SoftBank may have been getting more attention recently because of the Japanese tech giant’s massive $100 billion Vision Fund, the company’s $10 billion investment in Uber and, on a local level, its acquisition of Boston Dynamics from Google owner Alphabet.
But the multinational conglomerate — which owns operations in broadband, ecommerce, internet and semiconductor design, among other things — has been involved with tech companies in the United States far longer. On a local level, SoftBank has made investments in 20 Boston-area tech companies within the last two decades.
“They’re bringing to the table something that a lot of VCs aren’t: operational experience.”
What separates SoftBank’s Vision Fund from the company’s past investment efforts is that instead of investing only with its own money, the company has raised significant capital from a number of big players. That includes Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund, Apple and Sharp. Previously, the company has primarily made investments through SoftBank Capital, which ran from 1995 to 2015 and had invested in big names like Yahoo and Alibaba. In some cases, SoftBank makes direct investments, like it has with Boston-based Cybereason.
“They’re bringing to the table something that a lot of VCs aren’t: operational experience,” Lior Div, Cybereason’s CEO and co-founder, told BostInno in 2016. “They’ve built not just one business, but many businesses… They have knowledge on how to start, how to grow a company. Other VCs and hedge funds don’t have this knowledge.”
Beyond SoftBank’s local investments, the company runs at least two operations in the Boston area. One of them is Boston Dynamics, the Waltham-based company that makes super-mobile robots, such as the dog-like SpotMini. The other is SoftBank Robotics, a subsidiary that was formed through the 2012 acquisition of French company Aldebaran Robotics.
SoftBank Robotics, which makes the humanoid robot “Pepper,” lists an office in Boston at 55 Thomson Pl. in the Seaport district, but not much else is known about the company’s operations here. A 2016 press release lists the Boston location, as well as offices in Paris, Shanghai and Tokyo, and a regional U.S. headquarters in San Francisco.
SoftBank, which was founded in 1981 by Masayoshi Son, did not respond to BostInno’s request for information on the company’s presence in Boston.
With that, here’s a look at 19 Boston-area companies that have received funding from SoftBank, according to previous reporting by BostInno and Crunchbase data. While SoftBank still has equity in some of the companies below, its stake in other companies has likely changed due to an initial public offering, acquisition or other event.
This Somerville-based startup makes a large telecom blimp called the SuperTower, which is a little similar to technology being developed by Google and Facebook, that can increase the range of a telecom operator’s network connectivity. The company raised a $7.5 million round in August 2017 from SoftBank, which previously put an extra $7 million into Altaeros in 2014.
Bluefin Labs was a social TV analytics startup that had spun out of the MIT Media Lab and was acquired by Twitter in 2013. Before the Cambridge-based company got scooped up, it had raised about $20 million in funding. SoftBank Capital invested in Bluefin’s Series B round.
Founded in 2006, Celtra is a Boston-based self-service platform for creating, tracking and analyzing digital advertising. The startup has raised a total of $25 million, most recently through a $15 million Series C round in June 2017. SoftBank Capital served as the lead investor for Celtra’s $4 million Series B round in 2013.
ChannelWave was founded in 1997 and developed “partner relationship management” solutions. Before the Cambridge-based company merged with California-based Aqueduct Inc. in 2003 and was acquired in 2005 by Click Commerce (which itself was acquired by Huron Consulting Group in 2010), ChannelWave had raised $50 million in capital. SoftBank Capital was the lead investor for its $26.5 million round in 2001.
Founded in 1999, Concentric Visions developed an enterprise content management platform. Before it was acquired in 2002 by OutStart, the Boston-based company had raised $28.1 million in capital. SoftBank Capital invested in the company’s Series B round.
Connected Corporation was a provider of storage software for automated protection, archiving and recovery of distributed data. Founded in 1996, the Framingham-based company was acquired for $117 million in 2004 by Iron Mountain. Before that, Connected had raised a total of $53.5 million. SoftBank participated in the company’s $23.5 million round in 1999.
