Right now, it looks like the most profitable business models that are emerging from the mapping of the human genome are not in the field of medicine, but in a variety of B2C business models focused on consumer marketing.

That may be a surprising claim, but if the past 40 years of life sciences have taught us anything, it’s that our genetic information will be both more valuable and harder to understand than we expect it to be.

Today, I’d like you to meet Tomohiro Takano, CEO and founder of Awakens.  Awakens is opening up the genome to make it more accessible and understandable to you and me. They are designing a genetic marketplace that will serve both B2B and B2C clients, and they are working with other startups to develop applications that will leave some readers impressed and excited, and others appalled and concerned.

So it’s probably best to let Tomo tell you about it.

Show Notes

  • Why people will share their DNA information
  • How to choose your customers as a genetics startup
  • Why developing B2B clients is different in Japan and the US
  • Why people you would not suspect want access to your genome
  • The true accuracy of consumer DNA analysis
  • DNA for dating and social networking
  • What an accelerator must do to validate a startup
  • Why there are so few life sciences startups in Japan

Links from the Founder

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Welcome to Disrupting Japan, straight talk from Japan’s most successful entrepreneurs. I’m Tim Romero and thanks for joining me.

Today, we’re going to be talking about mining the genome, because if the last 40 years of life-sciences has taught us anything, it’s that the information we take from our DNA is always more valuable than we think it’s going to be, and why wouldn’t it be? I mean, innovation and efficiency, and profit, and money in general are all just proxies for some greater and deeper human need. Most innovation is a more efficient means to the same ends, but DNA, well, that’s different. That is who we are. It literally defines us, so naturally, it’s something we all care about deeply whether we know it or not.

Today, I’d like you to meet Tomohiro Takano, CEO and founder of Awakens, and Awakens is trying to open up the genome and to make it more accessible and understandable to you and me. How exactly they plan on making money doing that, well, Tomo will explain in just a moment. It’s a combination of a B2B and B2C DNA marketplace that some listeners will find exciting and some will find it infuriating.

But you know, Tomo tells that story much better than I can. So let’s get right to the interview.

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Tim: Cheers!

Tomohiro: Cheers! Thanks.

Tim: We are sitting here with Tomo Takano of Awakens, a genomic startup here in Tokyo, so thanks for sitting down with us.

Tomohiro: Yeah, it’s my pleasure to be here today.

Tim: Okay, let’s do a quick overview of what Awakens is. So you developed the Genome Link software and you say you have a vision of everyone being able to access their own DNA data. Why would we want to do that?

Tomohiro: We create a service called Genome Link which is the kind of API solution for companies to develop their own DNA personalized products. So we see that in the near future, in five or 10 years, every single people will have access to their own DNA data then make use of that data for like, they are choosing in fitness, nutrition, food, medicine.

Tim: Does Awakens do the DNA testing as well or do you just link to work that’s been done by like, Ancestors or 23AndMe?

Tomohiro: Right, so at this point, we are simply focusing on existing genetic testing users, so we don’t do the sequencing operation because in United States, there is already 10 million genetic testing users, then uniqueness of US market is actually this user can download their data, then this user actually looking for the opportunity to make use of the data by accessing to other products.

Tim: Tell me about your customers. Who are your customers in this model? Is it the software companies who are making new software that can take advantage of this genetic information, or is it consumers who want to explore their own genome?

Tomohiro: Sure, so basically, we are trying to connect both users and companies, so right now, everyday, 100 people uploading their DNA data to our platform so we come out like, 100 genetic traits information, some are covered by 23AndMe or other genetic testing products. So people are looking for the opportunity to know more, right?

Tim: What sort of traits are people looking for?

Tomohiro: Famous one is something like fitness or like, personality, or sometimes like some intelligence type traits. We are simply enabling users to connect their own DNA data – it’s the latest science – to know more about their identity.

Tim: Okay, before we dive deep into the DNA and the genetic science, I want to back up a bit and talk a bit about you. So before you founded Awakens, you used to run G-TAC which was M3’s division for healthcare and genetic testing, right?

