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When most people think tech business in South Korea, they picture a handful of tightly controlled companies. But as we discovered a couple of years ago, it’s doing everything in its power to shed that image and position itself a startup nation.
Its latest move on that front has seen the government launch an initiative that will invite 40 startups around the world for three months of all expenses paid acceleration in Seoul.
Participating startups on the ‘K-Startup Grand Challenge’ programme will be given office space in a purpose built US$160 million ‘Startup Campus’ near Gangnam, Seoul. The campus is within walking distance to the R&D labs of many Korean tech
giants, which have signed on to mentor the startups. This initiative claims to be the first of its kind in Asia and welcomes high-potential startups from anywhere in the world to apply.
According to a press release sent to Ventureburn, startups selected for the acceleration program, known as the KStartup Grand Challenge, will receive $4,100 per month to cover living expenses, along with free roundtrip flights to Korea for three team members.
At the facility’s opening ceremony held on 22 March, President Park Geunhye said, “I hope that the Startup Campus will become the cradle of creative economy, a gateway that links Korean startups to the world.”
The government looks set to take a hands-on approach to the competition too. Based on online applications, representatives from the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP), the National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA) and four accelerators, will select 160 startups to participate in pitch competitions that will be held online and in cities around the world.
Judges will narrow the field to 80 startups, each of which will send a representative to Korea for an intensive week of pitching and interviews from August 8 to 15. They will also have opportunities to network with Korean startups, major companies and investors.
The most promising 40 startups will be invited to stay for the threemonth acceleration program, led by SparkLabs, DEV Korea, Shift and ActnerLab, four of Korea’s most successful accelerators.
The programme will culminate with the KStartup Grand Challenge Demo Day in early December, where the startups present their achievements in front of investors. The top 20 startups will receive approximately US$33 000 in no-strings-attached funding and the top four startups will receive between US$6 000 and US$100 000 on top of that.
The competition organisers say there are also opportunities for additional equity investments from the accelerators and outside investors.
“Korea offers the best technology infrastructure in the world, combined with a population of tech- savvy early adopters who are hot on startups. That, along with our central location makes us the ideal country to establish a foothold in Asia,” said Choi Yanghee, Minister of Science, ICT and Future Planning. “We’re already home to the world’s top names in consumer technology, semiconductors and gaming, and we’re eager to host the next generation of hightech companies.”