CyberArk is a public traded cybersecurity company that focuses on solutions aiming to prevent cyber attacks before they happen. Before the company’s initial public offering in 2014, the Newton-based company had raised $67 million in private funding. SoftBank Capital invested in the company’s Series B round in 2007.
Cybereason is a Boston-based cybersecurity startup with Israeli roots that provides endpoint detection and response software. SoftBank has invested twice in the company, first serving as the lead investor for Cybereason’s $59 million Series C round and then putting $100 million into the company for its Series D. Before SoftBank became an investor, the company had been a Cybereason customer. In 2016, SoftBank and Cybereason formed a joint venture in Japan.
Desktone was a Chelmsford-based desktop virtualization platform that was founded in 2006. Before it was acquired in 2013 by VMware, the company had raised $26.3 million. SoftBank Capital served as one of Desktone’s lead investors for its Series A.
Founded in 1997, Gomez provided software that helped optimize the performance, availability and quality of web and mobile applications. Before it was acquired in 2009 for $295 million by Compuware (which is now owned by private equity firm Thoma Bravo), Gomez had raised nearly $65 million in capital. SoftBank Capital had invested in Gomez multiple times and served as the lead investor in the company’s Series B round.
Harmonix Music Systems is a video game studio that has made musically themed titles such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero. In 1998, the Cambridge-based startup had raised a $2 million equity round from SoftBank Contents Partners Corp., which was considered SoftBank’s venture capital division at the time, according to an archived press release. Harmonix eventually got acquired by Viacom in 2006 and then became an independent company again in 2010 when Viacom sold it to investor Jason Epstein.
Founded in 2004, Franklin-based Interactions provides virtual assistance software to large enterprises, including Hyatt Hotels and Humana. The company has raised $167 million total from investors, which includes a $56 million round from 2016. SoftBank Capital invested in Interactions twice and served as the lead investor for a $40 million round in 2013.
Bedford-based iRobot is the publicly traded maker of the popular robot vacuum Roomba. In July 2017, Bloomberg reported that SoftBank took a less than 5 percent stake in iRobot, though it wasn’t clear if stake was held by SoftBank or the firm’s Vision Fund.
Founded in 2005, JNJ Mobile is the operator of a mobile game community called MocoSpace. In 2010, SoftBank Capital was the lead investor for a $3.5 million round.
Luvo was a Boston-based edtech startup that provided an online marketplace for the classroom notes and course materials for specific campuses. The startup, which was formerly known as Flashnotes, raised funding from SoftBank Capital across three financing rounds before the company shut down in 2016.
Founded in 2000, Nellymoser was a mobile marketing agency that was merged with two other entities in 2015 to form a combined organization called BlueSoHo. SoftBank Capital led the company’s $5.3 million Series A round in 2005.
Rie Inc. is a Woburn-based 3D printer startup that makes printers for low-cost prototyping, tooling fixtures and end-use parts. Rize’s customers include NASA, the U.S. Army and Merck. In 2016, the company raised a $4 million round from investors, which included SoftBank Capital.
Founded in 2011, Swirl Networks provides an in-store mobile marketing software platform that helps retail stores engage customers through various location signals, including beacons, Wi-Fi access points and GPS satellites. The company has raised a total of $32 million from investors. SoftBank Capital has invested in Swirl multiple times and served as the lead investor for the company’s Series C round in 2015.
Founded in 1996, Talk City was a North Andover-based online community provider that has reached nearly 10 million registered visitors at its peak, according to a 2002 Boston Business Journal article. The company, which allowed users to chat with friends and build personal home pages, filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and then sold certain assets of the company in 2002 to Prospero Technologies, a provider of enterprise-level social network software that was acquired by Mzinga in 2008. Before the company shut down, it had raised $10 million in funding from investors, including former Apple CEO John Sculley and SoftBank.