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K-Startup Grand Challenge: A Gateway to Doing Business in Asia

K-Startup Grand Challenge: A Gateway to Doing Business in Asia

South Korea has come a long way from a country impacted by war in the 1950s to becoming an economic powerhouse today. The country’s focus on education, business, and innovation has led it to become the 11th largest economy and the fifth-largest exporter of goods and services globally. Brands such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and Kia are household names with far-reaching impact. Last July, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) upgraded Korea’s status to a developed economy in recognition of this extraordinary economic boom.  

South Korea is now at a critical stage of development. Having successfully navigated the fourth industrial revolution, scoring significant technological edge in manufacturing and industries. Where a few large companies have accelerated most of this growth to date, Korea is now in a position to push the limits of development and begin fostering disruptive innovation advancement through startups. The country strives to balance successful industrial giants and a thriving startup ecosystem.

To foster this balance, the Korean government has taken several crucial steps to make the nation a startup-friendly destination, like establishing the Tech Incubator Program for Startups, a state-led incubation program and establishing the Ministry of SMEs and Startups to systematically oversee various startup support schemes in 2017.


K-Startup Grand Challenge 

In April 2016, the  K-Startup Grand Challenge (KSGC) was established, supported by the National IT Industry Promotion Agency and is a leading program funded by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups. 

The program is the flagship accelerator program for international startups looking to enter the competitive Asian market. KSGC selects 60 promising startup teams from across the world every year and awards finalists an all-inclusive mentorship and networking opportunity in South Korea. The accelerator program culminates with top startups receiving financial incentives and greater access to the Korean business ecosystem. 


KSGC Growth from 2016 to Today

In its inception year KSGC received an overwhelming response. The program received applications from 2,439 startup teams from 124 countries and selected 40 startups to join the first 3-month acceleration program in South Korea.  

Technology and innovation start-ups took the lead that initial year and continue to get the edge over other startups. Startups focusing on Artificial Intelligence, Information security, Blockchain, Internet of Things, FinTech, Big Data, Robotics, and Gaming, continue to gain recognition in the program. At the end of the program 20 promising startups received government funding $33,000, with the top four awarded an additional $6,000, while the top recipient received $100,000.  

One of the winners of the first 2016 KSGC program was Fingertips lab, a company that developed the fingerprint reading mobile interface for O6. In subsequent years, the KSGC program has become increasingly popular, seeing an overwhelming 2,568 applications from 129 countries last year.  

Last year's top prize winner was a Turkish startup Khenda, an AI-based video analytics platform that helps manufacturing plants increase their efficiency at production lines by analyzing manual activities. 

“Manufacturing in Asia is huge. Among the other countries in Asia, South Korea is the best country because there’s no cultural barrier here...Korea is the best country to protect our intellectual property and is great at adapting new technologies earlier. And what we are doing really is new technology. So that’s why we start here,” said Aykan Ekici, Co-Founder of Khenda.

K-Startup Grand Challenge 2022 has started accepting applications for its 3.5-month-long all-expenses-paid program. The organizing committee and the Korean government expect it to be a grand post-pandemic program.

Source: The Korea Tech Desk (April 2022)

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