To startups that are oceans away from South Korea, the high levels of connectivity and fifth-generation network commercialization here might seem too far off to be relevant.
But a new initiative is helping some ventures take the leap to explore possibilities in Korea.
One of them was Barcelona-based startup Satelio IoT Services, which was in search of telecommunication companies to enable global coverage of internet-of-things connectivity -- terrestrial in principle -- with its own constellation of low-flying nanosatellites.
“Honestly, I knew almost nothing about Korea,” Satelio CEO Jaume Sanpera told The Investor in a recent interview during his visit to Seoul.
A group photo of K-Ground participants.
Sanpera came to Seoul as a result of K-Ground, a joint effort by state-led agencies and commercial embassies from Europe, Oceania and other parts of Asia to bridge the physical and cultural gap between their startups and the Korea.
Through the event from Sept. 23 to Oct. 2, representatives of 22 early-stage startups dedicated either to IoT, artificial intelligence or financial technology from across 14 countries were given the opportunity to explore Korea as a potential target for overseas expansion.
For Satelio, K-Ground laid the groundwork for its talks with representatives of the big three Korean telco firms -- SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus -- which have a potential to become its first Asian partners.
“K-Ground booked a seat on these possible deals,” said Sanpera, who is also a seasoned serial entrepreneur.
Another company to benefit was Bangkok-based fintech startup Refinn International Dot Com, as the meetings organized by agencies and embassies allowed it to take a Korean partner into account in their planned expansion to Indonesia next year.
While Refinn is dedicated to a lending platform that matches financial consumers with loan products of over 10 financial institutions in Thailand, Indonesia is the next likely destination for its new business. To Refinn, Shinhan Futures’ Lab incubating office in Indonesia, which opened in September, could be a possible starting point.
“(During K-Ground) I met with (officials of) Shinhan Futures’ Lab, as they have a new overseas branch in Indonesia,” said Visaruth Sornsing, CTO and Co-founder of Refinn, referring to the fintech startup accelerator run by Seoul-based Shinhan Financial Group.
“Because Indonesia is a big market, we are focusing on Indonesia first.”
The two-week program, hosted mainly by the Korea Institute of Startup & Entrepreneurship Development, featured not only chances for foreign startups to spark new business opportunities, but also lectures, mentoring sessions, pitching experiences and other activities so that startups could get a taste of what it would be like to do business in Korea.
A participant of K-Ground pitches for his startup at a Kised headquarters in Seoul on Oct. 1.
“We learned a lot about how things work here, how to open a startup, how to do all of the administration and paperwork, and what the investors’ points of view are as well,” said Swiss startup Deep Cube co-founder Matt Morawski, devoted to AI-powered analysis of skin diseases.
Based on what he learned, globetrotting entrepreneur Morawski assessed that the Korean startup ecosystem was more open to state-led startup grants and funding than countries in Europe.
“In Seoul, there are less milestones and less conditions to accomplish to be accepted by one of the government’s programs,” he said. “There are so many possibilities here. This market is much more open to startups.”
In the meantime, for waste management solution developer Matrix Thread, K-Ground was a chance to identify the level of Korean entities’ interest in its technology to give end-users an incentive to properly dispose of waste.
“We were looking and seeing which venture capitalist (in Korea) has which target focus,” said Jet Yap, CTO and Co-founder of the Melbourne-based startup. “We identified which would be actually interested in what we do.”
According to Kised, the next round of K-Ground program is slated to take place in the first half of next year.
“K-Ground would have been impossible without the support of foreign embassies in Korea, delegates and technology consulting agencies,” Kised Director Kim Kwang-hyon said. “For next year’s program, we will move to secure more startups from around the world to put Korea’s startup ecosystem on a global map.”
By Son Ji-hyoung (email@example.com)