Tomohiro: Yeah. First of all, I really love M3 and then actually, M3 is an investor of Awakens too.

Tim: Oh, excellent.

Tomohiro: So we have a really strong relationship with M3 too. So Awakens initially started asked like a weekend project. We, I don’t know, kind of wanted to do something we really cannot do in previous company, but we see this is going to be the future of genomics. So we wanted to do three things, so one is the – we wanted to do something with whole genome. Existing genetic testing products need only small portion of DNA data which is like, 0.03% DNA data, and then over 300% of DNA data gives more information, a higher accuracy.

Tim: My understanding is that a lot of our genome, we don’t really know what it does. So I mean, being able to read 100% of the genome doesn’t mean you can understand it, right?

Tomohiro: Yeah, so maybe 100% DNA data doesn’t necessarily to have, doesn’t seem to be known for the future but what’s really happening right now is that people started targeting small portion of this DNA data called snips. We started products like 23AndMe, AncestryDNA. Right now, in the research for the last three or five years is our research is not for  like a whole genome or whole exnome which is like a 3% to 5% of the DNA data, or even like snips, they see the different location, right? At the end, research kind of revealing that we have more information than what we are using to take the same products.

Tim: So right now, like what percent of our genome do we have a good understanding of what it does?

Tomohiro: It’s really small I would say.

Tim: Is it like, 1% or 5%, or?

Tomohiro: we have like a 3% of DNA data has functional meaning, then people say that 97% or 98% is like junk DNA or something, right? It’s got an ocean with DNA, right?

Tim: Sure. We can’t really say it’s junk DNA. It’s just, we don’t know what it does yet.

Tomohiro: Exactly, so we having new research showing that this data could be related to this kind of phenomenon which we call like a phenotype, so there are so many research I’m going and there is so many progress and how we strategically analyze this DNA data by using AI in the new method, right? We have like an inner universe in DNA, right? DNA is kind of galaxy and people try to understand what we can know from those bunch of letters, and there is history ongoing.

Tim: So basically, what Awakens is doing is you are providing a very user-friendly program or friendly API and on the back end, you are correcting all the latest research from around the world of people looking into different parts of the genome and what they might be doing, and then presenting that to the users?

Tomohiro: One of the key value our API is the annotation database. Annotation means how we interface each DNA data. So for users, people upload their own existing 23AndMe, AncestryDNA data. The original data is only 0.03%, right? But based on annotation database or the research actually found that there are some letters that could be related to somebody traits which is not covered by data that 23AndMe, AncestryDNA are looking up, right? But at the same time, we provided this data base as an API solution to the company so the company can develop their own products.

Tim: That makes sense. Getting back to when you were leaving M3, so you mentioned that they are one of the investors in your company, so obviously, you left on very good terms. That’s hard to do in Japan. How did you leave one such good terms and get them excited enough to not only continue speaking to you but to put money in your company?

Tomohiro: No, it’s more like just personal relationship. It’s really doesn’t have any competition on what they are doing, right?

Tim: Yeah, but wasn’t there some pressure, didn’t people come to “Hey, that’s a great idea, why don’t you do that inside the company and will give you support and staffing?”

Tomohiro: I think Awakens was a real exceptional case for the company to put the money in that stage. They are more likely trust me and then supporting me, right?

Tim: So sort of the personal relationship you’ve built.

Tomohiro: Yeah, yeah.

Tim: That makes sense. Well, and it’s important for your next phase. You’ve put out an API but it’s much, much easier to make an API than to get other programmers programming against that API. So what kind of development partners do you have? What kind of companies want to make software based on Genome Link?

