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South Korea – a great business destination for global startups with K-Startup Grand Challenge program

South Korea is considered one of the best places to do business in the world. The World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report ranks South Korea as the fifth easiest place in the world to do business. 

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Is South Korea the ‘Land for Rising Global Startups?’

With the period of the Fourth Industrial Revolution beginning, South Korea is investing aggressively in technological innovation in infrastructure and logistics. The South Korean government and the corporate giants are known for providing the best support and appropriate environment for startups. The numerous accelerators and venture capitalist firms in the country give startups the much needed initial motivation and support to develop business. Not only is the country supporting domestic talent, but it is also inviting foreign startups to set up shops. Moreover, considering its geographical location near to China, Japan, and strategically beneficial relationship with South East Asian countries, South Korea is fast emerging as a gateway to business in Asia.

K-Startup Grand Challenge is the largest outreach acceleration program of the country that supports foreign startups to establish their roots in Asia. It is an all-expenses-paid and the first of its kind program in Asia..

So why is South Korea an ideal business destination for startups?

South Korea has been nurturing startups for more than a decade now and has formed many organizations to support the startup ecosystem. The Ministry of SMEs and Startups is the foremost government authority working for the development of startups and entrepreneurship in the country.

1) Stable Government & Corporate support:

The Korean government is continuously helping to develop the startup ecosystem and making huge investments, with planned investments worth $12 billion for startups during the next four years. The Korean President Moon Jae In has asserted to actively assist startups to grow into the scale-up stage. 

There are numerous accelerator programs both by government and private organizations for the startups in South Korea. In recent years, a significant number of major Korean companies have expressed interest in collaborating with international startups.

Projects between conglomerates and startups are active under government directions. For instance, conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai, LG, SK, POSCO, Lotte, Hanwha, CJ, GS are directly initiating acceleration or venture programs.

2) Robust connectivity & strong infrastructure:

South Korea is the world’s most connected country, with 100% of the LTE coverage. Korea has the fastest average internet connection and the highest number of broadband services per capita globally.

There are special tech zones and numerous fully equipped co-working spaces and labs with lots of cost advantages for startups.

3) Secure Market & Smart Consumers:

Korean consumers are known to be early adopters of new technologies. They are eager to be the first to buy and use newly released technology. With almost half of the country’s population in the capital Seoul, it makes it a great place to perform consumer testing.

Korean domestic market has high purchasing power, acknowledged by many global firms for a long time. Such an environment may provide a footstone for various global startups. South Korea is one of the safest countries in the world, with an extremely low crime rate. Furthermore, Korea has established a patent law system so that startups could bring their creative ideas under government protection.

4) Thriving Startup Ecosystem:

With about 30,000 startups in South Korea in 2019, the country is becoming the next big startup tech hub in the world. The country has 11 unicorn startups, which gives it the 4th place among the countries with most startups and places it in the same league as the US, China, etc.

South Korea’s startup ecosystem is active and well-designed, attracting the attention of investors, accelerators, and incubators from all around the world. For example, Google launched its first-ever Asian Google Campus in Seoul. Facebook is also joining the scene and further empowering Korea’s IT developers through their New Innovation Lab opened in Pangyo. 

K-Startup Grand Challenge; the most accessible route to do business in Korea

Organized by the Ministry of SMEs & Startups and National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA), K-Startup Grand Challenge program, is one of its largest outreach programs to attract foreign startups. It is an all-expenses-paid and the first of its kind program in Asia with additional grand prizes worth $240,000.

In 2019, the program received applications from 1,677 teams from 95 countries. Thirty-eight teams from Europe, Asia, and America were selected for the 3-month accelerator program.

This is the fifth year of the K-Startup Grand Challenge program, and applications are being accepted from international startups till June 25, 2020. Sixty teams will be selected to stay in Korea to participate in a 3.5-month accelerating program in Pangyo, located in the south of Seoul.

At the end of the acceleration program there will be a demo day to select the top 30 startups. These startups will get additional financial incentives, and if they choose to establish their businesses in Korea, they will get support from the government.

When does the program start?

  • Application Period: May 15 to June 25, 2020
  • Acceleration Program: September 1 to November 30
  • Demo Day: November 19 – 21, 2020

What to expect?

  • For 3.5 months, participants will receive living expenses: with $15,490 for two-person team and $10,840 for a one-person team
  • Easy Visa process
  • Free office space & Korean interns at Pangyo Techno Valley
  • Corporate networking and funding opportunities
  • Help Desk & Mentorship
  • Grand prizes worth $240,000 for top five teams
  • Additional financial support and incentives for further 3.5 months for startups staying on for a longer-term

Taeyeol KIM, Vice president at NIPA told: South Korea’s entrepreneurial inclination and the overall culture of ‘working hard and playing hard’ makes it a unique place. For upcoming global startups, South Korea should definitely be one of the topmost places in the world to expand the business. Certainly, the startups should look towards taking benefits of programs like the K-Startup Grand Challenge.”



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