Thursday, November 7, 2013

K is for K-Startup

Korea’s startups and developers have been one of its best-kept secrets over the past few years. Finally, the secret’s getting out.

In London this week, five promising new startups from Korea - winners of the second year of our ‘Global K-Startup’ program - were busy touring Tech City and Campus London, and learning from some leading UK entrepreneurs. They were also honing their pitching skills...which they put to good use on Wednesday, when South Korean President Park Geun-hye stopped by to hear their ideas and offer some advice, urging them to “think global.”
2013 K-Startup winners meeting President Park in London (Source: Yonhap News)
But let’s start at the beginning. Two years ago, some of the most popular games on Google Play were Korean, including Com2us and Gamevil. When the iPhone launched in Korea, the top app was written by a high-school student. The talent was there. But, sadly, the investments and exposure were not.

Our bet was that if Korean developers and startups got more exposure to the international network of investors and engineers, they’d thrive. So we developed a program alongside KISA that took promising startups to the U.S. and U.K. to meet with investors, swap ideas with peers in other countries and get a sense of what foreign markets felt like. Among 29 participants in that program, 23 started their own businesses, 18 commercialized their services, and, as of September 2013, 9 companies had received a total of KRW4.3 billion in investments, among them KnowRe and Classting.

The products and talent drove the investments, of course. But we think it’s worth continuing to show that kind of Korean talent on the global stage, so we did it again.

The winners in 2013 run the gamut from urban farming, to CPR to comics, proof that Korea’s creativity can thrive in a startup as much as in a manufacturer or pop band. Here they are...

Lezhin Comics:  Sells and curates comics across the Web, iOS and Android, sharing profits with the comic writers and artists, part of a bigger Asian rise in Webtoons. Lezhin’s revenue model is quirkily intriguing. Creators write all the issues ahead of time and then release them on a regular basis, with past and current episodes coming at no charge. However, if you can’t wait to read the next issue, you can get it, and every other episode, right away by paying.

StubbyPlanner:  Aims to use the itineraries of other travelers to help guide you on the perfect one for you. As you build your itinerary, you get recommendations for the next steps based on the plans of travelers similar to you. Available in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

n.thing:  n.thing is developing products to make indoor gardening and urban farming easier. For instance, Planty is a flowerpot that uses embedded sensors and the Internet to make sure the plant gets the right amount of water and light. It could also allow people to water the plants while they’re away.

Croquis:  Croquis has developed Biscuit to make it easier to look up and learn foreign words by noting what word’s you’ve searched for in its dictionary and offering personalized learning tutorials based on how far your vocabulary is implicitly progressing.

I.M.Lab:  I.M.Lab’s Heartisense has developed a mannequin that aims to make training people in CPR more realistic and also to provide more accurate feedback as to how a trainee’s technique would have done.

As one of our judges, Charles Hudson, CEO of SoftTech VC, said: "Korea has created innovative services like Cyworld, Kart Rider and Kakao Talk. Things that worked in Korea can work in foreign markets if Korean companies can adapt their business models for foreign markets.” 

Next up, a week in Silicon Valley, then, hopefully, much more.

Posted by Jae-Hoon Chung, Senior Public Policy Counsel, Google Korea

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