Tomohiro: The three companies that we are starting the conversation to get the used case in the United States is food delivery, fitness app company, but in United States, there’s already startup company creating DNA personalized food delivery business, because in a food delivery, the company wants to have the user have loyalty to US products. Food delivery is kind of, I’d say, harder to differentiate so if a company can develop personalized experience –

Tim: So they’re saying based on your unique genetic type, we’ll come up with the best diet for you and –

Tomohiro: That’s seems to be happening in the United States. A company called Habit, they raised like, 32 million for their round]. So I would say the industry is still in in the early phase and like experimental. It’s kind of a huge change of the business, right?

Tim: I can see that being a huge potential business, but there is a lot of confusion in this market about what DNA means and how much we really understand DNA, and I think it was last year or maybe the year before, the US government told 23AndMe –

Tomohiro: Yes, it was like three or four years ago already.

Tim: So they told them they had to stop claiming that it would tell probability for getting cancer or different kinds of medical-related items. So how accurate is this DNA testing? How accurate is this information coming back?

Tomohiro: This is the question many user and industry people have, right? The quick answer is that it’s really case-by-case.

Tim: Well, I guess. I mean, it’s science but you can’t deny there is science behind it and there are certain parts of the genome we understand very well, but I guess from a business model point of view, is this medicine or is this more like astrology?

Tomohiro: Yes, so medicine is getting really – the effectiveness of medicine is getting approved for certain purpose. For example, researches can choosing particular gene marker as a kind of decisive marker of choosing in the cancer therapeutic, right? Choosing the cancer drug and if you’re a particular mutation or you’re a gene, maybe some drug could be much effective or some is not. That’s part of the application that we can have.

Tim: Well, yeah on one hand, from the point of view of Awakens, it doesn’t matter because you’re marketing to whoever is building apps, so if they’re marketing it as medical information, you are not responsible for that. If they’re marketing it as entertainment, that’s fine too, but on the medical side, either in the United States or in Japan, what do doctors think of this kind of – this personal DNA sequencing? Do they use it at all in diagnostics?

Tomohiro: So in diagnostics field, again, those can be therapeutic or diagnostic which is how you choose a drug.

Tim: So do you think we will get to a point where you go in for your annual physical or you go to see the doctor and the doctor says, “Oh, let me see your personal DNA sequence?”

Tomohiro: Yeah, we are not sure for that future is going to have been in five or 10 years for everybody. Medical is for sure but what about other fields, like fitness, nutrition, food? Research indicates that the personalization based on those data is actually changing the user’s behavior, but that is still under discussion how much this is scientifically validated or not.

Tim: It sounds like there is a really broad range.

Tomohiro: it is, it is.

Tim: All the way from genuine medically, clinically proven information to pure entertainment and guessing.

Tomohiro: Exactly. That’s why we are having both B2C and B2B interface because for the B2B side, we want to provide simple API solution, enabling your company to develop any of the DNA personalized integrations just like coding, but the same time, for B2C, we need to provide education process, so user has to know. So what we are trying to do for the B2C side is more like trying to be educators of genomics for the users.

Tim: You mentioned that right now, the product is free for consumers. You will probably change that at some point in the future.

Tomohiro: We are already making money from users.

Tim: So people are willing to pay to see their own genetic info?

Tomohiro: But right now it’s kind of freemium model so people can upload DNA data to our platform and we provide like half genetic traits information for free but for the half, we ask the user to pay like US$39.

Tim: What is your term like because I would imagine that once people sort of see their genetic profile and run through it, now, I don’t need the service anymore?

Tomohiro: At this point, that’s happening exactly, but at the same time we are developing a number of our own new applications so that user can see more like a continuous value.

Tim: What type of application are you developing?

Tomohiro: We have not released yet so it’s like a general idea is more like informative application. So we want to have more like educator contents so we can provide that private apps. Another idea is make like a social network DNA.

Tim: So find people with similar profiles as yourself?

Tomohiro: That is something that’s available in the market already, so another idea could be like, so Tim and Tomo, so what kind of personality similarity we have or maybe which has like a higher gambling tendency? But there is.

Tim: Of course, there is.

