After its entry into the South Korean startup sector in 2016, coworking space giant WeWork changed the startup scene dramatically -- more local startups began to collaborate actively with each other and to get chance to go abroad thanks to its global network.
Through WeWork Labs, a global startup acceleration program launched in 2018, it helped budding startups in cities across the nation build their teams, attract investment, and roll out innovative products and services here and overseas.
Looking back on 2019, the coworking space behemoth announced a series of its achievements through the acceleration program this year.
WeWork supports Korea’s startup ecosystem
In May, WeWork Labs signed an MOU with N15, the nation’s top hardware accelerator startup and began jointly running the Seoul Global Startup Center (SCGC) in August, to support startups based in Seoul.
In October, WeWork Labs members across nine different countries including China, France, United Kingdom, and Czech Republic visited SCGC through the WeWork Labs Satellite Program. The program enables WeWork members to work at other WeWork Labs spaces with no additional charge. The Labs Managers in each Labs location also connect visiting startups with local companies, mentors, and venture capitals.
WeWork Labs members from across the world also participated in Startup Hub Korea 2019, a conference to share recent trends and insights into Korea’s startup ecosystem.
A partnership with Busan City was one of the highlights for WeWork Labs this year. In October, WeWork Labs started operating the Busan City x BNK FinTech Lab program in partnership with the city government and BNK Financial Group. The program is aimed at nurturing innovative fintech startups based in the port city. In addition, WeWork Labs named Eunice Kwon, former chief marketing officer of fintech unicorn Toss, as the new WeWork Labs manager in Busan.
In November, Busan City, WeWork Labs Korea and WeWork Labs Singapore organized a pitch event for WeWork’s Korean members, where the selected fintech startups delivered presentations on their ideas in front of invited VCs from Singapore.
“It’s truly mind-blowing to have such an opportunity. without WeWork Labs, a startup based in Busan would have never been able to participate in such a pitch event.” said one of the participating companies.
Nurturing early-stage startups
A number of WeWork members here achieved exceptional growth through the WeWork Labs global network and community this year. For instance, WeCode, a vocational education startup that offers coding boot camps for those between jobs, has grown rapidly from a single member company based in WeWork Labs to now have some 40 employees.
Strig, a digital health care startup, successfully produced its health care solution after raising funds with support from WeWork Labs. In April, Strig visited WeWork Labs in San Francisco to showcase their product in the US market, successfully reaching 400 percent of its crowdfunding target in five hours through Kickstarter, the biggest crowdfunding platform in the United States.
“Before WeWork Labs, we would have never raised such notable amount of funding in the US. This is made possible thanks to the support and collaboration of WeWork Labs Korea and WeWork Labs San Francisco,” said Kyle Oh, CEO of Strig.
Salad delivery startup Freshcode saw its revenue grow by 600 percent this year.
“Freshcode is thankful for all the opportunities and enthusiasm WeWork Labs has demonstrated for opening new doors to our business. With the support of WeWork Labs and as a proud member, we will continue to expand our services with the aim to spread the culture of a healthy lifestyle in Korea,” said Regina Yoo, marketing director at the company.
Collaboration with conventional businesses
In 2019, WeWork Labs also collaborated with large enterprises, hosting major events together and serving as a platform for companies of all sizes. For instance, the F&B Sustainability Meetup co-hosted by WeWork Labs and McDonald’s Korea in August, gathered local F&B startups to exchange ideas regarding sustainability of food and beverage and to explore partnership opportunities. WeWork Labs served as a bridge between enterprises and startups, improving startups’ community access and helping the companies to take the first step towards global markets. WeWork Labs gave startups the opportunity to participate in many events with global enterprises such as McDonald’s, and helped them secure resources internationally.
This year, global consulting firm PwC also started providing its professional consulting services for members of WeWork Labs in Korea.
In October, WeWork Labs successfully co-hosted Citypreneurs-Seoul, a startup competition in partnership with Seoul City, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and United Nations Development Program, to provide six winning teams with insights on the startup ecosystem and digital means for sustainability solutions in urban areas. WeWork Labs member Damogo was honored with second place in the Seed Track segment and the WeGo Secretary General award for its mobile app service presenting solutions to food waste.
“While WeWork has been serving as a global space for companies of all sizes, WeWork Labs has been working as a core platform supporting early-stage startups by offering tailored programs and a strong, unmatched global network. This is something only WeWork Labs can do,” said Ryan Moon, head of WeWork Labs Korea.
“We will keep contributing to building up the foundation to help our promising local startups build their business and advance abroad as well as providing more custom services for each company to power the next generation of corporate innovation,” he added.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)