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Korean Government Is Supporting Startups



Founding and establishing a successful business in your home nation is an exceptional achievement. Taking your business global, securing partners, hiring a local team and navigating unfamiliar legislation is even more challenging.

Hedging ambitious bets on global success, an army of Korean startup founders forged overseas business expansion missions in 2015, betting big on overseas opportunity. While the odds were against them (around 90% of startups fail in the first two years alone) Korea’s relatively small domestic population of 53 million means that for many local startups global expansion is the only option to achieve massive scale.

In 2015 many of Korea’s global focused startups had an ace up their sleeve. The country’s Institute for Startup and Entrepreneurship Development (KISED), an organization funded by Korea’s Small and Medium Business Administration, selected and supported fifty startups for three months of total immersion overseas. Partnering with 12 accelerators across the globe, KISED’s program aimed at providing financial and practical support, as well as local connections overseas.

Several in this group are now putting down roots in their respective locations or have established overseas partnerships. For some KISED has even provided additional financial support to cover expenses like overseas incorporation and establishment of local operations.

While support that ultimately plants some of the most promising young companies overseas may seem counter intuitive for the Korean economy, the hope is that these ambassadors will increase the global network value for Korean entrepreneurs. As success often comes down to who you know, KISED’s strategy looks likely to pay dividends.

The initiative also addresses another problem. The pool of experienced entrepreneurs locally who have the skills and knowledge to coach their compatriots to overseas success is small. While there have been several examples of recent startup success in the local market, like Coupang, Baedal Minjeok, Memebox and KakaoTalk, international startup success cases are hard to find.

By supporting Korean founders to expand overseas, KISED is helping to build a pool of Korean founders with international experience that future generations of Korean startups will have access to.

Here we take a look at some of the KISED supported startups from 2015 that have made headway overseas. For reference purposes each startup is linked both to their official website and a short company explainer.

Singapore is a natural springboard for Korean startups entering fresh markets in Southeast Asia and Adval were the local KISED partner supporting them. Three startups from the group made headway during overseas acceleration in this location.

Stripes has built an online platform for men to order custom made suits and shirts. The company immediately hit a chord with investors, raising around USD $1 million in 2014. Sustained, robust growth and successfully establishing a base in Singapore during the KISED sponsored program helped Stripes attract a further USD $4.3 million in November 2015.

NOD BizWare Inc. designs software applications to be used for formal content storage and collaboration in business organizations. ‘NOD CoCo’ is their flagship service, a cloud-based secure content collaboration product integrated with three main functions required for data collaboration including secure chat, storage, and member contacts. By the end of the program in Singapore the company had secured around USD $1 million in funding and launched the service globally on Google Play.

Makestar is a rewards based crowdfunding platform for the entertainment industry. They help up-and-coming celebrities raise money for projects, such as concerts and new album launches. During the program in Singapore they secured initial funding and opened discussions with a number of large corporate groups for further capital injections and expansion into the Southeast Asia region. One of their standout success cases saw a project raise its goal of USD $500 thousand in just three hours in December 2015.

Y Accelerator is an acceleration program from Sheffield, England that was designed specifically for KISED in 2015. Established by Dabriel Choi a Korean entrepreneur who saw an opportunity to support Korean startups with market entry to the UK and Europe Y Accelerator aims to connect the manufacturing heartland of the UK with Korean hardware startups. Three startups involved in the program established local legal entities in the UK and are working towards full UK operations in early 2016.

Ultimate Drone has developed a next generation drone called ‘UD – 10X’. A major leap forward in drone technology, the UD-10X is a revolutionary high-powered, multi-rotor commercial drone. It boasts superior payload capacity compared to others on the market. It also features increased stability and endurance and according to Choi from Y Accelerator is able to outperform existing options by a factor of three.

Perfect for the wet British climate, CLEF Innovation (reference document) has designed an innovative umbrella with multi-functional detachable handle and interchangeable covers. Features include a handle that can be used as a portable charger for USB devices, a torch and mood light and a temperature controlled handle for cold weather. Since the umbrella is designed in a modular structure these features can also easily be detached for use as standalone items. Further customizations like adding speakers, radio, attack alarm, etc., are probably next steps.

Netalkers is a business networking platform that connects professionals and facilitates immersive workshops in a secure environment. While other social networks like Facebook enable the creation of user groups, they are not optimized for a business environment.

The Entrepreneurs’ Round Table was KISED’s partner in New York City. One startup from the program incorporated in the US during the program with two others likely to follow suit in early 2016.

Huinno has designed a vital signs measurement system called ‘Memo’ that uses a machine-learning based algorithm based on versatile and proprietary biometric sensors to measure standard non-invasive vital signals. After realising the opportunity for their technology in the USA they have incorporated there and are in the process of building out local operations.

Anyractive and Ediket also saw promise in the US market after their three month stint in New York. Both companies aim to establish US operations in 2016.

Anyreactive has developed a business and educational service that uses Augmented Reality to enhance interaction and communication for presentations, business collaboration and education. Think ‘internet of things,’ whiteboard on steroids.

Like many startups from non-English speaking countries, Ediket is tackling shortcomings in the English proofreading industry and has developed a high quality proofreading service at one-third the industry standard price with faster than normal response times.

Back in Asia, Global Startup Network, who run startup acceleration programs in both India & Vietnam, hosted a number of startups from the KISED program.

Telestar  has developed a state-of-the-art, user oriented IPCC solution for call centers. leveraging over a decade of experience operating call centers, Telestar’s solution can be customised to suit any client’s dynamic marketing environment. As an all-in-one service it has been designed to keep initial capital expenditure and maintenance costs low without compromising on quality. Having spent three months in the heartland of call centres, Bangalore India, Telestar formed a [confidential] partnership with a local corporation and is exploring other business interests in Chennai.

Kostevia (reference document) has pioneered imports of the non-caloric sweetener, stevia, into the Korean market to provide diabetics with a natural and safe alternative sweetener. Stevia is native to South America and KoStevia’s CEO Joo-Hyung Lee was inspired to found the company when he came across the product in Singapore. During their acceleration program in Vietnam KoStevai established a legal entity and secured initial purchase orders (POs) from a number of local companies.

Earing  realised that there is an unavoidable 20 second lead time when selecting and starting to listen to files, like music, on the go. Capitalising on this, they have developed a mobile marketing solution that delivers audio messages and push notifications to smartphone users. Their SDK allows clients to plug Earing into their native apps and generate audio advertisements for users who access them.

During their overseas program in Shanghai they signed a partnership with Dragonfly FM, one of the biggest radio stations in China.

Creative Bomb developed Boto, a learning app for children. Boto aims to boost toddler’s cognitive ability, promote creativity, all while having fun. It is themed on the adventures of the cute pink dolphin, BOTO and various marine creatures.

While ‘edutainment’ for kids is a crowded space in China Creative Bomb worked tirelessly to fine-tune their biz model for the Chinese market and conducted promotional activities to gain exposure. Thanks to a road show in China and regular appearances at local events Creative Bomb secured extensive coverage in newspapers and live broadcasts.

This article was written by Nathan Millard of G3 Partners. see more.

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef



Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang



Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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