Tomohiro: But I don’t know if people really want to find a partner based on DNA. We are trying to create more like a casual experience for these users to talk about their DNA identity.

Tim: Do you see yourself eventually competing with Ancestry or 23AndMe?

Tomohiro: Yeah, we could be competing, we could be collaborating, right? Because as a start up, we are simply focusing on platform of data secondary usage, right?

Tim: Even the fact that you’re updating the database with new research would help you retain customers because you could say, “New research out of Oxford has shown new markers associated with intelligence, you should come back and check your results again?”

Tomohiro: Yeah, yeah, that’s what we do.

Tim: Okay.

Tomohiro: It’s interesting, right? Once we found those findings, we can simply provide that information to our existing users too, right?

Tim: Most of the other genetic startups, part of their long-term business model is selling access to the data to pharmaceutical companies. Now, earlier you mentioned that you guys have decided against doing that. Why?

Tomohiro: Why, because business perspective, we join the market late, we don’t want to compete for that value, right? But if we could create a business model which is not dependent on selling this data, we can make – can disrupt innovation in the business model, right? Because many genetics company were assuming that the data could be sold to other purposes, then they setting the business model, right? But at the same time, if we could make money from consumers or B2B, more like a platform value, we don’t have to rely on selling data, right?

Tim: Is that something that users are concerned about? Have they complained, or in surveys, have they said they were worried about having their data sold?

Tomohiro: At this point, they don’t really care about it because many of the user interviewed for us they don’t really care about it, but companies think, what’s gonna happen in five or 10 years? Right now, people are sharing all these small part of the DNA data, right? But what if you like 100% of DNA data? That’s totally different, right? Usually, you can get the genetic data and then the data itself can show any of the disease risk that you even don’t want to know, right?

Tim: So do you think in the future people might just become a lot more concerned about it?

Tomohiro: That’s something I imagine. Another perspective is even companies selling the data, I want to create a kind of system or an opportunity for people to take the ownership and save the data by themselves.

Tim: How would that work?

Tomohiro: So it’s more like kind of a participatory market phase of the research. Actually, this idea is already kind of started by some company, by using blockchain this year.

Tim: But you don’t need – I need blockchain seems to be grafted onto every business model these days but you don’t need the blockchain to do this business model, so I mean, the idea would be that the users could opt into having their genetic data viewed and receive some –

Tomohiro: Yeah, I’m really happy to share your view on that, but anyway, so people are thinking about that because that’s kind of changing the model of the company getting the data and using the data, so people are thinking about it but what we see is that we have to provide a value to the users for doing it, right?

Tim: Yeah, now that I think of it, is DNA considered medical records? Do they fall under HIPAA compliance?

Tomohiro: Yeah.

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Tim: They do?

Tomohiro: So our data stage or the API solution is HIPAA-compliant.

Tim: Oh, HIPAA compliant?

Tomohiro: It’s part of the value too, right? Because company doesn’t want to have the data become in the HIPAA, right? We keep our users DNA data in your HIPAA-compliant server where you can have access to the genetic traits information, just without accessing low DNA data.

Tim: Yeah, I can see why that can be really attractive for a company that just wants to make an app that accesses this info.

Tomohiro: Yeah.

Tim: Excellent. Let’s talk a bit about Japan in general. We’re here actually doing this interview at Impact Hub in Meguro. You worked here for a couple of years, kind of building up the startup ecosystem and building a community here. So what did you find most challenging about building a community when you were doing it here?

Tomohiro: Yeah, so when I was here, it’s more like almost three or four years ago, so at that point, so we really don’t have much entrepreneurs yet. Entrepreneur persons, people who want to support entrepreneurs, there is kind of less entrepreneurs always.

Tim: so there’s more people who want to support them then there are entrepreneurs?

Tomohiro: Right, right, right.

Tim: What’s the motivation of people who want to support them?

