Imagga is a Bulgarian startup that develops image recognition technology. The transformative results of the K-Startup Grand Challenge 2016 program were best seen at Demo Day; Imagga’s demonstration showcased amazing product development, helping them emerge as one of the overall winners. Chris Georgiev, founder and marketing director of Imagga, shared his experience during the journey that includes what was achieved and how last year’s program continues to shape the company’s expansion into Asian markets.


Why did you decide to apply for K-Startup Grand Challenge in 2016?

Imagga was considering expanding operations in Asia and Korea was the perfect gateway candidate. At that exact moment, we discovered the K-Startup Grand Challenge 2016. Korea has lots to offer for technology based startups – an innovative environment with an emphasis on patenting technology, end users and companies that are early adopters, excellent connections with the rest of Asia, support from the Korean government and a thriving startup ecosystem.  


What was your experience of Korea, during the acceleration program? (business perspective)

We’ve learned a lot in terms of how business is done in Asia. Different regions do business differently and being in Korea helped us acquire business knowledge first hand. The program was structured in a way to give us an idea of what business in Korea looks like, how to comply with the local regulations, visa issues and taxation. We also got great support from SparkLabs in terms of business and funding activities here.


What was your experience of Korea, during the acceleration program? (personal perspective)

I was planning to spend 3 months in Korea and then send somebody else from the company. But, I fell in love with Korea and what it offers, so I’m staying and very happy about it! Korea is very welcoming and a fascinating place to live and do business. I have to mention how good the Korean food and the quality of life in Seoul is.


What services / support was most valuable during the program?

The most valuable support were introductions to local businesses and how to tailor our service for customers needs in Asia, specifically Korea. Also, very helpful were one-on-one meetings with mentors from Korea and abroad who had great, practical business experience when it comes to Asia.


What do you see as the main benefits of applying for K-Startup Grand Challenge?

It’s great exposure to the Asian market. You cannot do much if you are not locally present, so the program provides you with all you need to settle in Korea and learn how to do business. It provided valuable help in obtaining a proper visa so you can do long term business in Korea. It’s an eye opening experience for startups that haven’t done much or any business in Asia. This is access to huge market that’s usually underestimated or not prioritized for European and American startups.


What did you find interesting / surprising / unique about your experience in Korea?

I was surprised by how fast you can get accustomed to spicy food and even addicted to it 😉 Seoul is a fascinating place to live and do business – it’s truly a city that never sleeps. There’s so much you to do, learn, and explore.


What do you think are the biggest challenges for global startups entering the Korean market?

I think it’s the language barrier; unfortunately, most business here is done only in Korean. It’s a challenge, but with a help of Korean employees, lots can be accomplished. Startups must also realize that deals are done differently here – you have to build trust, which is slow at first but then everything moves quite fast after an established relationship.


Do you think that Korea is a viable ‘test market’ for tech startups in Asia? Why / Why not?

It’s definitely a big YES! Every person in Korea uses a smartphone, is early adopter of technology or business model, and people are willing to try new things. It’s great experience for acquiring knowledge about Asian market as a whole at a relatively low risk.


What advice would you give startups applying for Grand Challenge this year?

Do apply! The program is amazing and you will learn a lot about Korea and Asia as a whole. It’s going to be very competitive, so make sure you stress on the innovation/technology what makes you unique. Sometimes, startups are just copy and pasting answers for acceleration program applications as that’s the easiest way. I think if you set aside some time to customize your answers for this particular program, it will significantly increase your chances to get in.


What should startups that are accepted this year do to prepare for their Korea experience?

Learn Korean alphabet; knowing how to read helps a lot and it’s surprisingly easy to get familiar with the Korean letters. Read a book or two on Korea and why things are done a certain way. It will help you better understand everything Korean. Get your diploma translated from English (bring the original as well) – you will need that for your visa.