Unlocking Innovation Insights From the South Korean Ecosystem

Ignite Sweden’s Elijah Aldana and Sara Hamlin, embarked on a delegation trip to the Asian country and share their insights from one of the world’s dynamic innovation ecosystems.

Ignite Sweden explored the dynamic innovation landscape of South Korea in September, accompanied by representatives from Minc, Södertälje Science Park, MatLust Utvecklingsnod, Kalmar Science Park, Brewhouse Inkubator, and Swedish startup Acorai.

The primary goal of the delegation trip was to explore collaboration opportunities between Sweden and South Korea by participating in networking events and interactive sessions with leading corporations, government agencies, and incubators. The delegation shared best practices with their counterparts within the Korean ecosystem and collectively learned and discussed how both countries can successfully collaborate.

During the three-day stay to the Asian country, the delegation visited various South Korean incubators and innovation hubs, including LG Sciencepark, Hyundai Motor Company’s Zer01ne Accelerator, Go2Global matchmaking, Yonsei University, Korea Creative Content Agency, Global Digital Innovation Network, Bigbang Angels, and the Korea Institute of Science and Technology.

The journey was part of the SISP – Swedish Incubators & Science Parks’ Knowledge Exchange Program, organized in collaboration with Business Sweden and Vinnova, Sweden’s Innovation Agency.

A Nation at the Forefront of Innovation

This was the first visit to the South Korean’s innovation ecosystem for Ignite Sweden’s Elijah Aldana and Sara Hamlin.

“South Korea is at the forefront of innovation. They aim to be leaders in a few areas as opposed to being good at many. This approach has helped shape their economy since the war in the early 1950s and is why they lead in semiconductors, electronics, shipbuilding, and K-Content, among other industries,” explains Project Leader Matchmaking & Startup Community Manager, Elijah Aldana.

Elijah underlined how innovation is heavily funded by the government, with programs and grants providing an immense amount of funding to startups. These government investments in innovation align with corporate endeavors, often resulting in the acquisition of small startups by large enterprises.

“Corporates have diversified assets. Did you know that the leading energy company in Korea is also one of the top real estate holdings and telecom companies?” he added.

Ignite Sweden’s COO & Director of Partners and Engagement, Sara Hamlin, also observed that large corporations play a pivotal role in driving innovation in South Korea, and that startups in specific sectors enjoy prioritization across the nation.

“Koreans are fast and extremely efficient in their innovation work. When they find a good idea, it scales quickly. There is a great openness to try new things, to give feedback and influence innovations at an early stage,” she says.

Sara’s tip for future travelers is to make sure to have a business card on hand, as they are frequently used in professional interactions, while Elijah encourages everybody to try the delectable Korean cuisine — the best food in the world in his own words.

Sara Hamlin (Ignite) with part of the delegation

A Strong Startup Ecosystem

Charlotte Odbjer, CEO at Brewhouse Inkubator, was one of the Swedish incubator representatives that participated in the knowledge exchange program between Sweden and South Korea.

Charlotte’s insights include strong government financial support for startups and accelerators, the rapid scaling of promising ideas and the active involvement of large corporations in innovation with their dedicated incubators.

“They also have a culture of openness to test new ideas and shape innovations at an early stage,” she adds.

Charlotte Odbjer (Brewhouse Inkubator)

Minc’s Co-Lead Startup Offer, Dennis Åström, also shared his perspective on the South Korean ecosystem.

“The South Korean’s startup environment is highly enthusiastic about teaming up to access new markets, establish valuable partnerships, and attract global investments. Every startup we engaged with had a strong foundation in research. It’s remarkable to witness the depth of knowledge driving innovation here,” says Dennis.

He also points out that South Korea is in the process of shifting from copying ideas to coming up with brand-new ones. “It’s a challenge, but also a great opportunity,” he concludes.

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