Entering the market in South Korea

Why expand to the South Korea?
In the heart of East Asia, one of the fastest-growing developed countries, South Korea boasts a vibrant society that cultivates numerous clusters of innovative companies. Protagonist of the fastest development witnessed in history, South Korea highly invested in research and scientists education, which contributed to transform the Country in one of the world’s innovation hubs.

Enthusiastic for Swiss quality, technology proud and friendly, with high expertise in manufacturing, the country of Morning Calm represents the perfect partner for bilateral R&D cooperation and ideal destination for Swiss startups’ expansion to East Asia

What can I expect? (from a start-up perspective)
South Korea’s history and rapid development reveal its dynamic and business oriented culture. Faced with innovative solutions, South Korean companies and organizations are open to take risk. Additionally, Government support marks the highest government backing per capita , investing about 3 billion USD over the next 3 years, part of which is also available for foreign startups. In addition to funding opportunities, a Swiss startup coming to Korea can find a market of more than 50 million early tech adopters and on the wave of new trends for B2C sales, expect quick feedback, expert R&D partners and high quality manufacturing. HQ of famous chaebols like Samsung, LG and Hyundai, the country offers B2B opportunities and thanks to its position South Korea is the perfect location for a distribution hub in East Asia.

What is the state of innovation?
Global Competitiveness Index 4.0 by World Economic Forum has ranked South Korea the 1st in ICT adoption with the most optic fiber connections per capita. The first country to commercially launch a 5G network, South Korea has the highest 4G availability in the world. The strong penetration of ICT has been transforming traditional services and sectors in highly innovative ones. Technology for education is booming in Korea not only for youth education, but also for the professional. Korea has an incredible gaming/VR/AR infrastructure, culture and high penetration. According to 2020 game user market, mobile games market is one of the fastest-growing in the world. Government policy encourages deep tech industry and digital health development, so that South Korea provides excellent testbed infrastructure for new innovative products and services onto a homogeneous patient’s pool. Foreign companies are welcome to enter the smart hospital cluster and collaborate on the use of 5G network, AI, AR and robotics. Other focus areas are beauty-tech, nutrition and sustainability.

Is it easy to find qualified co-workers?
South Korea’s education system is highly competitive. An extremely tough selection process gives access to the best higher education institutions, which is instrumental for future career developments. The recruitment of top class workers is possible and highly suitable for Swiss start-ups aiming to establish a Korean branch of their company. In particular, engineers, scientists, ICT experts, medical doctors and manufacturers are the most sought after and, for this reason, competition to hire is strong. However, South Koreans are eager to work for foreign companies – especially western ones - and to experience international business cultures. Top 3 features of South Korean co-workers are trust, endurance to work and availability.

What is the good thing about South Korea?
Branding: K-wave, especially in some sectors, is synonymous of quality. Products coming from Korea easily penetrate Asian and Middle East markets, which makes Korea a perfect hub for further expansion. Openness and curiosity for international products and opportunities characterize South Koreans who are quick learners/adopters of new trends and technology proud (high digital literacy, 95% of the population). In one of the safest countries in the world, it is possible to recruit highly skilled and trustful collaborators and have access to expertise in manufacturing. Last but not least, a well-established business and investment oriented culture paves the way to funding opportunities, frank and quick feedback and cooperation.

What opportunities does Seoul offer?
Seoul, the Capital of South Korea, is home of nearly 30,000 startups. Geographical concentration of opportunities plays an important role in the first phases of networking and later for follow-ups, making the process very efficient and facilitating connections with relevant key decision makers and organizations.

…and what are the challenges?
Business culture in Asia and in Europe are different. It might be therefore challenging to establish a dialogue with Korean counterparts without taking this point into account. Language barriers might also be initially discouraging when experiencing a new context. Geographical distance might make the connections slower and require constant attention to follow-ups.

What does the Innosuisse Market Entry Camp SK bring to the table?
Network: looking for the right connections and partners in Korea might result in a time consuming process without any assurance of success due to the challenges mentioned above. The camp aims to overcome them in a fully customized way. Additionally, in the Asian hierarchical society, introduction provided by government organizations - like Embassies - are highly welcomed.
Trial/validation: Asian markets are different from European ones in terms of doing business and regulations to enter the market. Feedback from experts/users on the specific technologies help to adjust the product to the new market needs and open opportunities for R&D partnerships and test phases
Market Entry: Teamed with mentors and stakeholders, participating start-ups will have opportunities to validate and optimize their business strategy to, ultimately, accelerate their market entry. Mentors include, but are not limited to, government staff, IP professionals, accelerators and investors. With them, startups can develop a strategy to cooperate with the other companies and/or a plan to expand to the Asian market through South Korea.
Follow-ups: STO Seoul and its active partners in the existing initiatives assure continuous follow-up. Our team yearly promotes funding opportunities for joint Swiss-Korean innovative projects financially supported by Innosuisse and its counterpart KIAT. The camp will help to follow-up with the right partners.  

Last modification 27.08.2021

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