Top 10 Startup Accelerators in South Korea

Top 10 Startup Accelerators in South Korea

The Korean startup scene has come a long way and startup accelerator programs have been a major part of creating hundreds of startups such as MEMEBOX, Viva Republica, Lezhin Comics, and Kakao.  These startup accelerators in South Korea are not just accelerators but also coworking spaces and mentorship for product-development and support.  Most have a large network outside of Korea to help Korean startups go global. There are new programs coming on in Korea every few months.

These days accelerator participation has become a kind of rite of passage for most Korean startups.  So it is important for Korean startups to know which program is most effective, but more importantly which program is the best fit.  So what are the top startup accelerators in South Korea?  Here are the top 10 Startup Accelerators in South Korea.

10)  Fast Track Asia

Fast Track Asia has a solid reputation when it comes to helping Korean startups expand outside of Korea.  The accelerator program has been around a while.  They were founded in 2012.  The countries that they target mainly are Japan and Southeast Asia.  They also have begun helping Korean startups expand into the United States.  However, their key strengths are in Japan and Southeast Asia.

Fast Track Asia is a Korean VC company that has both an incubator program along with an accelerator program for Korean startups and entrepreneurs.  They mainly focus on the internet industry and Korean startups that are looking to disrupt that space.

They are strong in marketing, PR, IT development, management, financing, and human resources.  At Fast Track Asia, they are all about creating an ecosystem where startups can mainly focus on the operational area by offering all that is required to run a facility.

9)  Startup NOMAD

The Korean government is not alone when it comes to helping Korean startups.  Big Korean companies are getting into the startup scene. Mobile messaging unicorn Kakao’s Kakao Investment has created an accelerator program for South Korean Startups that specialize in AI technologies and help them enter the global market.

Startup NOMAD Partnerships

They have partnered with Venture Square and the National IT Industry Promotion Agency to create the startup accelerator program Startup Nomad.  Applications are open until June 30th.

So far over 30 Korean startups have participated in the accelerator program.  Their targets are startups that are under 5 years old, AI-based, and looking to go global.

The accelerator program offers mentorship and legal consulting.  They also cover the cost of airfare and accommodations so Korean startups can travel to other accelerator programs around the world or startup events.  Best of all they will get mentorship from the AI team at Kakao.  If a Korean startups gain traction then Kakao would be a great potential partner moving forward.

8)  DEV Korea

DEV Korea Discovery is an accelerator program in Korea that connects Seoul to New York.  Their main focus is on Korean startups that create transformative digital and mobile products.  They help Korean startups go global through their platform that includes entrepreneurs with over 20+ years of experience going global.  They have a cross-border lawyer to make the transition easier for Korean startups.  This accelerator program is a one-stop solution for those looking to cross into the United States.  Their fund called the DEV Korea Discovery Fund invests in 20 startups a year.

Benefits of DEV Korea

The main benefits of DEV Korea are their legal consulting services which helps with venture formation and global entity structuring.  They also help Korean startups on their business models and marketing strategies for the US market.  Those Korean startups that show a lot of potential for growth will be able to access DEV Korea’s large network of investors in Korea and the U.S.  Lastly, DEV Korea has specialists that have experience with M&As, global exits, and IPOs for those Korean Startups looking to sell their company.

DEV Korea Accelerator Program

The 3-month program is all about global expansion.  The help Korean startups by bringing in guest speakers for business discussions.  They also have Demo Days in New York and Seoul.  These Demo Days are attended by over 70 investors, mentors, and angels.  After Korean startups finish the acceleration program, DEV Korea offers Alumni Nights and Angel Investor pitch sessions to help them get funding and expand their network.

7)  D2 Startup Factory

Naver has created one of the top startup accelerators in South Korea called D2 Startup Factory.  They mainly invest in Korean startups that deal with AI technology, machine learning, and IoT.  The program was launched in 2015.  Their accelerator program includes a workspace, mentorship, networking opportunities for partnerships and collaboration opportunities with Naver.

Startups that join the accelerator program at NAVER will have access to NAVER’s technology which will help in rapid growth.  D2 Startup Factory’s office space has three main parts.

  • The Offices – To help Korean startups to create ideas.
  • The Meeting Rooms – To help Korean startups develop their products and services.
  • The Lecture Hall – To help Korean startups showcase their results.

