Seoul, with its rapidly growing startup ecosystem is gaining precedence as one of the most promising entrepreneurial hubs in the world. Home to two of the most influential global tech leaders, Samsung and LG, the perception of Seoul has traditionally been of a corporate hub. But this is now rapidly changing, as a new breed of tech startups rise and as the big boys begin to plateau.
South Korea is now rapidly moving towards an economic paradigm that supports innovation, rather than relying on manufacture. Supporting this rise are an increasing number of Seoul-based accelerators, many of whom aim to connect Korean entrepreneurs with overseas markets, like the USA and China.
What is particularly interesting is that until around four years ago there were no accelerators, whereas now there are more than ten. Here we look at some of the best ones.
The Ventures was founded early in 2014 by Changseong Ho and Jiwon Moon, who formerly created Viki, a community-driven distribution platform for TV contents. The company was acquired last year by Japanese Rakuten for $200 million.
The Ventures works very closely with startups for an un-specified period of time. Startups receive office space, mentoring and professional support until they are ready to enter the market.
Founded in early 2014, FuturePlay focuses on funding early-stage tech startups. The company believes that in order to understand the market properly and have a solid basis, a startup company needs more than an acceleration period of 3-months. By combining incubator, accelerator, and venture capital, FuturePlay offers a paid, 12-month intensive program for talented entrepreneurs.
Digital Entertainment Ventures (DEV Korea)
Digital Entertainment Ventures (DEV). Launched in New York in 2012 and focuses mainly on media, entertainment and platform businesses. They recently expanded to Korea. According to Kaine Kim the Co-CEO of DEV Korea, Seoul seemed to be the most suitable place for setting up a new office within the Asian market. This is in part due to the growing support of the Korean government, and the President’s “Creative Economy” initiative. Their program combines acceleration in both Korea and the USA.
Started as a pilot program in 2012, Kstartup officially launched in January 2013 and is now regarded as the biggest acceleration / incubation program in Korea. Supported by both Korean and American corporations (including Google), it focuses on early stage startups that aim to build global companies. Founders are in the program for three months, during which time they are given support in developing their ideas and are mentored by Silicon Valley-based entrepreneurs, marketers, designers, and investors.
Founded in December 2012, SparkLabs provides a small investment, mentoring and workspace in exchange for an equity stake in a company. The equity investment is equal to $25K and the equity stake does not exceed 6%. The program lasts for three months and runs twice a year. SparkLabs has currently operated 3 batches. Already, two companies have been acquired, around 30 companies have graduated and around $75 million has been raised in follow-on funding.
What does this explosion of startup resources tell us?
Even though the Korean community is perceived as risk-averse, many resources are now coming together to build a new economic paradigm in Korea, based on Entrepreneurship. A large number of seasoned entrepreneurs and IT professionals are now reinvesting their time and money into startups, and have built successful facilities to accelerate the new breed of Korean entrepreneur.
These resources, while differing in shape and scope, are all empowering others to take a risk and follow their dreams. With the rise of top Seoul-based accelerators, Korea can already be proud of some global success stories. As the most wired country in the world with a motivated and hardworking workforce, South Korea is attracting ever-more foreign investment.
With the current rapid pace of development in Korea’s technology and startup ecosystems, Seoul could become Asia’s leading startup hub sooner than we think.