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Building A Network For Global Growth

Digital transformation and shift towards a contactless society is rapidly taking place. This new transition is calling for more innovation in every sector of the economy.

Even for the largest and most admired companies in the world, collaboration with innovation-driven startups has become a necessity rather than a choice. Most of the Fortune Global 500 companies operate separate teams responsible for building partnerships with startups through open innovation. Such megatrend is opening more doors for startups to a larger global market and better funding opportunities.

The public sector too is acting swiftly and decisively. Seoul Startup Hub, the startup-nurturing body under Seoul Metropolitan Government, has launched the “Growth Catalyst Platform” that connects global companies, investors, accelerators with startups for incubation, investment and funding opportunities, as well as advice and support for global expansion.

Seoul Startup Hub is especially industrious in building a wide global network:
12 out of Fortune Global 500 companies have joined hands with the Hub to participate in its incubation and acceleration programs. Likewise, the Korean Ministry of Startups and SMEs also formed partnership with global tech giants such as Google, NVIDIA, Amazon and Microsoft to support the global expansion of Korean startups.

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“We have a very high opinion of innovative Korean
startups and the whole Korean startup ecosystem”

Large multinational companies as well as government bodies around the world are increasingly active in searching for partnership building opportunities with Korean startups. Global accelerators and venture capitals have also shown more interest in such partnership.

To better understand Seoul’s rising popularity as a hub for global business partnership, we asked different participants of the network – a global company Daimler AG that recently expanded its open innovation platform ‘Startup Autobahn’ to Seoul, a global accelerator LongHash, and a Korean startup Glory & Tech that is growing fast through the global network – about the importance of global networking and future prospects of Korean startups.

Global Company

Global Company

Mercedes-Benz Korea
R&D Center


LEE Seung-Yong
Senior Research Manager

‘Startup Autobahn’ was first launched in 2016 in Germany where Daimler headquarters are located, and later expanded to other cities in U.S., China, India, South Africa and Singapore. Seoul marks the seventh city to host the program. The selection process of the host city is not a top-down one from Daimler headquarters but the other way round. Daimler offices or subsidiaries in local markets voluntarily collaborate within each country’s open innovation and startup ecosystem, and suggest the headquarters that they want to host the program.

From 2018, Mercedes-Benz Korea has been proactive in working with government institutions and startup incubating agencies. We have signed an MOU with Seoul Startup Hub in October 2019 for ‘accelerating the growth of rising startups’, and co-hosted ‘Connected Car Startup Hackathon’ with the Ministry of SMEs and Startups.

We noticed from such collaboration that there were many promising Korean startups with innovative technology, asked the headquarters that we would like to host ‘Startup Autobahn’ here in Korea, and received a go sign.

Seoul Startup Hub provides funding support as well as working space for the pilot projects of the startups selected from ‘Startup Autobahn’. When Daimler representatives in charge of working with startups had visited Korea, they told us that they were “deeply touched” by the fact that the government was extremely proactive in operating and financially supporting startup acceleration. The government’s such enthusiasm is truly a unique feature in the Korean startup ecosystem.

By working with key government agencies including Seoul Startup Hub and the Ministry of SMEs and Startups, we have identified their intention and will to develop on-going startup events as opposed to a one-off session. To address such needs, Mercedes-Benz Korea will continue our efforts next year in collaborating with startups and provide the right solutions in various areas.

Digital transformation is rapidly taking over virtually every sector. Innovation in the auto industry does not happen so fast, as there are numerous internal standards ranging from safety to quality assurance for every stage of production. But auto industry is also undergoing a transformative innovation. It is thus crucial to work with startups for mobility innovation as the very nature of the startups centers around such technological innovation.

One representative case of mobility innovation that suggested a new paradigm for car navigation also came from our collaboration with a startup. When Daimler hosted ‘Startup Autobahn’ in Germany, there was this British startup called what3words. As you can tell from the startup’s name, they possessed a technical solution that designated every location of the world in 3-meter squares and gave each square a unique combination of 3 words to display and share the exact locations.

Daimler saw a great value in the startup’s innovative solution and materialized it for actual use in car navigation within a year of collaborative effort at Daimler R&D headquarters in Germany. Such collaboration provides a great example of how open innovation platforms like ‘Startup Autobahn’ can bring about changes in the mobility sector.

Daimler headquarters have a very high opinion of innovative Korean startups as well as the whole Korean startup ecosystem. After receiving updates on the progress of some pilot projects run by the startups that Mercedes-Benz Korea had selected, Daimler has shown more interest in these Korean startups.

Startups like Cochlear.ai possess great potential to grow globally. The AI startup had participated in our ‘Connected Car Startup Hackathon’ in Korea last year and was invited to ‘Startup Autobahn’ at Daimler headquarters in Germany. The team gave a successful pitch and are currently working with us on a pilot project.

Global Accelerator

Global Accelerator

LongHash Ventures


WEI Shi Kai
COO

The collaboration with Seoul Business Agency and Seoul Startup Hub had been an important step in strengthening Singapore’s position as a blockchain and innovation hub and sharing our knowledge with Seoul. Over the course of 3 months, we worked diligently with over 9 blockchain companies to equip the teams with the right knowledge, expertise & resources through dedicated program activities such as matchmaking sessions, workshops, pitch practices, and one on one introductions.

