For South Korea to become a strong startup hub globally, they obviously have to go global. The Korean government has strongly pushed to bring in as much foreign talent as possible as well as work with other countries to bridge the gap between Korean startups and their startups. They have also helped foreign startups that were looking to expand into Seoul. With more and more foreigners getting into the Korean startup scene, it has been easier for Korean startups to break into global markets. This was something that was not possible in Korea a decade ago.
The Korean government has played a large part in growing the Korean startup ecosystem. They have offered incentives to the big conglomerates to start startup programs. They have offered funds, grants, accelerators, incubators, and have held many startup events and conferences. K-Startup Grand Challenge and OASIS Startup Visa programs were formed with the main goal being to make it easier for foreigners to grow their business in the Korean startup scene.
So now as 2016 comes to a close, how can Korean startups continue to go global? As the Korean startup ecosystem continues to grow there will be more and more accelerators, VCs, and angels. All with the goal of exiting. It will be very difficult to exit if a Korean startup did not have the potential for global expansion. Here are the keys to how Korean startups can become global.
Continue to create more accelerators
This might sound silly as over the last 3 years there has been an eruption of accelerators, co-working spaces, and incubators. Sparklabs, Future Play, Google Campus, Maru180, and D Camp are just to name a few. Many are funded by the government but there are many more private accelerators out there. If Korean startups knew about these programs then it will help them during the crucial early stages. Korea needs to be a safe place for startups to feel they are being supported. These accelerators are key to getting the network connections for global expansion through their events and meetups.
Change the work culture in Korea
Foreigners will get hired to Korean companies but they will leave usually within one year due to the strict working culture. This work culture needs to change, it needs to become more global by taking the culture of Silicon Valley. This means taking more risks, listening to the workers on the ground floor, and working smarter (not harder). What is the point of having a lot of foreign workers only to see them leave as quickly as they came in? It will be hard to break the traditional working culture of conglomerates like Samsung and LG but for Korean startups it should be easy.
Bring in more foreign investors
Seoul is becoming a very interesting market for investors. Korea has a top 15 global economy and is becoming one of the hottest tourists attractions. Korean startups need to start expanding their network outside of Korean angels and VCs and look towards China and the U.S. The trend is already happening with a 13% increase in foreign investment just last year.
Bring in more foreign students into Korean universities
Foreign students coming to Korea to study has set a record high last year. Many attribute this to the massive Korean pop culture explosion in regards to Korean music and television. More young people know about Korea more than ever before. Foreign students will help the Korean startup ecosystem in two ways. More Koreans will get a chance to work with foreigners at school and become comfortable with them. This should spill over to hiring more foreigners in the future for Korean startup businesses and corporations.
Target markets outside of Korea
For Korean startups to truly succeed they need to look outside the Korean market. They should first start off trying to expand in countries like China, Japan, and other Southeast Asian countries first. Then companies will get more access to funding if their company has a larger market potential. The transition into China would be easier than the United States because of the travel distance, similar culture, and already existing channels.