Technopreneurship Adventures in Kimchi Land, Korea 2016

By Mandes Sim, SMU School of Information Systems

Prior to this Technopreneurship Study Mission (TSM) trip, my knowledge of South Korea was minimal at best. What I knew about South Korea and its start-up scene was that it was an up-and-coming market and was way more advanced than Singapore. As such, the purpose of this study mission was to learn from our South Korean counterparts on how we can position Singapore as THE innovation hub in Southeast Asia. Singapore, despite its minute size compared to all the giants in the world, is always looking for opportunities to stand out in the international arena. So, beyond just being a busy port, why not leverage on the immense opportunities available on the start-up and technology fronts?

South Korea, of course, has also made a huge name for itself in recent years with the K-pop and K-drama craze. Not only do I see the people around me riding this K-wave, I, too, constantly find myself unknowingly following these trends. This study mission came at an opportune time because I wanted to find out for myself what exactly was creating all this hype, as well as the factors contributing to its ever-expanding influence across the world.


Meeting with students at Seoul National University

Making new friends with students from Seoul National University


Prior to the actual trip, we conducted thorough research on the companies and presented our findings in class. It was a very fruitful knowledge-sharing session as it gave everyone greater insights into the companies’ missions, values and business models. However, our sharing was limited to what we could find on the Internet and, as a result, spurned a list of deeper questions (i.e. how the company came about, challenges and opportunities faced, etc.). We eagerly await the stories that would potentially unfold upon our visit. We were not disappointed.

All the preparation work that was done for this trip left a deep impression on me. Apart from our flight bookings which were handled by a travel agency, everything else—from the hotel arrangements to the day-to-day itinerary—had to be meticulously planned by us students. It wasn’t easy coordinating all the resources needed for an entire squad, but we pulled through eventually and are proud to say that the trip went very smoothly. Hurray!


Startup Alliance visit

One of the incubators in South Korea, Startup Alliance (by Naver)


During the trip, we visited a total of 14 companies consisting of a mix of start-ups and incubators. Each of these companies had their own stories to tell and it was an honour to be privy to these insightful experiences which were sometimes pleasant, and at other times, heart wrenching. While the definition of ‘success’ varies for each company, one thing they all had in common is a desire to “be better than they were before”. That was what spoke out to me the most.

The Q&A segments were always the most highly anticipated part of each of our visits, and needless to say we fully utilised these golden opportunities. We did not leave any of our burning questions unanswered. I wonder if we might have scared some of the founders with our overly enthusiastic and overwhelming onslaught of questions. Nevertheless, we ended each visit on a high!

However, learning and sharing of knowledge is a two-way street. So, sure enough, we also made it a point to share some of our insights about Singapore’s start-up environment with our South Korean friends. It was amazing to us how deeply interested they were to learn about Singapore. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride sharing about this little red dot that we call home!


Kai Xuan sharing about Finotek

Kai Xuan who shared about Singapore’s start-up environment to the staffs of Finotek.


With bigwig tech giants like Samsung and Hyundai originating from South Korea, it is safe to say that South Korea is definitely not lacking in technological advancements. And they are always on the lookout for new ways to use technology to improve quality of life. The companies we visited during the study mission were no exception. They are constantly seeking to enhance their technology, as well as to expand their footprint within the country and, for some, around the globe. Listening to them talk so passionately about their companies really inspired and motivated me. Someday, I am going to live out my passion too!


Memebox Office

Our trip to Memebox Office


Before I end off, I would like to share a quote from Dino, CEO of Memebox, during our visit to their office: “Just do it because this is the safest plan you have now”. Indeed, exploring and innovating right now is our best bet to leaving a big and positive impact on this world. It’s no secret that the city we live in is a highly pragmatic one. What we just need is that little bit of courage and a whole lot of passion to live out our dreams. Our South Korean friends are already doing it, and they are doing it well. What’s stopping us from creating our own possibilities too?


Check out the video highlights from our TSM South Korea 2016 trip!