For companies to enter and expand any new market, context is always important. Our program was designed precisely with that in mind - to not only to provide structural support operationally, but to also account for the nuanced differences in regional cultures, consumers' mind-sets and existing best practices to significantly reduce any barriers of entry.

In our engagement with Seoul Startup Hub, we saw much of the same optimism that we see in Singapore. As a blockchain-focused accelerator supported by Enterprise Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Finance, we are always excited and heartened to hear of institutional partners similarly extending their support to startups in this burgeoning space.

While the progress in both technical aptitude and mainstream recognition have been nothing short of tremendous in the past few years, the industry can certainly benefit from governments having a stake in the game and embracing cutting edge technologies whether through fund support, talent networks, or innovation testbeds.

Seoul Startup Hub’s proven methodologies & established network makes them a great launchpad and route-to-market partner. The Market Expansion program has been instrumental in fostering growth for Korean startups in the blockchain ecosystem. More specifically, the focus on vertical-focused programs, particularly in the industry-focused workshops & experts curated for blockchain & FinTech companies, makes the program a standout one.

There’s always a flipside to things, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has posed a surprising opportunity for the teams to engage with key stakeholders on a global scale. Especially so during our matchmaking sessions, teams had the chance to connect with advisors, investors, partners, mentors across the region. Some of the prominent blockchain and FinTech players teams met up with included ACCESS, Blockchain Association Singapore, & Singapore Fintech Association; leading investors such as Saison Capital, Hustle Fund and LuneX Ventures; and exchanges and enterprises such as Liquid, Crypto.com, Gemini, PwC Singapore.

It also helped that there was definitely time saved on physical setups, and there’s much to be said about the amount of effort and logistical details that goes into managing an in-person cohort. Doubtless we missed having everybody together in a room for team building - that’s an element of human interaction that still cannot be fully replicated virtually – but with the plethora of online and productivity management tools available these days, I’d say it’s been a fair success encouraging and facilitating team engagement. Some of our partners and founders also got together to share their struggles and success stories, and these networking sessions went a long way towards creating a sense of community. Sharing their experiences on topics such as fundraising & expansion strategies, we had the fortune of inviting XanPool, Hashstacs, Accredify, StaTwig, Zilliqa, as well as ButtonWallet.

We have observed great strides in the adoption of blockchain, and the technology while no longer nascent remains at a critical juncture in its development. Enterprises have been shown to be more willing to raise their stakes in the game, but many require more time to deploy and bring blockchain initiatives into actual production, whether from a case of due diligence or careful selection of said technology partners. It is thus interesting to note that Korean blockchain startups have managed to secure partnerships with established companies and conglomerates in Korea, and these collaborations can be telling of a greater trust and support from the ground-up as the technology becomes more accepted and hence accessible. Such initiatives would place Korean startups at an edge as they benefit from the resources, networks and audiences of larger institutions to accelerate the true potential of blockchain technology.

Korean Startup

Korean Startup

Glory & Tech Co


PARK Soon-Ho
CEO

It’s simple. We saw a much bigger market overseas. We specialize in installation and management of drinking water supply facilities. But even with technical knowledge, it is difficult for private companies to compete in the segment in Korea as water supply is operated and controlled by local governments and national-level public agencies such as Korea Water Resources Corporation (K-water).

On the other hand, the public sector fails to meet the demand for drinking water in developing countries. That’s where we saw an opportunity to enter the market. Based on our technical expertise in designing drinking water supply system with water quality-customized filters, we are operating more than 50 village-scale water purifying systems in 11 countries including Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, and are also providing maintenance service.

Glory & Tech’s business model requires a global network to enter the market. The key question that we are trying to solve is ‘how to provide a stable supply of drinking water to villages in developing countries’. For the water supply to be stable, consistent maintenance service after the installation is a must. But small-scale aid programs fail to guarantee such sustainability.

To solve this key question, we chose the busines model of CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) that gives us carbon credit as we supply clean, drinkable water in developing countries. To enter the CDM business, you need an approval from the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). To receive the approval, we passed the Korean Ministry of Science and ICT’s validation test on technical relevance for localization of climate technology, and also received support from KOICA (Korea International Cooperation Agency). With our efforts, we proceeded to register at UNFCCC in May 2019 as a CDM business in the sector of drinking water.

The support from local governments is crucial as they give us recommendations for selecting the project region and as we need to hold public hearing sessions with the villagers. We also received a great deal of support from local government bodies in Korea. For instance, we could build a strong application for UNFCCC’s CDM business due to our good track record of our ODA projects in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam, all of which in turn were supported by Gyeonggi Provincial Government in Korea.

From Seoul Startup Hub, we are getting tremendous support on local market research and office establishment in Bangladesh. In addition, we are currently using their office facilities at the Hub’s Big Company Cooperation Zone. That’s where we were given the opportunity to closely cooperate with S-Oil, leading to their ESG investment to our company.

“Sharing the working space at Seoul Startup Hub’s Big Company Cooperation Zone definitely helped us to have in-depth conversation with S-Oil both formally and informally. Such communication has closed the gap between our investor, S-Oil, and us so that we could reach an agreement that led to actual investment.”
(Park Soon-Ho, CEO Of Glory & Tech Co.)

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