Entrepreneurs need the whole package
Seventeen Creative Economy and Innovation Centers are operating around the country, with the last in Incheon that opened July 22. They all have ambitious slogans, and the government, conglomerates and local governments have presented rosy blueprints to help small- and medium-sized businesses as well as start-ups. They pledged to support local start-ups and establish regionally specialized industrial bases by investing extensively.
People have high hopes for the centers, as conglomerates are investing tens to hundreds of billions. Jo Seong-wu, the 34-year-old CEO of food tech start-up Dumb and Dumber’s, said many startups fall while trying to secure funds, commercialize their technology or expand in the market, even when they have great ideas and products. He hopes that the centers incubate struggling start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Support for start-ups used to be concentrated on IT businesses, such as application and game developers, but they are expanding to Korean wave content (Seoul), smart farming (Sejong) and environmentally friendly vehicles (Gwangju). The centers also bring attention to non-capital regions. Kang Jeon-ho, a 51-year-old farming tomatoes with help from the Sejong Innovation Center, said he controls the temperature of his greenhouses and accesses CCTV feeds on his smartphone, allowing him to save on labor and produce more.
However, the longevity of the centers is unclear. Mr. Kim, in charge of innovation center preparation at a conglomerate, said the company was pushed to set up the center, and if the administration changes, companies would not be so active.
Many local governments have also created startup support agencies, and more centralized and organized efforts are needed. At a recent Federation of Korean Industries meeting with innovation center heads, they discussed how the centers should be differentiated from similar agencies with overlapping functions, such as the Business Incubation Center, Techno Park, Innovation Cluster and the Innopolis.
Aspiring entrepreneurs don’t just need innovation centers - they need the entire “start-up eco-system” to start and run businesses easily.
Chung-Ang University professor Kang Byung-oh said, “Just as start-ups return to Silicon Valley after repeated failures, the centers need to focus on the role of an “accelerator” to help failed entrepreneurs get back on track.”
Conglomerates participating in the centers should be given incentives and be aware that helping start-ups helps their own businesses. Hopefully, innovation centers don’t end up a short-lived trophy like the Four Rivers project or Green Growth.
The author is a business news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 24, Page 29
by BY KIM KI-HWAN