Program will fund foreigners’ start-ups

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Program will fund foreigners’ start-ups

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The Small and Medium Business Administration (SMBA) and the Ministry of Justice are urging foreign students studying at Korean universities and Koreans who studied overseas to create start-ups by providing funding and creating a new visa process for entrepreneurs.

On May 26, the SMBA in cooperation with the Justice Ministry launched its 2 billion won ($1.96 million) technology start-up support package, which will be distributed to about 40 tech start-ups made up of foreigners and Koreans who have studied overseas.

In a survey conducted last year, the SMBA asked 386 highly skilled foreign workers - including undergraduate and graduate students at Korean universities and researchers and engineers at Korean companies - if they would launch a tech start-up here. About 48 percent said they would consider establishing a tech start-up here, while 24 percent said they were not sure and 28 percent said no.

President Park Geun-hye placed start-ups at the core of her creative economy initiative, and many IT giants like Kakao and Viki, which began as small start-ups, are proving that Korea is an attractive place for small tech businesses. The SMBA’s new plan is aimed at keeping talented foreigners in Korea and drawing Koreans studying abroad back home.

By industry, manufacturing start-ups will be given up to 50 million won in a 10-month period to help them produce prototypes and pay staff salaries. IT start-ups will receive up to 35 million won in the same period. The amount that the company receives from the fund cannot cover more than 70 percent of its total business costs.

For its part, the Justice Ministry has agreed to make it easier for foreigners to obtain a D-8 start-up visa. Previously, the ministry required foreign citizens to have a bachelor’s degree from Korea or abroad, to have already established a business and to have ownership of intellectual property rights.

The new system still requires a bachelor’s degree and business ownership, but entrepreneurs do not need a registered patent. The system is now points based, and foreigners can enter the country on a new D-10 start-up visa and then build up points to receive a D-8 visa by enrolling in SMBA’s entrepreneurship training program called Overall Assistance for Startup Immigration System (Oasis).

Out of nine courses in the Oasis program, people on a D-10 visa can take the courses that most interest them, from founding a start-up to obtaining a patent. A D-8 entrepreneurship visa is granted when a participant accumulates at least 80 points out of a total of 340 required. To receive 80 points, applicants must attend 50 hours of entrepreneurship theory courses and 10 hours of one-on-one mentoring sessions. All courses are in English.

Patent courses provide basic information about local intellectual property rights, details on how to register a patent and covers half the cost. The courses also include practical mentoring and networking with venture capitals and former start-up immigrants.

Four start-up promotion organizations will provide training and consultation to start-ups.

The Korea Invention Promotion Association in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, and Seoul Business Agency’s program at the Seoul Global Center in Jongno District, central Seoul, will host the patent courses and registration process.

SMBA, the main state-run start-up promoter, will hold entrepreneurship courses at the Korea Techno-Venture Foundation located inside the Korea Institute of Science and Technology in Seongbuk District, northeastern Seoul, and at the Business Incubator Center at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology.

To qualify for SMBA funding and the visa, Koreans overseas should hold a permanent residency here, and foreigners should have a valid visa with more than six months left.

The program is also open to Korean citizens who hold a second passport. Previous recipients of financial support from the SMBA cannot participate.

Applications and business plans should be submitted online at www.changupnet.go.kr before June 27. The applications should be written in both English and Korean.

BY KIM JI-YOON [jiyoon.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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