It is safe to say that South Korea’s higher education system is top-down, meaning that students are assessed by how well they follow directions. This is why college students are often led astray from creativity and self-motivation.
Programs to nurture entrepreneurship skills for students should strive to achieve the opposite of such settings, said the organizers of Lighthouse in an interview with The Investor on May 28.
“The real knowledge comes from students,” said Mario Garcia-Lee, co-founder of Seoul-based startup Lighting Up Ventures that runs Lighthouse.
Lighting Up Ventures co-founder Mario Garcia-Lee
Lighthouse is a startup-powered bilingual entrepreneurship training program that employs a flipped-classroom model. It was created by Lighting Up Ventures co-founders Garcia-Lee and Oh Se-min, inspired by overseas education models of universities like MIT.
Some 200 trainees -- mostly college students -- have experienced hands-on, bottom-up classes designed to help crack the passive Korean learning system.
“From day one, (trainees) start setting up websites, despite the fact that many people think they are not ready yet,” Garcia-Lee said. “It does not matter whether you are ready. You don’t start building your website when you are ready. You start building your website and over time, then it will be ready.”
Those who took online classes from Lighthouse will gather in offline session in places like WeWork. Starting with their own website, trainees will learn to build a product, sell it and recruit people to organize a team.
Lighthouse organizers say such a scheme would resonate more with aspiring entrepreneurs.
“For peer learning, (students) help each other quite a bit,” said Oh, who also takes on the role of a community lead in Lighthouse. “It’s not up to the CEOs, but to the students who are trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”
Lighting Up Ventures co-founder Oh Se-min
Garcia-Lee and Oh first met on a flight to Israel in 2012 to participate in an entrepreneurship program. Lessons they learned touched them deeply, and they shared ideas for disrupting the Korean startup ecosystem.
The two ended up co-founding Lighting Up Ventures in September 2018, with seed money from an angel investor.
“In Israel, you are evaluated by how strongly you go against the established frameworks,” Garcia-Lee said. “If you are a young student, you are entitled to ask the professor why. The professors should be ready and able to defend their thoughts.”
The program also aims to put teamwork in place, which would allow those with “T-shaped skills” -- people with deep knowledge in a certain area -- to collaborate with people across a broad range of disciplines.
“One area that the Korean higher education system lacks is collaboration,” said Garcia-Lee, adding that often, he sees compartmentalization that hinders versatility.
Lighting Up Ventures has worked with universities and institutions seeking to train a larger number of students or early-stage entrepreneurs. Clients in past collaboration projects include Chungbuk Center for Creative Economy and Innovation, Korea Institute of Startup & Entrepreneurship Development and Korea Entrepreneurship Foundation. The startup plans to raise a funding round in the second half of this year.
Lighthouse plans to expand its business with programs to educate entrepreneurs in the series A funding stage or beyond in terms of, for example, marketing.
“Many startups, all the way from students at an early stage, reach a limit because of certain fundamental aspects that weren’t critical before they didn’t develop,” Garcia-Lee said. “But now that they are a full-blown company, they have a lot of needs.”
By Son Ji-hyoung (firstname.lastname@example.org)