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THE INVESTOR

Start-ups

[INTERVIEW] Brexit a silver lining for Korean tech startups

  • PUBLISHED :November 21, 2017 - 15:31
  • UPDATED :November 21, 2017 - 17:01
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[THE INVESTOR] Britain’s looming departure from the European Union is a big headache for UK companies, especially tech startups relying on highly skilled personnel and diverse resources, since it will lead to less cross-country exchanges in the region. 

But it’s not all bad news, according to the chief of UK’s largest fintech hub, who thinks it could be a silver lining for Korean startups with tech expertise.

“Brexit obviously brings uncertainty, but that will undoubtedly become an opportunity,” Ben Brabyn, head of Level39, told The Investor in an interview last week. “Entrepreneurs, by definition, are very adaptive. So while Brexit will present challenges to incumbent firms, entrepreneurs will be able to easily adapt. For any agile, ambitious company that wants to explore opportunities, the UK has got a lot more to offer.”

Brabyn also called on Korean startups to consider moving to London to capitalize on its thriving tech scene. 

“If anyone can bring fintech, cybersecurity or retail tech, we have some of the world’s biggest customers who are really hungry for the capability,” he said. “Korean companies that have the technologies will find London a great place to set up base.”


Level39 head Ben Brabyn. Level39


He also emphasized the growing political importance for the UK government to attract overseas businesses. “It has certainly redoubled the interest in the UK for building relationships beyond the EU,” he said. “Korean firms employing people in the UK will be very much favored by the government.”

Brabyn observed that Korean startups should leverage the UK market to advance elsewhere in the world. 

Thanks to the British capital’s geographic location between the US and Asia, London is easily accessible with its favorable time zone for international businesses. London, with an inflow of highly talented migrants, is already an international market. For Korean startups that need global prestige, incorporating in London gives that, as well as reassures many investors, the CEO said. “London is a great place to take the first step when you plan to advance overseas.”

“Even within Level39, you will find 48 different nationalities,” he said. “That means if the next country you plan to expand to is one of the 48 countries, you immediately get someone to talk to about your plans and available opportunities.”

Level39, located at the heart of the city’s business center of Canary Wharf in east London, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Canary Wharf Group, and spans three floors of the iconic skyscraper One Canada Square. 

It quickly became Europe’s largest accelerator space for fintech startups since its launch in 2013. Home to more than 200 tech startups, Level39 provides top-of-the range office spaces, in addition to infrastructure and network through events and more than 150 mentors who are financial executives, regulators and scholars. 

While there are a plethora of startup co-working spaces sprouting across the city, Brabyn says Level39 offers something more than what other organizations which typically provide two things: infrastructure -- that includes a desk, chair and security -– and the community. 

“What we are providing is a layer on top of that, which is about activating customers,” he said. “The opportunity that is provided by Level39 firms extends to include liaising with regulators, investors, academics, government, not only in UK but international as well, to make sure they are always first in the queue for any kind of engagements.” 

What Level39 offers is not exactly business development as the firm doesn’t invest, he noted. 

“We don’t get between our member companies and customers. But we do bring them together. We are convening a whole host of organizations to help our companies gain customers.” 


Inside Level39 space. Level39


And because Level39, as Brabyn describes, is a landlord and not an investor, it doesn’t necessarily conduct the same level of due diligence as the venture capital firms when it decides which startup could become a member. 

Level39 mainly looks at three criteria when hunting for startups. First, it has to have a viable product that can address a large market and has the potential to scale-up. Second, the startup has to be happy to work in an open, collaborative environment. Finally, the firm has to be able to pay the rent, which starts from 325 pounds (US$430.56) for a hot desk.

At the moment, Brabyn doesn’t have plans to physically expand, because Canary Wharf is the ideal location for fintech startups, with financial giants such as HSBC, Citi, Barclays and KPMG in close vicinity. 

“Instead, we seek to be very connected,” the CEO said, adding Korean startups that are interested to join Level39 should contact fintech firm XnTree, a member working as a local bridge for the organization.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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