Published December 24, 2013 4:00 PM
It may be time to say goodbye to a well-trodden cliche. Young entrepreneurs are proving that Korea can do more than copy. The number of tech startups has surged by 80 per cent since 2011. The number of accelerators went from one to more than 50. Here marketing consultant Mario Gamper, who has worked for Platoon Kunsthalle in Berlin and Seoul, gives us a glimpse of how Korea is building a new culture of business creativity – that apparently rivals Silicon Valley.
There’s no need to look for suburban garages — the next generation of Korean businesses is born downtown. Many startups are home in the now-famous Gangnam district, a landscape of 400 ft glass towers, expensive suits, and women with fashionable noses. Some of the startups, like online deal siteCoupang, have already succeeded in sticking their own logo on an office tower. But even young hopefuls who are still demoing enjoy prime real estate. In brand new coworking space Dreamcamp, teams polishing PowerPoints look out over a beautifully landscaped park.
“This is the best time ever to start your company in Korea,” said Dreamcamp Manager Ryu Hahn. The coworking space and incubator is funded with more than $450m by 20 Korean banks who have formed the “Banks Foundation for Young Entrepreneurs”. Offering a wide range of support, from pitch clinics to funding, Dreamcamp is just one example of the structures for new business ideas that popped up in the last couple of years.
After taking office in 2013, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye swiftly announced a more “creative economy” and launched the new Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, and endowed it with a bunch of cash. For 2014, the ministry’s budget increased to more than $12bn, with over two billion going directly into beefing up the startup ecosystem.
“Korea is now the biggest startup in the world,” smiles Richard Min, cofounder of the SeoulSpace incubator and brand new Fashion Tech (FT) Accelerator. “60 per cent of all venture capital here is government-backed. In the US it’s one per cent,” said Min.
This creates a unique startup ecosystem: “Korea has always been a top-down economy. The government has now decided to merge it with bottom-up creativity. We’re creating a completely new business culture, one that’s not even seen in Silicon Valley, or anywhere else,” added Min.