[TechCrunch Beijing] Panel: Korea startup ecosystem growing stronger, while Japanese startups struggle to find investors

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L-R: Jonathan Shieber (Moderator), Jimmy Rim (K Cube Ventures), Erin Chang (Between), Nobuaki Kitagawa (CyberAgent Ventures)

At TechCrunch Beijing this afternoon, Jimmy Rim from K Cube Ventures, Nobuaki Kitagawa of Cyberagent Ventures and Erin Chang from Between shared with us their insights on the Korea and Japan startup ecosystem.

The panel discussed differences in startup markets in Korea and Japan compared to other markets such as China and the US, and also addressed the issues that Asian startups face.

Erin Chang, who works at Business Development for Between, an app that allows couples to share pictures and messages more romantically among themselves, said that the startup ecosystem in Korea is improving, with a lot of support from the government who want to see Korean startups become globalized. The government does not chip in with just financial support, according to Chang. They also set up programs to help startups attend global events at a cheaper cost.

“Smart people and people who are interested in tech but have not had much opportunity to learn about it are now more interested in joining a startup,” said Chang. “When we first started three years ago, we had difficulty hiring engineers and people for Business Development but now this is not such a problem any more.”

While Cyberagent Ventures CEO Nobuaki Kitagawa agreed that South Korea is more active in government support and “very aggressive”, he expressed that in the Asian market, China is the best place for startups.

“Investors all over the world are coming in to invest in the Chinese market. But if you compare it to Japan, investors are dominated by the Japanese. Japanese investors are not so optimistic, it is harder for startups to raise money,” said Kitagawa, who later also stated that one of the biggest challenges for startups in Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia is the lack of investors, which makes it difficult for startups to accelerate their growth with foundation business and users.

Kitagawa also said that there are many opportunities for markets which focus on integrating services between the offline and the online, and that this is one of the characteristics he is looking for when deciding to invest in a startup.

Jimmy Rim, CEO of K Cube Ventures, stated that he would most want to put his money in a Korean startup compared to one from China or Japan when probed by moderator Jonathan Shieber.

“In Korea, more students from top universities and people from good companies are coming out to start their own business. We are nowhere near Silicon Valley, but we have plenty of exits nowadays, and bigger companies are also acquiring the startups, developing a healthy ecosystem,” said Rim.

Despite this, Rim also noted that Asian markets (such as China) tend to lack exits.

“Even if we try to push big companies to acquire smaller companies instead of just copying their product, it does not work,” he said. “The only way is to beat the bigger companies, make them regret not acquiring (the smaller companies).”