6)  Grants4Apps Korea

Bayer Korea said on Feb. 5th that they are now taking applications from Korean startups that specialize in digital healthcare/smart farms for their accelerator program called Grants4Apps Korea.  One of the few startup accelerators in South Korea that has focused on one sector.

Bayer Korea has partnered with the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) and is focused on helping health tech Korean startups develop their business and enter the market locally or internationally.  They have seen successful results after launching in 2017.

The accelerator program is open to all info-tech startups that specialize in digital healthcare, life sciences, animal health, medical big data processing, and agriculture.  Only three applicants are chosen per year (over 400 apply) and those chosen will get the opportunity to collaborate with Bayer.  The Korean startups will get office spaces at Bayer Korea in Seoul.

The program will be for 14 weeks where the Korea startups will have access to Bayer Korea’s support team but also KOTRA employees al.  Korean startups will get mentorship in regards to R&D, clinical trials, marketing, approval, and market entry strategies from Bayer Korea.  From KOTRA the startups will learn more about Korea’s regulations regarding health tech. This is great because healthcare startups need to work hand in hand with government regulations.

Grants4Apps Korea also offers a demo day event in July to present to investors and grow their network.

5)  Founder Institute

The Founder Institute came to Seoul last year!  They are known as a premier idea-stage accelerator and startup launch program.  The Silicon-Valley based accelerator program got over 300 tech startup applicants in 2017.  To promote the program they hosted a series of free startup events for the startup community in South Korea.  This is a great program for young Korean startup entrepreneurs that are serious about launching a startup.

Road to Silicon Valley

The Founder Institute is great at giving entrepreneurs a structured process to follow.  They offer feedback and reviews from experts in the tech field.  They have connects to some of the top entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.  Their expert mentor list goes on and on.  This will be very beneficial for Korea startups that are looking to go global.

What The Founder Institute values people over ideas.  They even accept founders with day jobs and shares equity with all participants.  Through this concept, they have been able to expand to over 60 countries.  The Founder Institute is great for funding raising, testing new and innovative startup ideas, building the right global team, and acquiring customers.

The Founder Institute’s mission is to “Globalize Silicon Valley” and build sustainable startup ecosystems that will create one million new jobs.  Hopefully, they stay around in Korea for many years to come.

4)  TIPS

TIPS Korea is an accelerator/investment-driven tech incubator program for Korean Startups.  It is one of the most popular startup accelerators in South Korea.  The program was created to nurture some of the top Korean startups that focus on innovative and groundbreaking technologies.  The program matches each startup with successful venture founders to help them go global.  They have a large network of angel investors and offers mentorship through professional support and matching Korean startups with R&D funds.  This includes up to 1 billion won per tech startup for up to 3 years.

How to Apply

Korean startups that wish to apply need to be tech related and have at least two people with a concrete technical R&D plan.  Once accepted they will sign an Investment Agreement in order to receive the R&D funds from the government.  The R&D Fund will be given by the Korean government.  Therefore, the Korean startup does not have to give up equity.  However, if the startup is successful they will have to pay back 10% of the R&D Fund in installments up to 3 years.  Furthermore, if the business fails they will not be liable for this payment.

Finally, the CEO of the Korean Startup must hold Korean citizenship.  However, there is no problem if the Korean citizen is a Co-CEO of the company.  Furthermore, the Korean co-founder must hold more than 60% of the company’s shares.

Angel Investment (100M KRW) + Business Incubation and Mentoring from Successful Angel Investors + R&D Funding (500M KRW) + Additional Financial Assistance (400M KRW; comprising in Startup Funding, 200M KRW in an Angel Matching Funds, 100M KRW in Overseas Marketing Assistance).

3)  Future Play

Future Play is a high-tech startup accelerator in South Korea that has been known to get the best entrepreneurs from Samsung that have new and innovative ideas in the tech space.  The accelerator program which focuses on early-stage startups was launched in 2014.  It was founded by entrepreneurs that want to help Korean startups go global.

Future Play’s Program

Future Play is a 4 month paid program.  In addition, since 2014 they have helped over 60 Korean tech startups get funding and mentorship.

Future Play has formed partnerships with LG Electronics and Amorepacific to bridge the gap between startups and big firms.  Therefore, this will reduce the risk of many of the Korean tech startups that join the accelerator program.

They also offer a 6-month intensive incubation program called TechUP.  In addition, Future Play focuses on entrepreneurs from some of the top schools in Korea like KAIST and Seoul National University.

