Tokyo based startup uses edge computing to close the inefficiency gaps in the industrial and hospitality industries
How one female founder used her curiosity to optimize manufacturing and hospitality inefficiencies
The entrepreneurial spirit is often associated with grit and charm than with technical expertise—however, technical prowess is essential to the long-term success of a company. Japanese founder Kyoko Otawa was working at a consulting firm when she became interested in IT and IoT (internet of things) solutions. She set up a weeked study group with her colleagues to discuss AI, big data, fintech, and blockchains. After a year and half of hosting their study group, the crew decided to create a business plan of their own and pitch to VCs. In 2018, Kyoko left her day job to pursue her startup full time: Latona, a technology startup that aims to solve problems in a wide range of industrial sectors, including factories, retail stores, and construction through in-house developed open source and IoT solutions.
By applying edge computing technology, Latona works with major companies to develop new services, including advanced factory automation through adaptable sensing technology without time lags and an analysis system on site; and a service that offers an unprecedented shopping experience through collaboration with POS data from retailers. Kyoko imagines that Latona's edge computing will be able to replace the role of an inspection employee and be able to more efficiently and quickly find gaps in a production or assembly line. Latona’s services would also be able to turn customer information from paper to digital in a manageable and accessible way, potentially even using facial recognition to ensure even smoother hospitality experiences. According to Kyoko,“Latona’s vision is changing the world of traditional and qualified work to an automated system by using edge computing which creates a secured and low cost environment.”
The Latona team spent two years honing their technologies and services before Kyoko decided it was time to scale the business and evolve her skills as a leader. “I have a passion to grow the next generation of AI and IoT industry leaders,” said Kyoko. “In order to achieve that, I needed to grow my business by expanding from the current core area to give our young employees new opportunities.” With the goal of generating more business ideas to scale the business, she enrolled in the Google for Startups Immersion: Women Founders in APAC program in autumn 2020. “Every moment of the program was eye opening. It really revitalized my business ideas,” said Kyoko.
Latona particularly benefited from tailored mentorship from Googlers and industry experts. The Google for Startups team connected her with Poonam Bathla, a Google software engineering manager based in the U.S.. “We had a 1:1 every week throughout the program and we discussed a lot on finding new areas we could explore with our existing tech solutions,” remembers Kyoko. “Poonam understands our technology very well and quickly and gave me great ideas we could proceed for new business.”
“The Google for Startups program gave me the confidence to expand our vision.”
Latona originally focused on accelerating IoT in the manufacturing industry, but after the Immersion program, Kyoko decided to expand their services to other industries such as travel and beauty. “The Google for Startups program gave me the confidence to expand our vision. We realized we had lots of potential in B2C business areas,” said Kyoko. So, in Dec 2020, Latona released OMOTE-Bako, a hospitality application for Japanese traditional inns called ryokans and hotels. “The hotel industry is facing an extremely difficult business environment due to the decline in the number of guests and workforce caused by the COVID-19. In order to support those kinds of affected service industries with the latest technology using AI, Latona is pleased to announce the release of OMOTE-Bako,” said Kyoko. She added that they’re hoping to extend the offer to the beauty industry, sports gym, restaurants and other hospitality industries.
Latona’s tech is fueled by Google products, especially Google Cloud and Google Kubernetes Engine [GKE]. Latona uses GKE for software, which manages micro-services developed by Google. Kyoko explains that, “by using Kubernetes, each of Latona's microservices is managed as a container, and its operational status can be checked 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So, in the event of an outage, such as in a factory, this prevents the need to take time to identify the cause and resume operations.” The reliability of GKE was one of the initial reasons the Latona team opted for GKE but its scalability as they’ve grown has made their processes far smoother. They’ve developed Latona's “AION™”, which is an AI and IoT platform built around open-source architectures with GKE. Kyoko adds, “We utilize Google products a lot as IoT and edge computing are closely related to the Google Cloud technologies.” When asked which products she would recommend to other technology founders, Kyoko recommends GKE. The application allows the company to run their queries and data faster essentially giving them a powerful source of cloud computing.
Latona began 2021 by closing their series A funding at 530,000,000 yen (more than $4.8 million USD). Kyoko is proud of the progress they’ve made since entering the program but her desire to continue learning and growing is strong. “We still have lots to solve and explore but I’m very excited for what the future holds for Latona and cannot wait to empower the world more with our technology.”