South Korea’s leading accelerator program K-Startup Grand Challenge (KSGC), considered ‘a gateway’ to do business in Asia, invites global startups including US startups to participate. The program’s 2022 edition started accepting applications on April 15, and the last date for the application stage is May 31, 2022.
K-Startup Grand Challenge is a great opportunity for global startups looking to explore Asia’s markets for their innovative products and services. A thriving economy with the best ICT infrastructure and a highly adoptive tech-savvy consumer market makes South Korea an ideal place to begin the journey to doing a business.
South Korea has a huge market potential with a domestic market size of about US$1.63 trillion. The Korean domestic market is the 10th biggest globally, with a strong purchasing power. South Korea is one of the safest countries in the world, boasting an extremely low crime rate. Furthermore, Korea has an established patent law system so that startups can safely bring their creative ideas under government protection.
Reasons to begin a business in South Korea
Gateway to Asia: South Korea is conveniently located in East Asia between China and Japan, with Hong Kong and Taiwan to its south. Seoul, its capital, is the world’s second-largest metropolitan area, with almost half of all Korean citizens living in or around the city.
World’s best ICT Infrastructure: Korea has a highly developed ICT infrastructure, with 100% of its territory covered by LTE, and offers the world’s fastest internet speed. All generations in Korea are avid users of high-tech devices with access to high-speed internet. Korean people are active social media users. 67.5% of online shopping is done through mobile applications. The spending per buyer in e-commerce is forecasted to go from $2,600 in 2019 to $4,300 in 2024.
Test Bed Korea for the Global Market: Korea provides excellent opportunities to do consumer testing. Koreans are known to be early adopters of new technologies. They are eager to be the first to buy and the first to use newly released tech products. They have access to the latest technologies in various industries and take advantage of Korea’s world-class IT infrastructure.
Strong Government Support: The Korean government is constantly improving the country’s infrastructure. In 2017, South Korea established the Ministry of SMEs and Startups to systematically oversee various startup support projects to reinforce momentum. In 2022, the government plans to implement a startup support project worth US$3 billion to create a regional startup infrastructure and allow innovative talents with technical skills to flow into Korea’s startup ecosystem and develop their capabilities to succeed. Furthermore, the government plans to find 200 promising startups through 2022 and 1,000 promising startups, and 700 pre-unicorn startups by 2025.
Thriving Startup Infrastructure: Korea is a country that has 18 unicorn startups. Its startup ecosystem is active and well designed, attracting the attention of investors, accelerators, and incubators worldwide. According to the Startup Genome Report 2021, Seoul jumped to 16th from 20th in the world startup ecosystem ranking, with an ecosystem valued at US$47.2 billion. Venture capital investments have also poured into Korean startups and grew 78% year-on-year in 2021, surpassing 7.7 trillion won (US$6.4 billion). The number of new jobs created by startups in 2021 surpassed the number of jobs created by the four largest conglomerates in Korea combined. In recent years, many major Korean companies have expressed interest in collaborating with startups from around the world.
Strong Economy: Economically, South Korea has become the 10th largest economy and the fifth largest exporter of goods and services globally. Corporate giants Samsung and LG have become the top display makers worldwide. Hyundai and Kia combined are third in vehicle production numbers. And in July 2021, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) upgraded Korea’s status to a developed economy. According to the Bloomberg Innovation Index, South Korea has topped the global list of the 60 most innovative countries in its latest rankings.
Top Research & Manufacturing facilities: Korea topped the charts in patent activity and put up strong performances in R&D and manufacturing. South Korea invested almost US$83 billion in R&D last year, making it the fifth-largest spender among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In addition, the Startup Genome Report said South Korea was the fifth-highest investor in R&D with around $94.5 billion, and its ratio of R&D spending to GDP was the second-highest in the world at 4.3%. Furthermore, the ranking of Seoul jumped to 16th from 20th in the world startup ecosystem ranking in 2021.
Korea’s Cultural Influence: Korea is a cultural powerhouse with the Korean Wave, encompassing K-pop, dramas, fashion, cosmetics, and the arts. Its culture is one of the many reasons it has become a source of fascination for Asia, the Americas, and Europe. The Korean people also have major intangible assets like passion, creative ideas, and momentum that work well with cutting-edge ICT technology and inclusive governmental support.