Tomohiro: As a half joint career having a vision, and then we were this set up, by supporting those small entrepreneurs, we kind of wanted to create a huge impact as like a collaborative community. That was the purpose of the Impact Hub. We did a starter program. For me, there are so many really super people that I trust in the community of venture capital accelerator but I see that many people want to support startup – entrepreneurs and startups because they want to be a part of it while they are not really able to take that risk to do it themselves.

Tim: Yeah, I think I know what you’re saying. There are a lot of, especially in the last three or four years, there has been a lot of big companies who have said, “We want to be – we want to support entrepreneurs and we want to be the center of an entrepreneur community, but they didn’t really offer anything that the entrepreneurs wanted, and then they were surprised why no one came to their event.

Tomohiro: Right, right, right, they want to support. They want to be part of it but they don’t want to be the entrepreneur, so.

Tim: Yeah. Although I mean, it is so much better now than it was, say 10 years ago. 10 years ago, if you wanted to have an event or a meetup, it was almost impossible to find space. Now, there is so much free space available in Tokyo if you want to have a meetup or a get together. It’s really great for startups. Of course, it makes it that much harder to build a community because you have to offer more and more exciting things to get the founders’ attention.

Tomohiro: That’s true.

Tim: You were part of the Illumina Accelerator in San Francisco, aren’t you? So that accelerator is the focus on genomics, how did you find out about it and why did you decide to attend?

Tomohiro: It’s part of the story of how we started Awakens. Awakens started as weekend project, right? Then as the project growing, we just realized that why don’t we just try to get the money and once we get the money, maybe we can create a company and it’s good that our previous company gave us a full-time job, right? This was Illumina Accelerator because Ilumina is kind of Google or Microsoft genomics, so we knew it and we just applied there.

Tim: So did you tell your boss about it before, before you were selected or after you were selected.

Tomohiro: No, of course after selected. When we applied, we were still like a weekend project. We had a kind of idea and then we had like a landing page test, but that’s it, nothing behind it. Yeah, it was part of that – once we passed like all the application, we got a bit kind of confused – oh, we are selected.

Tim: The life sciences industry is so different in Japan and the US.

Tomohiro: Maybe, yeah.

Tim: How did the accelerator help you? What did you get out of it?

Tomohiro: So we were actually trained as kind of o-working users. The accelerator itself, as you said, life science type accelerator, right? So it’s supposed more like a laboratory-based company but we have like a software company, right?

Tim: But in your case, it was mostly connections with potential customers, or what what’s the big value you got out of it?

Tomohiro: To ours, the biggest value is the fact that we were selected for the Illumina Accelerator.

Tim: And that gave you a lot of kind of validation and credibility back in Japan?

Tomohiro: Back in Japan, even in United States, right? Because we kind of needed to do our business in United States because yeah, Japanese market is kind of five years behind from US market, right? And what we wanted to do is something really even new to the US market. We cannot do anything in Japan unless we can prove that what we are doing is okay in the US market, right? So we have to be there. So my thinking at that point was, I’d say I was not really confident if we just go alone there and then do something. It’s just a kind of tourist-type entrepreneurs.

Tim: Yeah, there’s too many of them.

Tomohiro: Right? So I kind of wanted to be – if I were doing this in the United States, I need kind of proof or credibility.

Tim: So finding team as Japanese, your investors are Japanese, are you doing business and looking for customers in the United States or Japan, or both?

Tomohiro: In US, in US.

Tim: In the US? Why is that? It’s just, is the US market, or…?

Tomohiro: More developed and then Japanese market – no Japanese genetic testing company allow user to download the data in Japan, so in US, there’s 10 million users have DNA data but for us in Japan, zero.

Tim: Okay, zero is a tough market.

Tomohiro: Right? And also, there is no regulation on like a cloud storage of DNA data, no like, HIPAA compliance standards, and it’s really hard for a company to –

Tim: No, I can understand that. That makes sense.

Tomohiro: So yeah, not just Illumina Accelerator, so we are now funded by UC Berkeley’s fund. I was trying to get those name or what company to get the credibility. With those two names, I’m really now confident that we can really talk to many of the B2B clients or consumers. It’s confident. Yeah, I’m really now confident that we can really grow our team that way.