Currently, they are focusing more on cryptocurrency and brain science.  Therefore, they have already started investing in early-stage startups related to those fields.

2)  Sparklabs Global Startup Accelerator

SparkLabs

This global accelerator was founded in 2012.  They already have the best team of mentors in Korea.  They invest in Korean Startups that want to expand to the U.S., Japan, and China.  Their main headquarters are located in Seoul but SparkLabs already has several overseas startups.  The industry they focus on the most is the internet, online gaming, mobile, digital media, and e-commerce sectors.  In addition, their Demo Days are some of the best in Asia due to their vast mentor network.  Which is why SparkLabs has one of the best startup accelerators in South Korea.

Global Startup Accelerator Program

Startup Accelerators in South Korea usually last about 3 months.  Startups that enter are in their seed to early stage and are looking to go global.  Sparklab invests up to $40,000 for a 6% equity stake in the startup.  However, this is negotiable per startup.

4 to 6 mentors will be matched with each Startup.  They get weekly sessions with these mentors through teaching sessions.  Also, Korean startups will have access to Sparklabs’s General Partners.  Furthermore, they will have office spaces at MARU180, cloud services, and legal advice.

Finally, there is the Demo Day where the Korean startups are highlighted and can present to potential investors and get feedback from SparkLab’s partners.  At Demo Day will have a large media presence and will attract influential figures from the industry.  SparkLabs is the first of the Startup Accelerators in South Korea to be a part of Global Accelerator Network (GAN).

1) K-Startup Challenge

Startup Accelerators in South Korea

Launched in 2013, K-Startup is one of the very first Startup Accelerators in South Korea.  Now it is considered the #1 startup accelerator and is in partnership with Google for Entrepreneurs, SK Planet, and the Banks Foundation.  They are also in partnership with AppCenter which is a non-profit organization which focuses on supporting developers as well as startups.  They hold events throughout the year to help support the Korean startup ecosystem.

K-Startup Grand Challenge Process

Anyone wishing to expand their startup in the Korean and Asian market can apply.  50 teams will be chosen through an application review and a global audition.  In addition, these 50 selected will be a part of the accelerating program where they will receive 3.5 million won for 4 months for living expenses.  In the program, they will be provided with expert mentoring and education on startup business and investments.  Here startups can exchange ideas and network. K-Startup Grand Challenge Help Desk helps foreigners settle into Korea, supports visas, helps with translations, as well as setting up a legal entity.

K-Startup Grand Challenge Program

The accelerator program is a 3- month acceleration program based in Gangnam.  They have a large collection of mentors thanks to the Google for Entrepreneurs network.  Also, they will get mentorship from the top leading Korean tech companies like Samsung, Hyundai, SK, KT, Naver, and LG.  Startups that qualify for the program all get seed funding and free coworking office spaces.  In addition, startups also get an invitation to pitch in Silicon Valley in form of some of the top VC firms.

The Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning organized The K-Startup Grand Challenge.  Furthermore, they also partnered up with SparkLabs and DEV Korea.  The Korean government has pledged $2 billion per year since 2013 for the Korean startup ecosystem as well as foreign startups.  Korea currently lacks diversity and the K-Startup Grand Challenge is their way of promoting more diversity in the Korean Startup scene.

Over 40 Startups Selected

Over 40 startups will be participating in the program which starts in September.  Then a Demo Day takes place in December where 25 startups get $27,000 in funding from the Korean government.  Furthermore, the top can get an additional $100,000.  Second place will get $40,000, third place will get $20,000, and fourth place will get $6,000.

A few years ago the Korean government set up Pangyo Global Startup Campus so Startups can have a place to work.  In addition, startups will also get $12,000 for living expenses.  Also, funding for round trips flights to Korea will also be provided.

The program particularly focuses on biotech, finance, software, gaming, and information technologies.

In 2017, 40 selected startups were able to secure over $5.5-million in local and international investments, while 70% of the startups set up an entity in Korea and 80% had a Korean member join their team during the programme.

John Yoon

John Yoon is the Editor in Chief at Startup Radar, Organizer for Startup Festival 2017, Head of Operations Korea at EOS Asia and the Global Marketing Director for Foresting.io. Email = john@startupradar.asia if you are interested in guest contributing and helping the Korean startup ecosystem. Wechat, Kakao, and Line user ID is jswy315

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