Foreign entrepeneurs: diversifying the Korean startup ecosystem

외국인 창업자를 찾는 한국 스타트업 환경
Over the past four weeks, we've looked at the state of Korea's growing startup environment. In this week's last News Feature on startups, we look at what's been missing, namely, diversification. Kwon Jang-ho looks at issue and how the Korean government is trying to counteract.
Silicon Valley, the capital of tech startups.
Some 15-thousand startups are located there, all looking to become the next big success story.
But what makes it so attractive?
I talked to Lee Sang-won, a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur revolutionizing touchscreens, to try and find out.

"One of the major parts is the funding, to network with the VCs. And in the valley, the good thing is that they're right next to you. You can just call and stop by and meet one VC and then go next door and meet another VC."

It's this hub of investment and talent that other countries are trying to recreate, including Korea.
The Korean government has been spent some 3 billion dollars since 2014 to develop its startup ecosystem, providing support and funding, and building innovation hubs and facilities.
But one area that has not been addressed is diversity.

"If you look at some of the other ecosystems, Singapore, for example, Silicon Valley, London, New York, Berlin, all of these cities are very cosmopolitan, and the startups within these cities are also global. The CEO may or may not come from that country and will have a team with people all over the world in it. And I think this is an incredibly powerful asset that startups elsewhere in the world have, that at the moment we're not seeing so much of in Korea."

It's a fact highlighted in Silicon Valley.
While only 13-percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born, the number of tech and engineering companies in Silicon Valley founded by immigrants was 44-percent.
The Korean government is looking to address this issue head on.

"I'm here at the newly built Pangyo Startup Campus, just outside Seoul, which is set to house dozens of Korean startups. But now, the government is also looking to bring in foreign startups, by launching the K-Startup Grand Challenge."

The program is looking to incorporate 40 startups from overseas, among the 200 to be based at the campus.
Each company will receive flight tickets, office space, visa support and a piece of an 833-thousand dollar prize pool.
It's the first program of its kind, and not only is the government hoping that it will provide jobs and help the local economy, it's looking forward to the experience it will give Korean startups as well.

"There have been cases where Korean companies have tried to go global, but failed. To be better prepared, they need to meet other foreign startups and understand the overseas market better."

The Korean entrepreneurs at the campus are already looking forward to interacting with their foreign peers.

"When there are only Korean startups grouped together, you can only see what overseas startup environments are like through Google. But if they come to Korea, we can talk with them, find out about the situation and market overseas."

Diversity is an issue other countries are facing, too.
France has launched a similar program called the French Tech Ticket, inviting 50 startups to Paris, with 12-and-a-half thousand euros in prize money.

The city of Chengdu in China also announced 10 new policies and a fund of 2 billion dollars to attract foreign talent.

There are critics who argue that whereas Silicon Valley grew organically, government programs such as these are too forced, and the environments may not work in the long-run.
But for the startups themselves, Lee of Qeexo says it doesn't matter.

"The startups need every help they can get. Whether it's coming from the government or VC or from the private sector it doesn't really matter. As long as we're getting all the help that we can get, to make this business successful, that's what we're looking for."

The K-Startup Grand Challenge may only be a small step toward diversifying the Korean startup eco-system, but it's a step in the right direction, especially to fulfill Korea's ambition to become a leading tech hub in Asia.
Kwon Jang-Ho, Arirang News.

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