#GoingGlobal: Tech North in South Korea

5 Dec, 2015

I was invited last week to judge a startup competition in Seoul as part of Global Startup Korea 2015. This was an event parallel to ‘Creative Korea 2015’, one of the largest exhibitions sponsored by the Korean government and consists of “everything related to creative economy.”

We had 20 pitches from tech startups from the US, Europe and Asia covering Health Tech, IoT, Fintech and Digital Entertainment amongst a few others. As with most pitch competitions I have judged, 20% were good, 60% average and an unfortunate 20% were poor. Making our decision somewhat easier.

The South Korean government, under President Park, has made concerted efforts in the past few years to encourage an entrepreneurial culture, something that does not come naturally in South Korean culture. Given the strength of the Korean education system in churning out excellent Science and Engineering talent they have the building blocks for a thriving tech eco system.

The UK almost has the inverse challenge, with an abundance of creative talent and a long history of innovators. We want for the Science and Engineering skills as much as the systematic and rigorous ability of the Korean corporates to scale on a global basis.

This hints at a symbiotic partnership with mutual learning and knowledge sharing at the heart of it. A tentative accord was signed between both governments at the end of 2014 on Creative Industries to do just that, but it will be in the everyday and practical interactions on a business and cultural level that will determine any tangible benefits.

Having met with some of the government backed start-up organisations in Seoul, there is an opportunity for the North of England to improve its links through the start-up communities. Already the Y-Accelerator programme in Yorkshire has supported a number of Korean start-ups to develop their products with a view to establishing their businesses in the UK.

Similarly the Korean government is offering a number of start-up schemes to UK entrepreneurs who would benefit from spending a year in South Korea – plugging them into their R & D base.

It is vitally important that start-up ecosystems interact, learn and prosper from each other. If we look at the success of London – fuelled partly by the input of overseas entrepreneurs and tech talent – it has been based on access to markets as well as a multicultural melting pot of ideas and teams.

As the internet matures and everything is connected it will be the tech ecosystems with the most inter and intra connections to markets, people and experiences that will triumph.

We need to develop connections with other tech ecosystems as they are working out the same problems as us – how to raise money, source talent, disrupt existing markets and develop genuinely new and improved experiences for consumers and clients. To be a locally grown but globally focused business you will have a distinct advantage by being connected into the shared knowledge thrown out of each global tech cluster.

Going Global South Korea 2

The overall prize in the start up competition went to a cloud based technology for gaming companies from a Spanish start-up, based in the UK.

The eight judges joined all the start-ups on stage for a final mug shot – like the companies, the judges came from the US, Europe and Asia. Though we disagreed about the final order of the winning companies, we did all agree that South Korea will be a growing force in the Asian start-up scene in the years to come.

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