Tech startups are flocking to South Korea for a safe haven to grow amid coronavirus
Coronovirus has impacted millions of lives and businesses worldwide. Over the past few months, we’ve written many pieces about how technology startups are navigating the coronvirus pandemic to stay afloat. Some of these startups had to significantly reduce their staffing level. However, tech startups are getting creative by moving to safe countries with fewer cases of coronavirus. Some are moving to countries to join specialized accelerators and incubators. One of those countries is South Korea.
South Korea is an increasingly attractive prospect for entrepreneurs hoping to grow their businesses during the pandemic. Recent reports from HSBC and the OECD place South Korea at or near the top of countries best positioned to capitalize on economic recovery from COVID-19.
The K-Startup Grand Challenge, a global startup competition backed by the South Korean government that hosts teams in the country for a three-month acceleration program. Some of these startup founders have decided to stay in the country to run their businesses remotely after finishing the program last year, and have been happy to be ensconced in Korea as the pandemic has ravaged the rest of the world.
The country’s innovation hub, Pangyo Techno Valley, serves as an attractive launch pad for foreign startups as South Korea remains one of the most stable pandemic-era locations. Recently, the National IT Industry Promotion Agency recently launched its fifth K-Startup Grand Challenge, a global tech startup competition backed by the Government of South Korea, and has seen a 33 percent surge to date in entries from last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
With participating teams from 93 countries, this year’s program has attracted entrepreneurs seeking outside opportunities as countries like the U.S. see an increase in COVID-19 cases and a turbulent economy. South Korea’s economy is set to recover with the lowest expected GDP decline among developed countries and an ongoing maintenance of low COVID-related cases.
“The K-Startup Grand Challenge gives entrepreneurs the chance to develop, get the necessary resources to succeed, all while being a part of South Korea’s bustling tech hub Pangyo Techno Valley,” said Taeyeol Kim, vice president at the National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA). “Since the start of this year’s program, we have seen an increase in applicants all over the world and I believe that is a testament to how impactful our program is and our uniquely favored location during this pandemic.”
The K-Startup Grand Challenge Program will host 60 competing teams in South Korea’s Pangyo Techno Valley for a 3-month accelerator program. The program includes:
- Living expenses for each team
- A free office space
- Networking and information sessions on Korean and Asian business culture, as well as specific business topics (e.g. patents, accounting, regulations, tax laws, etc.)
- Visa support
- Exposure to major Korean companies
“We started VRGlass three years ago in Brazil, and participating in the K-Startup Grand Challenge Program has exposed us to VCs and allowed us to globalize our company by providing a direct connection and avenue to the South Korean market,” said César Noda, CEO at VRGlass Korea and 2019 Grand Challenge alum. “Because of the program, I am now the CEO managing VRGlass’s South Korea office, and while the pandemic has affected our business, we’ve seen firsthand the benefits of having a presence in such a stable country amid the turmoil these past few months.”
As the final package in the program, the top five startups will receive grant prizes ranging from $10,000 to $120,000. Grants for the top 30 startups are available as well, totalling ~$15,500 each (for 2-person teams).
“The Grand Challenge Program was a great opportunity to bring our made-in-the-USA products to Korea, as well as develop specialized educational services to serve the Korean market,” said Tim Marzullo, co-founder of Michigan-headquartered Backyard Brains and 2019 Grand Challenge alum. “Since the program, I stayed on to build our team and operations here. Because of the government’s effective response to the pandemic, we’ve been highly productive even while our U.S. branch had to dramatically slow down operations for two months. I can understand why entrepreneurs have increased interest in applying and working on their businesses in South Korea.”
The K-Startup Grand Challenge is accepting applications until Thursday, June 25, 2020 at midnight Samoa Standard Time or 7 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. For the application and more information about the program, visit: https://www.k-startupgc.org/.