I Wish I Knew How to Quit You, South Korea
(originally published in The Chosun Daily, which is South Korea’s largest newspaper, where I have a monthly column)
Since I co-founded SparkLabs Korea, our first accelerator, with HanJoo Lee and Jimmy Kim in Seoul back in 2012, we have carefully expanded our accelerators across Asia to Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Sydney. Most recently, we have grown outside of Asia to Muscat, Oman, Washington D.C. and next year we look to creating our first presence in Europe. Our global seed fund, SparkLabs Global Ventures, has been active since early 2014 and majority of our 70 investments has been in the U.S. Overall, the SparkLabs Group has invested in over 200 companies across 6 continents, and as we continue to strengthen our role as innovation ecosystem builders and investors our growth will be in existing and emerging startup hotspots.
I’m personally known as the co-founder who sits in Silicon Valley (Palo Alto, CA). Since I’m more active on SparkLabs Global, I see our identity split between Asia and the U.S. and increasingly more global, but South Korea still remains a pillar of our identity. Whether we like it or not, it will remain a strong part of SparkLabs’ identity because South Korea continues to be relevant on the global stage.
For five years in a row, Bloomberg has ranked South Korea as the most innovative nation in the world. It continues to be the leader in broadband, mobile and wireless technologies where South Korea has led since the late 1990s, but it also forges new roads of leadership in blockchain and crypto.
South Korea’s corporate leaders Samsung, LG, Hyundai, SK and others continue to impact the global economic markets. More importantly, they are active in key industries that position South Korea well for the future: mobile, batteries/energy, auto, and telecom.
Besides South Korea’s innovation leadership, an equally important element is the nation’s influential culture. The U.S.’s global leadership never solely rested on its economic strength but had a combined impact with its cultural imperialism. For example, it was never solely about McDonald’s expansion across the globe, but the selling of the American lifestyle and fast food culture from the 1970s and onward. Then it was Starbucks from the 1990s selling American coffee
across the globe, especially to the dismay of Europeans who held a higher standard of coffee. Hollywood has always been the U.S.’s most potent soft power with American pop music being a strong second. More recently, since the 1990s the influence of professional sports such as the NBA and the impact of Michael Jordan has added to the U.S. leadership on the world’s stage.
In Asia and a little beyond, South Korea has become the baby brother to America’s cultural imperialism. From Kpop to movies to TV shows to beauty products to food, Korea’s cultural reach been increasing over the past decade throughout Asia and even impacting some aspects of American culture.
Kpop’s stars from Girls Generation (2010) to Big Bang (2011) to Psy (2012) to Twice (2015) to G-Dragon (2016) to BTS (2017) to Black Pink (2018) are representative of Korea’s creative music talent influencing the region and beyond. BTS was featured on the October 22, 2018 cover of TIME magazine, with TIME naming them one of the ‘Next Generation Leaders’ (“How BTS Is Taking Over the World” TIME).
Korean dramas are watched religiously across Asia, Asian communities throughout the world and random countries such as Argentina and Chile. “Descendants of the Sun”, created by KBS, was the #1 show in China in 2016.
South Korea’s strength in the technology sector or creative industries alone wouldn’t make it relevant as a nation, but these two combined allows it to punch above its weight class. It becomes a dynamic and influential nation. It’s like an Abbott and Costello act which is far more entertaining than these two comedians on their own. Or Apple wouldn’t have been founded if it was solely Steve Jobs or Steve Wozniak. There is a multiplier effect with teams and there is multiplier effect for the influence of nations. South Korea is but a handful of nations that have economic relevancy and cultural relevancy in the world.
This is the reason why as SparkLabs Group continues to grow, South Korea will remain a pillar in our identity. It is why we have embraced the role to be one of South Korea’s unofficial ambassadors of innovation. We would be fools not to be because our team truly believes South Korea will be globally relevant for at least the next decade and possibly beyond.