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No more show time, please

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Incheon Center for Creative Economy and Innovation (CCEI), home to 15 start-ups, is on the sixth and seventh floors of the Jaemulpo Smart Town in Dohwa-dong, Incheon. On the eighth and ninth floors of the same building, you can find another start-up support organization, the incubation center of the Incheon Business Information Techno Park.

When I visited the Techno Park incubation center on Nov. 14, nearly half of the two floors were vacant. With so many offices empty, it almost felt desolate. There were offices with signs of the companies but no office fixtures. I managed to speak with some entrepreneurs doing business in Techno Park, and they were not so happy.

“The actual size of the office is 320 square feet, but they advertise it as usable space of 780 square feet and charge nearly 700,000 won ($595) per month.” “They say they are helping start-ups, but the program is so unorganized. Someone with no start-up experience came as a mentor and gave obvious tips as training.”

This is not how the Techno Park project started. It was established in 1998 and continued for nearly 20 years. But it was hit with a major blow when the Park Geun-hye administration set up the CCEI in 17 cities and provinces under the slogan, “Creative Economy” two years ago. Techno Parks in Incheon and other regions were stirred. The locations of the new innovation center coincided with the sites of Techno Parks. They both have a similar purpose, “supporting local start-ups and small and midsize enterprises.” From the beginning of the center, the project was criticized for being redundant.

A high-level official at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, which oversees Techno Park operation, said, “If you ask me how the innovation centers are different from Techno Parks, they are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning and are a core project of the current administration.”

As money goes to the innovation centers, the techno parks are being marginalized. There are more than 70 companies under Incheon Techno Park, but they received only 78 million won a year. “Last year, we got just over 80 million won, but this year, it is even less. We cannot provide much help, aside from offering meeting spaces.”

After sidelining techno parks with the full backing of the current administration, are the creative centers thriving now? Many of the 17 innovation centers have already lost traction. When asked whether the resident companies created many jobs, a staff at a local innovation center self-deridingly said, “The most number of jobs that innovation centers created are for the head of the centers and mentors.”

Most are likely to become devoid of substantial activities. The budget has already been drastically cut, and not many applied in the open recruitment for the center heads. I am afraid that by the time the innovation centers are forgotten like the techno parks, another window-dressing organization will replace them in the next administration.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 23, Page 30


*The author is an industrial news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

IM MI-JIN

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