“When it comes to innovation Korea is a global leader” - Mark Zuckerburg
The above statement comes from a speech Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO delivered recently, and demonstrates a changing tide of thought about Korea. No more the ‘Land of Morning calm’ it once was, Korea is emerging emboldened onto the world stage, ready to prove itself, no matter what.
My recent article described Korea’s top accelerators and their efforts in providing startups with necessary resources.
For this piece I want to identify some key learnings from a recent conference, Startup Nations Summit, that was held in Seoul. This year’s theme, “The Age of the Entrepreneur”, attracted a number of international speakers, top Korean figure-heads and young entrepreneurs from over 45 countries, who came to discuss upcoming trends, broaden networks, while discovering what Seoul has to offer.
The third edition of the Startup Nations Summit was held at the end of the Global Entrepreneurship Week (23.11- 25.11) in Seoul, and effectively shone a spotlight on the many activities going on within the Korean startup scene. The event was organized by three main organizations: Banks Foundation for Young Entrepreneurs (D.CAMP), Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), and Startup Korea. It featured three parts, including the Summit, the Conference and the Competition.
To get an impression of how the Korean startup scene is perceived internationally, I asked some of the attendees about their thoughts.
“The entrepreneurial mindset in Korea is improving. You have a younger generation that doesn’t just want to work at Samsung or LG, they want to be a part of something else” - Jim Kim, Formation 8
Both Gideon Yu and Jim Kim from Formation 8, which has recently invested $100M in Yello Mobile, agreed that Korean startup scene is now at it’s finest. Having asked for advice for Korean founders, Jim Kim indicated networking with the investor through another CEO, whereas Gideon Yu summed it up in one sentence: “You’ve got to follow what your passion is.”
Support from the Korean government was also very evident at the event. “We have been incredibly impressed by the support the Korean government and corporations have given to entrepreneurship in Korea”, said Miriam Feiler, the founder of Startup Australia. She emphasized that Australian startups should understand the quality of solutions that are being created in countries such as Korea. This should raise the standard for Australians and other nations to think more globally.
Ross Sharrott and Paul Chapman, the founders of Moneytree (a Tokyo- based financial management app, which in 2013 earned the accolade of best in the appstore in Japan) compared two ecosystems, saying, “everything moves much faster in Korea”. They highlighted the higher intensity of entrepreneurial activity in Seoul and added that even though the Chinese economy gets most of the attention in Asia, other markets are now trying to adapt to increasing global requirements.
“It is not cool yet to be an entrepreneur, but once the DNA begins to change, a lot of startups will be created” - Lior Susan
Having asked the Angel Investor, Lior Susan, about Korean innovators, he stressed their strong tech capabilities, justifying that Koreans have already proved they can be global leaders. Nonetheless, what is crucial is an entrepreneurial mindset. Bringing both Koreas and Silicon Valley top entrepreneurs together gives startups the opportunity to gain a more global mindset to building a company.
In a nutshell, the third edition of the Startup Nations Summit event was successful on many fronts and left Seoul-based entrepreneurs with new views and hopefully inspiration to take more risk. I believe that the ultimate recommendation for Korean founders surprisingly came from the youngest interviewee and the Lithuanian founder:
“If Koreans won’t start overcoming the cultural belief that failure is a bad thing, they will end up building stuff for us, and not building it themselves” - Domas Sabockis, Dragdis