The startup scene in Korea is exploding. South Korea already has a presence in the tech world with giant conglomerates like Samsung and LG holding their own against Apple. But now they are emerging into the world of startup innovation, and Plug and Play is one of the accelerators holding open the door to Silicon Valley.
In an effort to send more Korean talent out to Silicon Valley KISA (Korean Internet Security Agency) is working together with Plug and Play’s International Accelerator to bring 10 Korean start ups out to Silicon Valley for a 3 month-long accelerator.
An important component of the startup industry is connections, and Silicon Valley offers a global intersection that connects people across the world. The pace and traffic of ideas and people is always very fast.
“It’s a lot more competitive in Silicon Valley, but that means there are more opportunities as well.” Said Min Hee Song, global sales representative from Flitto, one of the companies participating in the International Accelerator. Flitto is a crowd sourcing translation platform that translates voice, text, and images into over fifteen languages, allowing the reach of things like social media to extend even further. It currently has 2.3 Million users, only one percent of which are Korean.
“Since we are a global service it makes a lot of sense to come here instead of Korea. In Korea you can only reach the Korean market, but in Silicon Valley you get to reach out to a global user base.” Min Hee said.
Silicon Valley offers a global network, but because it’s in California people from outside of the US don’t always understand the networking tactics and rules.
“A lot of Korean’s have trouble networking because it’s different in the Korean culture, so learning how to reach out people is really important.” Min Hee said.
Another important resource that is particular to Silicon Valley is the chance to work with really great mentors that help companies adapt and understand the markets they are trying to reach. Matt Kwa, CEO of Travelog, another of the Korean group, said, “Great mentorship is something that isn’t common in Korea, but at Plug and Play they have a vast network of resources.”
Travelog, a mobile application that offers crowd sourced recommendations for travelers, connecting likeminded travelers through targeted content, was discovered by KISA representatives, not in Korea, but at the BeGlobal conference in Silicon Valley. Such a connection is a testament to how central the Silicon Valley is to the startup industry. After KISA began working with them, a couple of international leaders from Plug and Play heard Travelog pitch in Seoul and invited them back to the valley to be apart of the accelerator program.
“It was a bit spur of the moment. We didn’t think we’d enter the American market as quickly as we did, but it was a great opportunity for us so we jumped all over it.” Matt said.
Being a part of the program has allowed Travelog to work with great mentors, get in front of investors, and get the productivity of their company at an all time high. It also allows them to learn about the US market.
“Being a Korean-based startup, we’ve had to make a lot of assumptions about North America, and while we’re here we want to validate some of them.” Matt said.
But Silicon Valley isn’t totally the end all be all of startups. Korea, while fresh, is moving quickly.
“The Korean startup scene is a budding industry. What’s special about it is that it’s developing rapidly and has a lot of technical talent and top notch engineers.” Matt said. “In Silicon Valley, the support system is very different. Startups can come here and fail, make mistakes, and bounce back and get all the support they need. In Korea it’s not quite at that stage yet. Everyone is shooting for success, but if you’re not making big things happen, it’s not easy to persevere.”
The combination of Silicon Valley’s support and Korea’s talent and determination will surely yield explosive results in the years to come. Plug and Play launched another 3-month accelerator program called “Startup NOMAD” on November 4th. This accelerator is supported by NIPA, National IT Industry Promotion Agency, another government funded push for technological innovation and co-organized by Plug and Play and Venture Square, a leading tech blog and media company that is at the forefront of the startup scene in Korea.
In another attempt to get to know the Korean startup ecosystem Jupe Tan, VP of International Operations at Plug and Play, recently attended an angel-investor forum organized by KBAA (Korea Business Angels Association).
“Korea is very interesting. Traditionally they have been very strong at copying and improving technology; that’s why now everybody uses Samsong and LG and Hyundai.” Jupe said, “But in the last few years they have started to shift away from the economy being too reliant on the large conglomerates. There is a big push towards new innovation and the creative economy and that has been a big boost for the startup ecosystem.”
It is this desire that has lead them to forge several partnerships with Plug and Play, as well the larger Silicon Valley ecosystem. It’s a very excited dynamic and the ideas that are being created will change the face of technology as we know it.
There will also be several Korean Startups at the Winter Expo this Thursday, December 5th.
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