In a country where the biggest companies are still king, Seouls burgeoning startup sector is finding its feet.
Out in the west of the South Korean capital, a nine-storey building dressed in bright colours with a giant red bull outside is home to more than 100 startups. From one-person operations running out of a locker and a laptop on the ground floor, to fully-fledged offices on the upper levels, Seouls startup hub has supported 1,282 operations in various stages of growth in the past two years.
It has all the bells and whistles you come to associate with startup hubs across the world shared dining and working spaces, a rest area with beanbags and egg-shaped couches, a fully decked-out kitchen for food-tech companies, a broadcast studio, a library, a slide between two floors and even a 7-Eleven for those powering through the night.
There were about 467 accelerators, venture capital funds and government organisations supporting startups in Seoul and its surrounding province in 2018, some backed by bigger companies such as Samsung and Naver. There are 85 accelerators in Seoul, and the amount of angel investment increased from about US$170m ($250m) in 2015 to US$250m in 2017.
Since 2015, the South Korean government has provided $4bn to startups, Forbes has reported, the biggest government backing of startups per capita in the world. In April, Seouls mayor, Park Won-soon, said the aim was to make Seoul a global top five startup city by 2022.
Korea is particularly attractive for startups because of its high-speed internet, the fast rollout of the 5G network and the high uptake of technology.
The push towards startups has been driven by slow growth from the traditional larger companies, according to Seoul Startup Hub co-founder Matt Kang.
We have lost the momentum from large companies startups have emerged as a new momentum for Korea, he said.
One startup that moved into the hub just over a month ago is Amuse Travel a social enterprise that provides tours for people living with disabilities to popular destinations around South Korea, as well as giving people living with disabilities the confidence to travel on their own. The company develops maps of tourist destinations based on data collected during the tours, highlighting the areas positive and negative aspects such as steep inclines, stairs and other barriers to access.
The companys founder, Seo-yeon Oh, said it had previously had difficulty raising enough investment, and needed more time to prove its viability of the company. He said Naver had expressed interest in the business.
Moving into the startup hub meant Oh and his staff were able to network with a variety of businesses at various stages of life.
The strength of this hub is there is a wide spectrum of startup companies here from fintech to senior citizens, and also startup companies which once experienced failure in the past, he said.
Koreans seem shy, so they seem to work alone or independently, but they also co-work and work together.
Josh Taylor visited Korea as part of the Walkley Foundation Australia-Korea exchange program, in partnership with the Korea Press Foundation.
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