An Interview with Dr. Changyong Ahn, official spokesperson for MSIP and the K-Startup Grand Challenge.
Why should startups from around the world chose Korea?

  • “The Korean government is committed to encouraging close cooperation between global startups based in Korea and major Korean companies. This will open doors to some of the most innovative tech and manufacturing enterprises in the world.”
  • “Koreans are voracious consumers of technology, so access to this market is of high value for startups building technology products and services, especially for mobile.”
  • “Want are making Korea more attractive to startups as a regional and global hub in Asia, by opening up funding and support to help startups explore Korea and take advantage of its strategic position in Asia.”
  • “Korea has become a cultural hub in Asia in recent years and is attracting an increased number of foreign visitors, businesspeople and students. Alongside this, Korea has become a comfortable and welcoming environment for those travelling to and living in Korea, from overseas.”
  • “The government is doing its best to promote startups and is now also making it easier for foreign startups to set up their businesses in Korea, providng funding and a wide range of support.”
  • “Korea has a world class IT infrastructure. Korean people are early adopters of new technology and Korea is among the world’s most advanced mobile internet environment. It is optimal for developing and testing technology products and services.”
  • “The domestic market is not as big as some others in Asia such as China or Indonesia, but it is extremely advanced and readily monetizable. Korea is proud to be a safe, advanced and stable environment for foreign entrepreneurs.”
  • “Korea is a viable gateway to other Asian markets thanks to its convenient location, its rapidly increasing ‘soft power’ within the region and cultural affinity with the west.”
  • “Korea has become ‘cool’. Korean fashion, cosmetics, pop music, and TV dramas have exploded into the global consciousness and are being consumed around the world. Korea has become a trendsetter in Asia and this helps boost smaller brands emerging from Korea. This is extremely advantageous for startups based here.”

What’s the ultimate goal for the K-Startup Grand Challenge?

  • “The Korean government wants to further develop Korea as the best place for startups in Asia. We hope Korea will emerge as a strong base for all startups to advance their businesses in Korea and across the region.”
  • “We would love to see some of the companies incorporate in Korea, leading to creation of jobs and development of Korea as a regional technology and startup hub.”
  • “This program will definitely help increase diversity in Korea’s business ecosystem. This is a critical direction and a strategic policy by the government to boost the local economy.”

Are you looking for startups that can work with Korean companies or make products specifically for the Korean market?

  • “We are hoping to attract startups to the program that can create synergy with existing Korean companies, including local startups, SMEs and large enterprises, but we are open to all startups with potential in a number of broad ICT-related areas.”
  • “We want to create a win-win situation for Korean companies and global startups to bolster domestic innovation and economic activity, and present market opportunities.”
  • “From a governmental perspective, this is a trial and a fresh and new approach as we directly are supporting foreign startups in Korea for the first time.”
  • “President Park initiated a her Creative Economy policy in 2012, and this program is a natural progression of that initiative. We believe that an influx of foreign startups will help to provide diversity in the local Korean startup ecosystem, creating an environment where innovation can flourish.”
  • “In the long term we expect to see a return on investment from this initiative to support overseas startups. We want to make Korea more diverse and more global. Inviting entrepreneurs from around the world to establish their business in Korea will help to fulfill these aims.”
  • “Most innovation is borne from diversity – just look at Silicon Valley. At this stage the startup and business ecosystem in Korea lacks a high level of diversity and the K-Startup Grand Challenge is one step towards creating a more diverse business environment in Korea.”

How does this program fit into the rest of the government’s initiatives to build the startup ecosystem in Korea?

  • “The government has done much to support local startups, including a pledge of approximately USD $2 billion per year since 2013, to boost the local startup ecosystem. This is part of the government’s wider goal of diversifying the Korean economy, through Creativity and Innovation. We understand that diversity is part of a thriving startup ecosystem and have been working to develop that. Until now, our efforts have focused primarily on developing the local ecosystem and local startups. The K-Startup Grand Challenge builds on these efforts. We want to establish Korea as a truly global hub for startups in Asia from this point.”

