SK Telecom establishes incubator for developing unicorns

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SK Telecom establishes incubator for developing unicorns


Two television screens are installed next to each other to compare video resolutions. The screen on the left displays regular video, while the other, with a higher resolution, is equipped with AI-driven SuperNova technology. [YONHAP]

SK Telecom has established a technology incubator program for its developers, hoping to turn their ideas into successful businesses that will thrive and become the basis for the leading companies of the future.

The company already has 20 ideas in mind and is ready to spin a few of them off this year.

Stargate, as the program is known, will help employees develop their Information & Communications Technology (ICT) ideas as affiliated start-ups, the company announced Thursday. The company is looking to develop so-called unicorns, new tech companies valued more than 1 trillion won ($879 million).

“Compared to other advanced countries with ICT developments, Korea does not have many unicorn start-ups leading the global tech market,” said Lee Jong-min, head of the Technology Innovation Group at SK Telecom.

Many ICT start-ups from Silicon Valley are major players in the global economy. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook all began as ideas and are now the largest companies in the world, Lee said. But only 7 Korean companies have become unicorn start-ups, he added.

The Korean mobile carrier is already evaluating 20 ICT ideas from employees for possible spin off. A number of them will be introduced to the market by next year.

Media Discovery, SK Telecom’s artificial intelligence (AI)-based media technology project, gives personalized video programing to users based on their preferences. The award-winning technology also allows users to select specific scenes in a movie by specific actions or actors.

The telecommunications company also mentioned its AI Vocal Remover, which uses machine learning to divide music files into vocals and accompaniment for users. The company already announced its partnership with SM Entertainment last year and is looking to use it to supply instrumental music for karaokes.

Optics, SK Telecom’s micro-laser optical display unit, is the size of a small die, but can display bright images the size of 100-inch screens. A soon-to-be-commercialized ICT idea, named SuperNova, uses AI to increase video resolution through machine learning.

“The ideas that we are showcasing today have already proven their innovative potential and marketability,” said Park Jin-hyo, chief technology officer of SK Telecom. “Our employees will always be encouraged to submit innovative ICT ideas and get the support needed to thrive in the ICT industry.”

When employees submit their ideas as projects, SK Telecom will first evaluate if they can be successfully commercialized. An idea must prove its competitiveness by being recognized globally, winning awards or being tested by consumers on SK Telecom products.

When an idea is deemed profitable, SK Telecom’s Hong Kong and New York offices conduct market research. The company will then determine how to launch the ideas as start-ups, providing necessary financial support and helping them attract investments.

SK Telecom will own some portion of the new ventures and the company will continue to provide necessary financial support and networking resources even after their start-ups are spun off, Lee said.

“We realize that our company’s resources are limited compared to those of bigger companies like Samsung,” Lee said. “But we will do our best to ensure our start-ups have all the support they need to stay competitive in the global market.”

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