Tim: Yeah, I think that level of validation is extra important in the life sciences simply because –

Tomohiro: Yeah, exactly, yeah.

Tim: Yeah, so few people can evaluate the core technology. Why do you think we see so few life sciences startups in Japan?

Tomohiro: less number of researcher or less number of the researcher who has the entrepreneurship.

Tim: So you think it’s mostly attitude, it’s not the laws or the structure, or the investors? You think we just need more entrepreneurs to try?

Tomohiro: My philosophy in startup is more like just people-focused, not really institution-focus. Right, if there’s people, people will be doing it and if people doing it, there will be the change of  things, right? You got to take time but I see more like the kind of cause of the things from the people’s perspective. That’s my attitude. So after saying that, another reason, like an institutional thing is, in Japan are getting funds after initial seed funding, the life sciences really have because I think as you said, there is not so many people who can actually evaluate the body of those technology and also have the huge understanding of how venture capital financing can bridge that gap after funding round, right? I see many people who have really great knowledge of it in the area but I have never seen that kind of people in Japan.

Tim: I think it’s much harder to invest in life sciences because if some business, some B2B saas company, trying to raise $5 million, they have customers and they have growth, and they have like, any MBA can look at them and say, “Ah, okay, these guys are a safe bet.” Well, life sciences company trying to raise five or $10 million, they don’t really have much yet. I mean, not in terms of revenues and customers. So yeah, I guess it is much harder.

Tomohiro: Right. In that case, I’m not really sure if we should do the core solution in Japan alone because if the researcher really wants to make their technology in the company, there is the possibility to get funded by US investors too, right?

Tim: It makes sense for them to do what you did and looking to the US markets.

Tomohiro: Yes.

Tim: Alright. Listen, Tomo, before we wrap up, I want to ask you what I call my “magic wand” question, and that is, if I give you a magic wand and I told you you could change one thing about Japan, anything at all – the education system, the way people think about risk, the legal system, anything at all, to make things better for startups in Japan, what would you change?

Tomohiro: If I have that magic wand, maybe make every single Japanese people can speak English just fluently. Even though I think the Japanese people are really working hard, really smart people there. People in the United States tend to make them look bigger, right? They’re really good at making you look bigger, greater, right? But for Japanese people, they are not really good at it, but still, they have really high skill set and are really working hard.

Tim: I think a lot of that isn’t so much language. It’s culture. Americans are world-famous for bragging a little too much and exaggerating their own abilities. Well, personal and company.

Tomohiro: Yeah, but still, I mean, if there is no language barrier, overall, the market is really harder to grow for Japanese people.

Tim: Yeah, I’ve had a number of people talk about the importance of fluent English. So do you see the main importance as the ability for Japanese entrepreneurs to explain themselves and explain their solutions to the rest of the world or do you see it more as the importance of understanding what’s going on in the rest of the world?

Tomohiro: My, not really issue but my thinking on Japanese market, Japanese startup, Japanese marker is kind of a too-big market for entrepreneurs to go global. As you said, if we have like a global mind, we can identify what’s really happening outside of Japan.

Tim: So you think Japanese founders just get too comfortable in the Japanese market?

Tomohiro: Not really comfortable because I think they are truly in the right market because for us, we really know Japanese market and we don’t see any of the market opportunity, so we just had to go to the United States which is just tough for us, right? But for many of the Japanese start up, so in the United States, there is kind of the genomics business model, right? And in Japan, there’s a huge market which have not applied that technology, right? So if we want really serious entrepreneur who would really see us about being successful, if I were really starting startup in genomics, I will be choosing simply the kind of business model which is all being locally issued, but if the business model is proven by US market.

Tim: So yeah, there are a lot of kind if clone business models. I mean, not only just in Japan. In most non-English-speaking markets, there’s a lot of clone products. I’ve always thought that was interesting because those can be safe businesses that are attractive MNA targets and in small markets, they might even IPO, but clone startups can never go global.