Which Korean companies will mentor the startups and how will they be otherwise involved in K-Startup Grand Challenge?

  • “Most of Korea’s largest enterprises have agreed to actively support the K-Startup Grand Challenge.”
  • These companies are:
    • CCEI (Center for Creative Economy & Innovation)
    • Samsung
    • Hyundai Motor Group
    • SK Telecom
    • LG
    • Lotte
    • GS E&C
    • Hanwha
    • Hanjin
    • Doosan
    • Korea Telecom
    • CJ
    • Hyosung
    • kakao
    • Naver
  • “The government has already selected four of Korea’s top local accelerators to operate the K-Startup Grand Challenge. Each accelerator will work with up to ten foreign startups for the three-month acceleration period in Korea.”
  • “Within the program the accelerators will select mentors from their existing networks, to include local, regional and global perspectives.”
  • “There are a lot of mentors in the Center for Creative Economy & Innovation and the mentor list will be made available to the startups and accelerators. There are some logistical details still to be decided.”

Where will the financial investment that will be disbursed to the startups in K-Startup Grand Challenge come from?

  • “Ultimately the money is being disbursed by the government, but the companies mentioned above are also contributing in non-financial ways.”
  • “The government has prepared a financial package for the program. The $33K for the final 20 startups will be granted by the government. The money will be expected to cover the first six months of full time operation in Korea for the startups, following the acceleration period.”
  • “Additional funds will be provided by the partner accelerators. Additionally, Korean VCs will be invited to make investments into the companies and this process will kick off at a demo day at the end of the acceleration period.”

Which countries are you doing outreach in to find startups?

  • “Startups from any country are invited to apply. The only restriction would be startups from countries with which Korea has ‘complicated political relationships’ that could make getting visas impossible.”
  • “We are actively doing outreach globally, but are focusing extra efforts in a few specific regions including N. America, Asia and Europe.”
  • “We have KICs (Korea Innovation Centres) in several major global hubs and we are actively promoting the K-Startup Grand Challenge in those regions and beyond. We have also just started a global PR campaign to promote the program as widely as possible.”

Are there any particular industries the program will focus on?

  • “We welcome startups from any industries with high growth potential. We are particularly promoting gaming, Fintech, biotech, software and ICT focused businesses. We understand that this is quite broad, but these industries follow global trends in innovation at this time.”

What are future plans for the program? Will it be held yearly?

  • “Our plan is to hold the K-Startup Grand Challenge annually. While this is just the first year, the response domestically and from startups around the world has been very promising.”
  • “In future years we hope to broaden the scope of the program, and from next year we hope to work with other third party agencies, such as overseas accelerators and innovation centres. I envisage the program becoming like an exchange program.”
  • “Seoul is the proud home of Asia’s first Google Campus, which has an exchange program with their other centres around the world. We hope to support programs like this in future years. From next year, we plan to give support for these types of existing programs.”
  • “From next year we expect that K-Startup Grand Challenge will be open to overseas accelerators that want to work more closely with Korea and our domestic business ecosystem.”

What stage startups is the program looking for?

  • “The K-Startup Grand Challenge is open to any startups that wish to apply, but given the nature of the program and the financial grants available, it is most relevant to early stage companies (seed – Series A).”

How will startups be chosen (selection criteria)?

  • “Applicants should have a strong willingness to set up their businesses in Korea”
  • “The K-Startup Grand Challenge is particularly relevant for startups that want to make an entrance into or expand within Asia.”
  • “Of course, startups with high potential for growth will be viewed favorably.”
  • “The basic criteria has been set by the government, but the partner accelerators will make the ultimate decisions about which startups join the program. We wanted the private sector to make the final decisions because they have a better understanding of which startups will have the best chances of success.”

What is the nature of the relationship between the sponsor companies and the program?

  • “MSIP supports and is supported by these companies. They are all contributors to the government’s ‘Creative Economy Initiative’ and they have agreed to open their doors and networks for K-Startup Grand Challenge. They will host events and meetups for participating startups and provide opportunities to share knowledge.”
  • “There is no financial support from these enterprises this year, but we have plans for a deeper engagement with them from next year.”