After Jung-hee Ryu successfully sold his company Olaworks to Intel, he wondered why talented engineers and inventors from Korea don’t start their own business rather than working for a big company. Meeting a number of engineers at Samsung and LG, as well as graduates of Korea’s top universities, he found a common problem they faced. “Although many had their own unique technology and ideas, and had even strongly considered doing their own business, the problem was that they don’t know how to build a company, then how to scale it until it goes to an IPO or gets acquired. Another barrier was the financial problem of supporting their family and providing for their children’s education.”
Ryu therefore decided to make a whole new platform for budding entrepreneurs. He told serial entrepreneurs that while the existing accelerators and co-working spaces focus on helping teams, “we will focus on the individual. We can help inventors or engineers start their business by offering an adequate salary and an office to work in. They will make awesome companies, even much more valuable than their Silicon Valley counterparts.” This gave heart to people with ideas for a startup. “Some of them quit their job to join the team and one friend invested in the company and become an advisor.” Using his experience as an engineer, Ryu established FuturePlay, an incubator providing specialized programs for hardware engineers.
In the IIR (Inventor in Residence) program, entrepreneurs can freely work on their products in an office equipped with state-of-art facilities and a 3D printer. Every idea and invention from FuturePlay is protected, as the incubator provides full legal and patent services. It gives entrepreneurs a maximum one year to build up a product, and meanwhile provides specialists to give hands-on support in product management, design, engineering (both software and hardware), business development, HR, and PR. At the end of the program, the entrepreneur will receive seed investment and a chance to apply for the TIPS (Tech Incubator Program for Startup) program.
Selected as one of the venture capitalists to operate TIPS, FuturePlay funds and accelerates early-stage technology startups. Encouraging startups to go outside of Korea, its portfolio companies have proven their tech-capacity in Silicon Valley: Podo is a ‘Stick-and-Shoot’ wireless camera which was incubated by hardware incubator Highway1, and last month launched its camera on Kickstarter, reaching their $50,000 goal in just 12 hours and exceeding it by 500% in 25 days. Bitfinder is a real-time air quality analyzer which took part in the R/GA Accelerator program powered by Techstars. TechNode has previously introduced Qeexo, a company which received investment from Silcon Valley VCs that has developed FingerSense, a patented technology that knows whether you are using your fingertip, knuckle, nail or stylus to touch the screen.
“We function as an incubator and venture capital, but our vision is to become a ‘venture builder’,” Ryu pointed out. Venture Builder is a term for an organization that build companies using their own ideas and resources. The company looks to pull business ideas from within their network, then assign the development process to an internal team of top-tier engineers.
“Korea is not so big, but Koreans can learn from Samsung and LG to be a global player,” Ryu said, adding that, “When planning for global expansion, service-centric companies must consider localization, while tech-centric companies can easily adapt their service. We only invest in tech-centric companies as we believe in the value of the technology.”
FuturePlay is looking to expand to similar countries such as Taiwan and Japan. Based on its strategic partnership with TechNode, they are reaching out to China as well.
Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)