Start-up incubation programs and accelerators are exciting places for people with an entrepreneurial bent. Just by being there you feel the energy flow from people trying to make things better. In China we have featured Innovation Works and Chinaccelerator; and in Taiwan we have featured AppWorks. Since I was in Korea recently, I had to check out the incubator action in Seoul, so I dropped by SeoulSpace.
Set in the heart of Seoul’s Kangnam-gu district, Seoul Space is a leading start-up incubator that gives ambitious young start-ups a co-working space, help with seed investment and mentorship. Seoul Space is planning to create a structured curriculum program and process for their start-ups intake to follow.
The initiative was created by an impressive trio. David Lee, an early Director of Google and now co-founder of XG Ventures and also a limited partner of Y-Combinator. Richard Min, founded the first pay per click search engine in Korea. Chong-pil Yim, a founder of CP Entertainment, a Seoul-based Concert and Artist Licensing, Events and Promotions Company with representation experience ranging from Stevie Wonder to the Pussycat Dolls.
When I visited Seoul Space, I had the opportunity to talk to Richard and got to meet a few of the start-ups currently based there.
Born out the perfect storm
Richard describes the formation of Seoul Space as a “perfect storm of elements and people that came together.” When Google first entered Korea, David Lee was recruiting talent and discovered Richard after he created the first PPC company in Korea. After Google went IPO, David sold his shares and left to start XG Ventures. He kept in contact with Richard and after awhile they both felt Korea was lacking a real tech start-up community, so they started with a TechCrunch like blog. Later on they met Chong-pil who offered spare office space to create a co-working space in a very prime area of Seoul.
“People started coming in naturally, so we said let’s see what we can do for you. When more people started coming in we decided to get more serious. We started recruiting some people and others just wanted to be volunteers. It was also the perfect storm because smart-phones began to penetrate the market and iPhone allowing Korean developers to make money from apps rather than going to climb the corporate ladder.”
Once Seoul Space started getting some traction, even VCs wanted to fund their fund but they didn’t even have a fund yet. The founders also used their extensive network to generate buzz for organized events and act as a meeting pad for people in the industry such as Twitter and Facebook. They have also attracted interest from potential mentors, such as the CEO of RockYou, a successful gaming company. “At the end of the day, there aren’t too many that can globalize companies, have connections to Silicon Valley, report in English and know the local scene.” Richard also mentioned that although they are taking elements from Y-Combinator, they are adding Korean flair by integrating the famous Korean entertainment and nightlife scene for immersion marketing to make it distinctly Seoul Space.
Aim to exit in 3 years
Seoul Space is focused on incubating internet, mobile and gaming companies. They also see growth in the fusion of offline and online businesses so are looking into media and entertainment companies as well. For example, they have a fashion game built on Facebook that will gain from invaluable connections into Korea’s entertainment industry.
In finding strong start-ups they are looking for innovative ones that have great potential in Korea but can ultimately scale globally. “We are looking to take the top of the top that can have exits within 3 years. We want to cultivate Korean innovation and share it with the world.”
Success of Adby.me
One of the first start-ups to get incubated and successfully leave the nest of Seoul Space, was Adby.me. The company allows people copy write and publish ads that get distributed through social media such as Facebook and Twitter then make money based on how many unique visitors click on the ad. Copywriters get 20% while publishers get 80%. After only three months, the start-up got funded and has now moved to Silicon Valley.
Seoul Space is at the forefront of change
As I wrote about in my previous post about Korea’s start-up landscape, the next wave of Korean start-ups is building up and Seoul Space is at the forefront of it. Despite some of the cultural forces making entrepreneurship difficult in Korea, such as a heavily conglomerate driven society and the need for stability, Seoul Space is cultivating an attitude in young people to take risks and pursue their dreams. They are providing a supportive space for entrepreneurs to learn from each other as well as invaluable mentorship for start-ups to go global; ingredients that are vital for the uprising of the next generation of Korean start-ups.
Keep posted for my next piece about some of the current start-ups being incubated in Seoul Space!