For foreign entrepreneurs, a range of support

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For foreign entrepreneurs, a range of support

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Hannah Weitt, CEO of media start-up MoonROK, pitches her business during the K-Startup Grand Challenge final contest at the start-up campus in Pangyo, Gyeonggi. [MINISTRY OF SCIENCE, ICT AND FUTURE PLANNING]

Seoul’s high-speed internet connectivity and cosmopolitan environment have drawn many young entrepreneurs hoping to establish start-ups here, but for many foreigners, finding the financial support, business connections and visa help aren’t easy when searching alone.

Since 2013, the Korean government and private sector have been enhancing their support for foreigners starting businesses in Korea, mostly in the field of information technology.

One of the longest-running government programs available to foreigners is the Korea Institute of Startup & Entrepreneurship Development (Kised), a state-run agency established under the Small and Medium Business Administration in 2014.

According to Kised, a total of 48 foreign start-ups have received help from the institute’s annual program - 28 during the first year it was established and 18 last year. This year, when the institute started accepting applicants between July and last month, more than 50 companies applied.

The institute has selected 40 companies during the first cut this year and will be announcing the final list of participants in its support program later this month.

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The budget set for financial aid to start-ups amounts to roughly 2 billion won ($1.79 million) this year. Each company can receive a maximum of 50 million won to help them not only develop test products but also market them.

Kised also provides other support including guidance on visa applications, education programs in starting a business and mentors including those from the Korea Techno-Venture Foundation, another government-funded start-up incubator. Those selected to receive aid from Kised will also be given office space in the institute’s building in Gangnam District, southern Seoul.

“Many foreigners have shown interest in the program, especially those in their 20s and 30s, including Koreans who were born and raised overseas,” said Jung Tae-in, a Kised official in charge of the institute’s global department.

However, there are restrictions. The program is only available for foreigners with start-ups that have been established for less than a year.

Korean citizens who studied abroad are eligible for the program, but they must have a bachelor’s degree. Foreigners or Koreans who are born and raised overseas don’t have any restrictions on education background.

As a result of these restrictions, the number of applicants so far this year has shrunk compared to the previous two years.

It’s not just the central government offering resources for foreigners looking to start businesses here. This year, the Seoul city government opened up its own service to help entrepreneurs.

Last month, the Seoul Metropolitan Government opened up the Seoul Global Startup Center in Yongsan District. The center has a dual mission of helping Korean start-ups expand overseas and advising foreigners living in Seoul, including students and immigrants, on starting their own business.

According to the Seoul government, 252 teams consisting of 607 people from 52 different nationalities including from Canada, the United States and Southeast Asia have applied for 40 spots at the Seoul Global Startup Center’s program.

The start-ups that have applied include those specializing in cosmetics, childhood education and travel.

The 40 participants selected will receive 10 million won and an office space at the start-up center. Other services include legal and accounting consulting, one-on-one mentoring and visa application assistance.

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Start-up employees work at the Seoul Global Startup Center, an incubator run by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in Yongsan District, central Seoul. [SEOUL METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]

The center, which takes up three floors of Najin Electronic World in Yongsan District, has 40 meeting rooms and office spaces, a cafe and seminar rooms.

“Consultants and legal specialists will stay at least once a week to help the start-ups with different issues,” said Park Gwang-heo, head of the center.

The city government said that despite the program’s relatively short history, a growing number of foreign tech entrepreneurs have expressed interest.

“This is the first time the Seoul city government has run such a center, and I don’t think there were any run by other local governments,” said Kim Hyun-jung, a director at the center. “There are a lot of foreigners interested in the program.”

The private sector is also supporting foreigners building their own businesses in Korea, with Google being a particularly active advocate.

Seoul is the first and so far only Asian city where the U.S. tech giant has set up a start-up support center.

“We welcome all nationalities to bring in diverse talent,” said Jeffrey Lim, head of Campus Seoul, a start-up incubation center by Google “At the campus, we have companies like FiscalNote whose CEO, Tim Hwang, is a Korean-American.”

FiscalNote is a so-called civic tech start-up that uses artificial intelligence and big data to make government regulatory information accessible and searchable for users and companies. The Washington-based company allows users to predict policy outcomes based on their extensive range of data.

The Seoul office of FiscalNote opened last year at the campus.

Google said its campus is open to all foreigners and Koreans alike, and those who wish to get into its start-up program can apply on their website.



BY PARK EUN-JEE, KIM YOUNG-NAM [park.eunjee@joongang.co.kr]

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