can offer in a difficult time for startups is introducing customers, and also being a customer.  

“So, we want to create some mechanism that accelerates that, to not only support our portfolio companies but the other startups working on problems Yamaha wants to solve. We can especially see the challenges for the startups in our core businesses: mobility, robotics, fintech and the financial services business. Startups in those categories are all struggling, so we want to keep supporting the companies in those sectors in many ways.” 

Powerlist cover

The Global Corporate Venturing Powerlist represents the 100
individuals spearheading the future of the corporate venturing industry.

These individuals excel in terms of their venturing approach and structure, number and quality of portfolio companies and in their contributions to the corporate venturing profession.

See the full 2024 Powerlist here.