Unicorns in South Korea reach a new record: Key takeaways

EICN’s Seoul network hosted Off to the races: Unicorns in South Korea, an event that examined the current business environment for start-ups in South Korea. We would like to thank our members and guest speakers for their time, energy and input throughout the event.

During the event, our Network Moderator, Jacco Zwetsloot had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Cheol Soo Ahn (Member of the 21st National Assembly at Republic of Korea) and Jong Yoon Kim (CEO at Yanolja Cloud) for an engaging discussion with our members.

For those who missed it, please enjoy a few pictures from the event along with some key takeaways.

  • With over 20 startups valued at $1bn and more, South Korea has surpassed larger economies in successful entrepreneurship. A combination of highly creative human talent and easy funding explains how Seoul has positioned itself as a unicorn hotbed in Asia.
  • Yet, with a population of 52 million (and a declining birth rate), South Korea offers a limited domestic market for sustained growth. Korean companies must have the ability to properly read the global consumption and demand trends – especially in the service sector – in order to redefine themselves as global players.
  • Korean politicians come mostly from a legal background, rather than a scientific or technological one. This often results in a more backward-looking and reactionary policy, rather than the risk-taking, forward-looking stance that can spur innovation and entrepreneurship. A greater presence of scientists or tech-savvy congressmen and women might be in the economy’s best interest.
  • A recession might not necessarily lead to the dreaded devaluation of startups. Even if some unicorns enjoy large market shares, but allegedly thin equities, it is the way that companies adapt to change that can separate the wheat from the chaff in the startup arena.

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