Plugging into South Korea’s entrepreneurship eco-system

Andrew Ngui
Nov 30, 2015 · 4 min read

By Rhie-young Lim & Andrew Ngui

Another shot of Seoul’s landmark — and newly restored! — Sungnyemun Gate at night by Robert Koehler

Some of the most innovative and ingenious startup ideas formed during the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamps came from aspiring entrepreneurs from the most far flung locations around the world.

As we observed this and other fascinating phenomenon unfold before us, we’ve continuously asked ourselves how we could increase the impact of entrepreneurship education not just at the Institute in Cambridge, MA but also around the world.

We focused on the journey of aspiring entrepreneurs and the challenges they face in founding a new startup venture; especially in connecting and building lasting relationships with mentors, vendors, legal and financial institutions in addition to the day-to-day administrivia of running a business for the first time. So in 2016, we’re taking a bold, new step forward by taking the bootcamp international.

We’re working with trusted partners in South Korea to connect entrepreneurs from around the world to their thriving entrepreneurship eco-system…

A supportive government is essential in promoting a successful entrepreneurship ecosystem. South Korea’s per capita government backing for startups is the highest in the world, totaling $3.7 billion. The government and VCs in the region are eager to financially back foreign SMEs and are offering grants through numerous initiatives.

Next-gen Mobile Connectivity
South Korea boasts a 100% wireless broad penetration rate and is currently the only country whose entire population can access 4G connectivity. The country’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning are spending $1.5 billion to develop 5G technology, which will increase the country’s Internet connection to become 1,000 times faster than the current 4G LTE network (15 Mbps). The mobile commerce market is also exploding with a growth rate of 156% year-on-year. Mobile economics is projected to hit $40 billion by 2017.

Startup Gangnam & Pangyo Techno Valley
The startup scene has taken off in South Korea’s Teheran Valley in Gangnam. The presence of top accelerators such as SparkLabs, K-Startup, FT Accelerator and Google Campus as well as investors and startup-focused communities are all indicators of a market on the rise. In the meantime, the hip and cosmopolitan youngsters of Gangnam have shifted in thinking and are increasingly attempting to start their own company instead of applying for traditional jobs in high profile companies.

Gateway to China & Japan
Strong ties to neighbors China and Japan help provide an initial testing ground to startups. The geographical proximity gives many startup accelerators access to first export markets. According to China’s Tencent, two of the top three games in China are Korean exports (Smilegate’s Cross fire and Nexon’s Dungeon Fighter). Crossfire earned almost $1billion last year in China.

Tech Infrastructure
According to 2015 Bloomberg Innovation Index, South Korea ranked 1st in categories such as research and development capability, productivity, technology density and patent activity. It is no surprise Terry Gou, the Chairman of Foxconn, recently said, “What can be achieved in two years in Taiwan can be achieved in just 6 months in Korea.”

The Korean Cool Factor
From “Gangnam Style” and competitive electronic sports to kimchi-flavoured pot noodles, South Korea’s cultural exports are eagerly consumed around the world. Filipinos are hooked on K-dramas while the French love K-pop and its films. Last year South Korea raked in $5 billion from its pop-culture exports and is set to double that by 2017. The new “Korean cool” shows the world’s readiness to revel in Korea’s cultural charms and (hint hint) this could trigger marketing wonders for global startups.

Curious about whether entrepreneurship is the right choice for you?

Experience 2 years of startup life in 6 days
If you’re exploring entrepreneurship as the next step in your journey, the bootcamp is an intense experience where you will learn about your limits and how to push beyond them and help your team complete the startup pitch, learn from MIT faculty & impressive individuals from around the world, meet potential co-founders & mentors, start up a venture in a week;
pitch the startup idea to investors on Demo Day.

Admissions are made on a rolling basis…
The admission process will close once all seats are filled. To be considered for a scholarship, please apply by December 31, 2015. Do not wait until the final deadline, January 18, 2016 to submit your application as you might be disappointed.

About the guest author
Rhie-young Lim was a Seoul correspondent for CNBC Asia covering the South Korean stock market and business news prior to joining MIT’s bootcamp team. Currently, she is leading the Korea MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, and hopes to take MIT’s entrepreneurship education and spirit to Asia and beyond.

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