You may not know that Korea is the country with the 15th largest market size. With strong government support, growing startup opportunities, world-class infrastructure, and the Korean Wave of influence, it’s one of the best places to get started in Asia. And with close cultural and economic ties to other Asian markets – China, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, to name a few – South Korea can be the gateway to Asia.
Since 2016, Korea Startup Grand Challenge has brought startups from around the world for an expenses-paid 3.5-month accelerator in Seoul, where participants get mentorship and training, introductions to key partners, logistical support, and a chance at a competitive prize pool.
Are you a startup looking to expand into Asia? K-Startup Grand Challenge ants you to apply for an expenses-paid acceleration program in South Korea, complete with networking and partner introductions, logistical support, and a chance at a $320k prize pool. Here’s more about the program, eligibility requirements, and how to apply.
Hundreds of startups have gone through the program since 2016. So we followed up with ten of them to find out where they are now and how KSGC jump-started their transition into Asia. Here’s what they had to say.
Technical Field: FinTech
XQuant uses AI to turn unstructured data – text documents, extract meanings and perform data analysis – into data that can be extracted, managed, and analyzed.
Since winning second place, XQuant CEO Chea Srun stated in an interview for KSGC, “the benefit of the program is to provide newcomers help with visa registration or advice. In my case, I was able to get help from the accelerator and mingle with a lot of other startups. That was a great motivation for me.”
When asked about what advice he’d give other startups looking to expand in Korea, he said, “since you are coming from a foreign country, you have to be aware that your audience is Korean and sometimes there’s some cultural difference. When you are explaining your product, you need to… make it clear, very simple so that people understand your research model and your product easily.”
Technical Field: IoT
FastPong, now based in Seoul, has created a solution to make table tennis playing more interesting and effective using technology. With the help of hardware, software, and data analytics, they’ve created a better training solution which they pitched at the 2021 challenge.
On the program, FastPong CTO Kie Brooks explained, “KSGC has been able to provide us not just with funds but expert consultancy and introductions to our important contacts that we need to sell, manufacture, and get various certifications.”
He added, “I strongly suggest that you have a proper business plan before you apply for the program and know that your business is going to have potential success in South Korea, and plan for it. Justify it.”
Technical Field: AI
Khenda is an AI-based video analytics platform that helps manufacturing plants boost efficiency by analyzing manual activities.
Following the program, Khenda announced they had agreements and collaborations with many Korean companies and welcomed a leading businessman in South Korea – Dong Hoon Shin 동훈신 – to their Advisory Board. According to a post on the company’s LinkedIn, they were back in Korea in March 2022, exploring more opportunities.
Technical Field: Security, Consumer electronics, Access management software
Since coming in 2nd place in KSGC 2017, igloocompany, then igloohome, has gone on to raise several substantial funding rounds and now operates two business lines; igloohome for consumers, and iglooworks for enterprises.
The company has created smart locks and lockboxes to let users grant time-sensitive access to properties remotely thanks to their unique algoPIN™ technology. Together with enterprise-grade software, they've also created solutions for remote access monitoring and management for property and infrastructure industries.
After the challenge, igloocompany has continued working with Korean manufacturers and their products are now available across Southeast Asia – Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia; and have an office in Cebu, Philippines.
Technical Field: Machine Learning
Imagga is a platform of cloud-based and on-premise API’s for automated image and video tagging. Meant for developers, businesses, and enterprises, Imagga's technology helps companies make sense of their large-scale and dynamic image and video collections.
When asked about program outcomes, Imagaa founder Chris Georgiev answered, “We’ve been active in Korea since 2016 when we first participated in KSGC. Even before the program, we had the opportunity to work with KIA Motors and one of their creative agencies. During KSGC, we had the opportunity to meet and start working with Samsung SDS on a couple of projects. If we were not present in Korea, it would have been very difficult to close a deal, especially with big companies like Samsung. Currently, we are providing our image recognition services to 5 companies in Korea.”
He went on to say, “Seoul is the perfect base for expansion in Asia. It’s very well connected with the rest of the countries in the region and provides excellent opportunities for any foreign company to operate - solid IP protection, easy day-to-day company operations, and good regulation and taxation framework. We are currently working with companies in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.”
As far as what kind of startups would be successful in the program and things he wished he knew, he answered, “South Korea is a very competitive market and also not the cheapest place to experiment in finding product-market-fit. I believe companies who have already built their products, have tested them in their home markets, and are looking for fast expansion in Asia are the best fit for KSGC. It’s not the typical acceleration program, so from day one, you will have to go out of the office and look for opportunities to expand your business. I wish we knew a bit more about the specific business culture in Asia when we first came here. “
Technical Field: Electronics, Nanotech
Nodis is creating color smart glass technology. With the touch of a button, the transparency or tint of the electronically controlled glass changes to keep out harsh light or harmful rays.
The startup is enabling smart building energy and comfort management. Since coming in first in KSGC 2018, Nodis has gone on to raise $500k in Series A funding and relocated their Singapore-founded organization to Ohio, intending to ramp up production and sales of their TruTint technology to North American glass manufacturers.
Technical Field: Wearables, Energy
Tespack creates off-the-grid energy solutions with batteries, software, solars, and wearables. Some of their most innovative products – solar backpacks and energy banks – collect energy from the sun and enable travelers to power their adventures. But Tespack also works with NGOs and governments to give anyone with access to sunlight and a Tespack product energy self-sufficiency.
Following their win at KSGC 2018, Tespack went on to garner €2.2 in investment. The startup has since had the opportunity to expand its operations to developing markets like Zambia and Bangladesh.
Technical Field: Health
Lineus Medical is the creator of SafeBreak – a product meant to reduce IV complications for patients and providers. The product offers a controlled separation in an IV line so harmful forces can’t pull out the catheter.
After KSGC 2018, Lineus Medical has completed several funding rounds, including a $3m Series B funding round in 2021.
Technical Field: AI
The French company Nr2 came in first in KSGC 2019 with its open search engine and on-demand access to disruption risk and opportunity analytics.
Today, their goal is to help startups cross borders by integrating humans and AI. Combining data, AI, and cross-border investing, they help identify Chinese and Korean startups capable of international success and pass that information along to willing investors.
Now based in the UK, Nr2 raised $30m in 2021, which they will use to accelerate growth expand AI engineers, and boost the search engine. Their free data platform is used in over 100 countries by organizations like L’Oréal, Pernod Ricard, and the World Economic Forum.
Technical Field: Edu Tech
GIBLIB is a self-described Netflix of medical education. Their platform allows members to stream unlimited medical lectures, surgical procedures, and podcasts on the go.
Since KSGC, GIBLIB co-founder Jihye Shin has been stationed in South Korea along with much of the developer team. In an interview with Crunchbase, Shin explained, “We have been very fortunate to be on the benefiting side of the global black swan crisis. With most of our developers located in Seoul, we’ve had little disruption in terms of workflow and development. In fact, we are looking to expand our development team in Seoul and are actively hiring.” The company has also gone on to close several funding rounds.
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 31 May for the 2022 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.