Sparking Business Connections in South Korea

Ignite Sweden led a Swedish startup delegation to Seoul to foster business opportunities with local corporates and organizations.

Accompanied by the startups AlixLabs, Deversify, Hopsworks and MYVOX, our colleagues Elijah Aldana and Sara Hamlin delved deep into South Korea’s buzzing innovation ecosystem.

This was the second visit to South Korea for Elijah and Sara. Last September, they embarked on a delegation trip to the country accompanied by representatives from various Swedish incubators and science parks.

“After our visit in September, we gained invaluable contacts to support us in creating relevant opportunities for Swedish startups,” says Elijah Aldana, Project Leader Matchmaking at Ignite Sweden.

Ignite Sweden has been working with South Korean organizations for the past four years through five matchmaking sessions where Swedish startups were digitally connected with many of their leading corporations.

“Taking a group of startups to the country to explore the local ecosystem and meet corporates in person was a long time coming. After this trip in March, we can see the synergies and eagerness to collaborate with Swedish startups,” he adds.

Tackling the Barriers to Entry into the Korean Business Market

On the first day of the journey, the focus was on gaining insight into conducting business in South Korea, alongside exploring the opportunities and challenges for Swedish companies in the country.

Business Sweden provided an introduction to the Korean market and its business climate, while the Embassy of Sweden in Seoul offered a comprehensive overview of innovation in Korea. This included detailed guidance on Sweden’s strategy to enhance engagement with the Korean market, outlining what Sweden can offer and what Korean companies can bring to the table.

The startups also had the opportunity to learn from the personal experiences of Security Office, a Swedish SME within cyber security established in the country.

“In just a few days, the mental and practical barrier of entering the Korean business market was lowered, with great learnings of the culture, history, business mindset and new contacts,” says Louise Ribrant, VP of Business Development at MyVox.

Visit to South Korea’s Silicon Valley

A visit to Pangyo Techno Valley, known as South Korea’s Silicon Valley, took place on the second day of the journey. The delegation visited two government-funded initiatives: the Global Digital Innovation Network (GDIN) and the K-Startup Grand Challenge.

GDIN supports local startups in their global expansion efforts through joint venture programs, aiming to promote startup-to-startup innovations and find technological alignments for future co-developments, while K-Startup Grand Challenge is a soft landing program providing international startups with office space, local employees, coaching, and funding opportunities.

“We learned about GDIN’s Joint Venture Program and how the initiative funds and supports collaborations between startups, creating mutually beneficial opportunities. The startups also had the chance to meet, a Swedish Edtech startup who shared their experience in the program,” says Elijah.

Exploring More Potential Collaborations within the Korean Innovation Ecosystem

The delegation program also included a visit to D.Camp, one of Seoul’s most vibrant incubators, founded by 19 financial institutions. The goal with this visit was to gain an understanding of support and incubation options offered to the startups.

The startups also attended a Google for Startups event where they had the opportunity to speak spontaneously one-and-one to the President of Google APAC, Scott Beaumont.

“Ignite offered us what is possibly the best possible outcome from a business standpoint within a week: a better understanding of the local ecosystem, a better understanding of the business potential, and most importantly, tools and partners to achieve results,” says Lex Avstreik, Head of Strategy at Hopsworks.

Connections with Korean Organizations with Potential for Collaboration

The delegation program concluded with a matchmaking session where the four startups had the chance to connect with nine Korean organizations, including corporates (Bujeon Electronics, Samsung Ventures, and LG Innotek), public organizations (Korea Core Industrial Technology Investment Association – KITIA), SMEs (PDxen, AiV, and Wiz Wing), and VCs (Big Bang Angels and AGCC).

“The degree of preparation that Ignite put into all the matchmaking meetings was world-class,” says Deversify’s CEO, Anders Murman.

Many of these meetings were continuations of conversations with corporates they had previously encountered through Ignite.

“South Korea is a highly localized country requiring long-term trust and relationships to be built over time in order to develop successful partnerships. We saw great progress in these relationships between the startups and South Korean companies and positive next steps established for Swedish startups and key actors in the local ecosystem as a result from this delegation journey,” concludes Elijah.

This delegation journey to South Korea was possible thanks to the support from Bigbang Angels, Business Sweden, the Embassy of Sweden in Seoul, and Vinnova.

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