K-Startup Grand Challenge Program 2022
K-Startup Grand Challenge 2022 is a 3.5-month-long all-expenses-paid program held from August 1 to November 15, 2022, at the Startup Campus in Pangyo Techno Valley. KSGC 2022 is supported by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups (MSS) and organized by the National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA). Sixty startups will be selected to participate in the program. Each of the 60 teams will receive $11,136 to cover living expenses for the 3.5 months. For 2022, the top ten performing teams will get monetary grants worth $320,000. Also, the top thirty startups will get further assistance to expand business in Korea through a settlement program with a supporting fee of $11,136.
The startup accelerator program, launched in 2016, supports foreign startups that want to enter the Korean market and further explore the international markets. Over the years, the program has supported startups and businesses that have succeeded in multiple fields globally like Artificial Intelligence, fintech, logistics, biotechnology, robotics, game development, IoT, e-commerce, etc.
In the past, the participating startups have come from various countries across Europe, North America, and Southeast Asia. The ultimate goal of KSGC is to promote the expansion of open entrepreneurship in Asia and assist in South Korea’s evolution as a prominent business hub in the region.
Who can apply?
- Startups less than seven years old or Pre-entrepreneur whose representative holds a foreign nationality.
- Promising startups with a clear objective to expand into Asia by using the Korean market as a stepping stone.
Timeline for KSGC 2022 Program
- The application process for global startups: April 15 to May 31, 2022
- Review by a panel of judges & global audition for top 60 teams: June 20 to 24, 2022
- Final 60 teams selection result announcement: June 30, 2022
- Accelerator program to be held in South Korea: August 1 to November 15, 2022
- Demo day where the top 10 teams will get prizes: November 9 -11, 2022 [SK1]
- Further settlement program for top 30 teams: January 15 to June 30, 2023
Benefits for the startups participating in KSGC at a glance
Networking and Expert support: Mentoring & information sessions, coaching on Korean and Asian business culture, and seminars on topics like patents, accounting regulations, tax laws, and more.
Financial support: Living expenses worth $11,136 and further financial assistance for top performers.
Additional Investments: The accelerators may make equity investments in promising startups. Startups may have access to other VCs and investors who may choose to invest.
Break into Asia & Corporate Partnerships: The startups can meet Korea’s top tech companies with expertise ranging from smartphones to semiconductors. Also, easy access to other Asian countries.
Korean Intern Support[SK2] : A Korean intern, fluent in English/Korean, will be provided for every two teams. The intern will be a great resource for you while doing business in Korea.
Access to State-of-Art Resources: The teams get to stay and work at a global startup campus in Pangyo, strategically located in the south of Seoul. The startups get access to world-class prototyping, testing facilities, and expert support.
Administrative support & Visa acquisition: NIPA and the team of the program make sure the visa process is smooth and timely. The startups will have access to administrative support, translation service, and interpretation to make work convenient and productive while in Korea.
Korean Accelerators to assist startups’ growth
This year, five excellent Korean accelerators are waiting to assist foreign startups in growing in Korea – CNT Tech, Yozma Group Korea, Bigbang Angels, Pen Ventures, and Nautilus Investment.
CNT Tech is a tech-based global accelerator that has been part of the KSGC program six years in a row. It has a reputation for actively investing in early-stage startups in Korea. CNT Tech invested in over 70 startups in 2021, which is the country’s largest number of venture investments.
Yozma Group Korea is a global accelerating and investment company specializing in the global accelerating and cross-border investment with more than $350 million in AUM. Yozma Group’s Interest is in ICT technology-based startups in Digital twin, Mobility, and Digital Healthcare. It is looking forward to working with the visionary startups who want to explore Korean partnerships and beyond.
Bigbang Angels is a Korean early-stage VC with Singapore headquarters. The VC has invested in over 100+ AI, deep tech portfolio companies for ten years, with four successful exit cases and 3 Pre-IPO in the portfolio. It is interested in investing in global startups with IP capable of technology transfer to Korea.
PEN Ventures is a venture capital and accelerator with offices in Silicon Valley, Singapore, Europe, and South Korea. It invests in startups and connects them to all kinds of game players. The company successfully supports startups and entrepreneurs in Fintech, Cleantech, and Digital Health care to enter the Korean market.
Nautilus Investment is a global accelerator and venture capital in Korea. It focuses on cross border connection between Korea and Silicon Valley-based on the strong partnership with Nautilus Venture Partners, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital. Nautilus Investment supports startups financially through venture investment and strategically through the close networks of Big Tech companies in the US and large and mid-size Korean companies.
For further information and the application for K-Startup Grand Challenge,