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Exclusive: Japan's istyle picks up stake in women-focussed content startup Incnut

Exclusive: Japan's istyle picks up stake in women-focussed content startup Incnut
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Tokyo-headquartered consumer internet company istyle Inc has picked up an undisclosed minority stake in Incnut Digital Pvt. Ltd, a Hyderabad-based startup which runs online beauty and wellness community StyleCraze and parenting network MomJunction. 

istyle Inc has acquired the entire stake held by early-stage investment firm Ventureast in a secondary transaction worth Rs 25 crore (around $3.4 million at current exchange rates), said Sateesh Andra, managing director of venture capital firm Endiya Partners. 

Andra was earlier managing partner at Ventureast and continues to manage the unrealised portfolio of of Ventureast Tenet Fund II, which had originally invested in Incnut. He did not provide details about the size of the stake that had changed hands.

A Ventureast spokesperson told TechCircle that it has walked away with 50x returns on its investment in Incnut.

Incnut chief executive officer and co-founder Chaitanya Nallan told Techcircle that the company now plans to enter the market for a fresh round of funding.

“We have received inbound interest from several financial investors,” he said.

Founded in 2011 by Sangram Simha, who earlier led the marketing team at jewellery e-tailer CaratLane, Incnut started out as an e-commerce and content venture focussed on the beauty market. 

“We soon realised that the e-commerce market was too crowded and that content was a far bigger opportunity in the beauty segment,” he said. 

Simha was also in the market for the startup’s first institutional funding round and met Abhishek Srivastava and Andra from Ventureast’s Tenet fund. The duo introduced him to Nallan, who had recently sold his first startup mGinger, a mobile marketing platform.

Simha, Nallan and Veerendra Shivhare, also a co-founder at mGinger, then decided to team up and build Incnut together. They pivoted the company away from e-commerce to content focussed on women and raised an undisclosed sum in seed funding in 2013.  

“It was a good opportunity to invest,” said Srivastava, who led the investment for Ventureast and is now a director with Endiya Partners. “We invested a nominal amount of almost $100,000. We’re only exiting now because the fund (Tenet II) is getting old and we have to exit the portfolio.”

Incnut claims that its wellness platform StyleCraze now attracts more than 35 million monthly visitors worldwide every month. 

MomJunction.com, the company claims, is currently notching up 22 million monthly pageviews on an average. 

Incnut also operates a wedding platform called The Bridal Box which provides content on photography, venues, decorations, bridal and groom fashion and make-up styles.

For istyle Inc, the investment in Incnut marks its debut in the Indian consumer internet market. 

Founded in 1999, istyle is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Its flagship offering is @cosme, an online cosmetics and beauty products community platform. 

The company has raised multiple rounds of funding from investors such as Yahoo! Japan, NTT Data and Sumitomo Corporation, according to data compiled by venture capital and private equity database CrunchBase. 

According to CrunchBase, istyle has also made three other acquisitions - MUA, iTrue Communications and Hermo. All three deals were struck last year.

Deals in the space

A handful of women-centric startups in India have raised external investment over the past couple of years.

In April, POPxo.com, a digital publication targeted at young women, raised $5.52 million (Rs 37 crore) in funding led by South Korea-based Neoplux Technology Fund and Chinese consumer electronics company Oppo.

SheThePeople.TV, a digital storytelling platform for women, founded by journalist Shaili Chopra, had raised funding from Mahindra group chairman Anand Mahindra in May 2016.

In addition, intimate hygiene startup Peebuddy; women-focussed online fashion brand FabAlley.com; women-focussed career platform Sheroes; women’s apparel retailer eShakti; fashion marketplace for women Voonik; smart jewellery startup Leaf Wearables; and Maya App, an app that helps women track their menstrual cycle, have raised venture capital investments over the last couple of years.

Ventureast

Ventureast has been investing since 1997. The two-decade-old firm, which has about $325 million in assets under management, has made more than 100 investments so far.

Its previous investments include drugmaker Gland Pharma, semiconductor firm Moschip, lending startup Kissht and Little Eye Labs, a tool for app developers which was the first Indian company acquired by Facebook.

KA Srinivasan, a partner and chief financial officer at Ventureast, had told VCCircle earlier this year that the Tenet fund was coming to an end, with its managers having started Endiya Partners.

He said Ventureast was looking to back up to 25 companies through co-investments, with ticket sizes from as low as $250,000 and up to $1.5-2 million.

Ventureast is currently eyeing the final close of a technology-focussed fund and plans to launch its next life sciences fund.

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