Tomohiro: Right, that’s so true. So Japanese market is kind of too big and maybe too comfortable to start, right? But still, Japan is a really big market, right?

Tim: Yeah, and as you mentioned, if everyone spoke fluent English, the language barrier would disappear.

Tomohiro: Yeah, that’s something.

Tim: And suddenly, you couldn’t do clone businesses anymore because everyone could compete in Japan. Japanese entrepreneurs would have to come up with businesses that could compete in America.

Tomohiro: True, true. So the language is kind of barrier for us to go outside but at the same time barrier protecting our market from the outside, right?

Tim: Right, right. So it’s something that – it’s probably very beneficial when companies are really tiny but difficult when it comes to the next stage and it is ready for them to grow.

Tomohiro: True, true, true.

Tim: Do you think Japanese startups are becoming more global or thinking more globally?

Tomohiro: I think so. I mean, it’s really case-by-case. We are trying to get the best to go out from Japan. I know many entrepreneurs, that’s true. So I hope that’s changing. I’m not really not sure if that’s going to be a good advice for many startups because you really have to, right?

Tim: You can survive in Japan.

Tomohiro: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, and those in the venture-capital perspective, if they focus on domestic market, maybe that could be making sense, right?

Tim: True, true. Excellent. Okay, Tomo, thank you so much for sitting down with me. I really appreciate it.

Tomohiro: Thank you.

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And we’re back.

It’s interesting and a bit disappointing that this Japanese team had to go to the US to receive validation and customers. You and I have talked about this before and you know it’s an ongoing frustration of mine. I mean, in this particular case, it makes more sense because as Tomo pointed out, the US has a clearer and more flexible legal framework for sharing DNA information, and there is an emerging market of thousands of people who have had their DNA tested. So yeah, it makes sense that they would go after that market.

That’s all good. The sticking point is on the investor side. Like so many other founders who have been on Disrupting Japan, the support and investment only came after Awakens had been vetted and validated by the Illumina Accelerator. There is no lack of innovation in Japan; there is a tremendous amount of innovation in Japan.

What is most lacking here are VCs and early adopters willing to trust their own research and their own instincts, and be the first want to take a chance on a new technology. Japan is one or two of those guys but we need a lot more

But back to Awakens and the genome industry. Can we call it that, the genome industry? Yeah, we can. And we probably should because we are talking about the genome industry as something separate from the medical industry. We are talking about the B2C side of DNA, and as a consumer, I have to admit, I had some reservations here. There is a lot of pseudoscience and DNA snake oil being sold. Companies will read your DNA and tell you about your intelligence, your likelihood to catch specific diseases, your personality traits, and so much more, but these mass-market DNA companies have the scientific validity of psychic readings or astrology.

But hey, psychic readings and astrology are big business and what Awakens has done, quite cleverly in my opinion, is positioned themselves as the platform for any genome-related applications that may arise in the future. If a company wants to launch a service promising to use your DNA to find your perfect love match, and it seems that there are already a lot of companies doing this, Awakens could not only provide them with the software platform but the consulting to tell these companies which DNA sequences could possibly plausibly maybe kind of sort of be useful in determining the compatibility of a couple.

On the other extreme, if Awakens continues its commitment to linking up the latest research with the DNA sequences in its database, they could fill a real medical research niche as well and there are thousands of potential applications between those two extremes of rigorous medical research and new age woo woo dating sites, and if Awakens plays their cards right, they could end up being the genetic data back end of all of them.

If you want to talk about genetics and research or dating, Tomo and I would love to hear from you. So come by disruptingjapan.com/show114 and tell us about it, and when you come by the site, you will see the links and resources that Tomo and I talked about, and much, much more in the resources section of the post.

But most of all, thanks for listening and thank you for letting people interested in Japanese startups know about the show.

I’m Tim Romero and thanks for listening to Disrupting Japan.