April 27, 2021
By 2018, The Guardian reported 467 accelerators, venture capital funds, and government organizations supporting startups. In 2019, it beat out China, Germany, and Sweden on the Bloomberg Innovation Index. It’s the motherland of major conglomerates like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG, and it's the country where Google created its first-ever campus in Asia. Even in 2020, a year overshadowed by pandemic, the country made headlines for their effective response to COVID-19 using contact tracing to spur a quicker-than-average recovery.
The country we’re talking about South Korea. And their startup scene is definitely having a moment.
Here’s everything you need to know about starting up in Korea, the program, the prizes, and of course, what you need to apply to the K-Startup Grand Challenge.
2021 K-Startup Grand Challenge is a startup program sponsored by the Korean government. The program recruits startups from around the world, and 60 are selected to be part of a 3-month, expenses-paid acceleration program at a startup campus in Korea’s own Silicon Valley – Pangyo Techno Valley.
Over the course of the accelerator, competing startups will have a chance to get ahead on their entry into the Korean market. They’ll go through 1:1 mentoring, information sessions, cultural coaching, and seminars on everything from patents to tax laws. On top of that, they’ll have access to regular networking sessions and opportunities to meet Korean conglomerates eager to partner, including program sponsors like Samsung and LG.
The grand finale of it all is the K-Startup Grand Challenge Demo Day. And the prizes and opportunities for the winners are pretty awesome.
Five startups will receive cash prizes ranging from $10.000 to $120.000, and the most promising startups may also receive VC and angel investment or additional support from the Korean government. On top of that, as many as 30 startups will receive an additional 3.5 months of living expenses to extend their stay in Korea.
As we said leading into the 2019 challenge, South Korea is the ideal gateway to Asia for its public initiatives, infrastructure, culture, and ease of entry. Here are just a few of the reasons why that's as true as ever.
Strong government support. The Korean government has shown their commitment to innovation with billions of dollars invested in innovation since 2013. The president asserted in a recent press conference that the government intends to invest $12 billion more over the next four years, with a $4.5 billion investment in the data related industry in 2020 alone.
SMEs and Startups Minister Park Young-sun also expects the recent passage of three data-related acts will make it easier for those pursuing business models in big data and AI to break in.
What this means for you: Government support means fewer obstacles to overcome as you get your footing in South Korea. It also means that government and company officials have a high level of comprehension in emerging technology such as big data and IoT.
Growing opportunities for domestic and international startups. South Korea has historically been dominated by larger players, but the startup ecosystem is on the rise. There are now 11 unicorn startups in Korea, and companies like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, SK, POSCO, Lotte, Hanwha, CJ, and GS are looking to startups to drive innovation.
What this means for you: Come in while the startup ecosystem is hot. You’ll have the opportunity to collaborate with major corporations, scale up your project, and set your sights on becoming a unicorn while you’re at it.
World-class ICT & 5G Infrastructure. South Korea’s ICT infrastructure is incredible with 100% LTE coverage, the fastest average internet connection, and the highest number of broadband services per capita in the world. It was also the first country to launch the nationwide, commercial use of 5G.
What this means for you: Vast opportunities for market penetration with a population that is tech-savvy and open to new technologies.
The Korean Wave of influence. Korean culture is gaining global influence with award-winning films, K-Pop, K-Beauty, and K-Food. This “Korean Wave” is a significant cultural force with real economic impacts; in 2018, Korean businesses gained $2.43 billion abroad, a 73% increase.
What this means for you: Korean culture will have a growing influence. Adaptations you make in Korea could soon serve your business globally.
A gateway to Asia. Many barriers to foreign startups entering the Asian market are cultural, with differing business norms and favor given to domestic startups, amongst other factors. South Korea proves to be quite open with a warmer climate for foreign startups than harder-to-penetrate ecosystems in China or Japan.
What this means for you: South Korea is a receptive market on its own, but it’s also a great bridge into the Asian market with strong economic ties to China, Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. By kicking off in South Korea, you’ll gain experience and expertise in how to make the transition successfully.
Korean market potential. In spite of a small population, Korea has a domestic market size of $736.21 billion. That’s the 15th largest in the world.
What this means for you: The Korean domestic market has tremendous purchasing power.
A quick response to COVID. And finally, the very important elephant of 2021: COVID-19.
South Korea was one of the quickest and most-effective responders to a global pandemic, leveraging technology and contact tracing to limit the spread of the virus. As a result, they have been able to reopen and move forward faster than most other economies.
What this means for you: While much of the world is waiting, the 2021 K-Startup Grand Challenge is going ahead. Take this opportunity to launch in the Asian market or undertake other initiatives that were put on hold during COVID-19.
The whole point behind K-Startup Grand Challenge is to promote an open entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Korea and the rest of Asia.
That means that tech startups from most industries are eligible (see graphic below for specifics), as long as your startup is less than 7 years old or pre-entrepreneur, your representative is a foreign national or a Korean living overseas, and importantly, you have a clear objective to expand into Asia by utilizing the Korean market as a launching pad.
The deadline for applications is 15 June for the 2021 K-Startup Grand Challenge program. Here are other important dates for you to know!
Applications are open now! To apply, just head over to the K-Startup Grand Challenge website, create your profile, fill out the application, and get ready to take your business to the next level.
So, we wish you good luck! 행운을 빕니다! See you in South Korea.