The Born2Global Centre released an article that highlights the Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT)'s effort to support technology startups, included in the Korean Digital New Deal. As part of the Korean government MSIT, Born2Global Centre has played a crucial role by connecting Korean startups with various opportunities worldwide.

 

Since 2020, the Ministry of Science and ICT has actively implemented the Korean Digital New Deal as a means of overcoming the economic hardships caused by COVID-19.

 

The initiative focuses mainly on nurturing cutting-edge technologies, like artificial intelligence (AI) and big data, as future growth engines. The initiative's core objective is to ramp up the nation's digital capabilities that the government believes will accelerate digital transformation across many sectors.

 

Digital transformation now becomes a necessity as the pandemic has transformed the way people shop, work, learn, and socialize. By implementing the Digital New Deal, the country aims to advance key technologies that are required to meet growing demand in almost all economic sectors.

 

Among others, the ministry builds the so-called "Data Dam" to collect and integrate fragmented public data, especially from healthcare and education sectors that closely impact people's lives. By building an integrated data platform, the ministry intends to collect useful data which will be utilized to develop AI technology for education and healthcare.

 

The ministry also pursues an aggressive investment strategy in fostering startups armed with innovative ideas and technology. A select group of promising startups are offered government aid in enhancing their research and development (R&D) capabilities and bringing the resulting products and services to a broader market, both at home and abroad.

 

SoftBank Funds Korean Technology

 

Overseas investors are taking notice of the Korean startups' technological prowess and potential, too.

 

Global investors have set their eyes on key promising tech firms including Riiid, Lunit, Toss Lab, 4DREPLAY, Class101, and Infomark.

 

SoftBank Group, which has been aggressively investing in startups, recognized their promising technologies, including AI-based learning, cancer diagnostic solutions and realistic 4-dimensional (4D) image technology. Last May, Riiid, a leading AI education solutions startup, successfully secured a whopping USD 175 million investment from Vision Fund 2.

 

Coupled with the SoftBank investment, the ministry's Digital New Deal support is expected to help these startups further extend their potential for growth on both domestic and global stages.

 

As part of the Digital New Deal, the ministry has engaged these startups in the initiative's key projects to transform them into the nation's future driving forces of economy. These projects include the AI-based precision diagnosis platform "Dr. Answer" and content powered by virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

 

Korea's Future Tech Leaders

 

Among the promising startups, the AI-based education tech startup Riiid develops AI technology that analyzes student data and then provides an optimum learning program tailored to each student's level on both mobile apps and web-based platforms.

 

Riiid is also one of the startups of the ministry's "LAC-Korea Deep Tech Exchange Program." In September of last year, the Born2Global Centre, a part of the ministry, launched the program in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Lab. The program aims to foster innovative startups within Latin America and connect them with Korean startups. Under the program, Riiid currently partners with Mexico's online English learning platform "Maestrik" to develop a joint AI-based English learning mobile app.

 

Lunit, Toss Lab, and 4DREPLAY have also received investment from SoftBank as well as other global investors.

 

Lunit specializes in AI-based medical devices for cancer diagnosis and treatment. By comparing and analyzing chest X-rays of cancer and non-cancer patients, the AI solution detects high-risk, abnormal tissues with high accuracy. The company is currently working on the development of a new AI software that can predict a cancer patient's response to immunotherapy and even suggest a better treatment based on cancer tissue analysis.

 

Toss Lab is a creator of the enterprise collaboration platform "JANDI" which streamlines workflow among employees through features such as messaging, real-time file sharing and virtual conferencing. The technology now serves more than 2 million people worldwide.

 

Lastly, the 4DREPLAY offers a real-time, multi-view video streaming service "4DLive". The immersive media technology allows users to freely view videos of sports, movies, and TV shows, from every angle they choose. The firm currently supplies its 4DLive solution to SoftBank's 5G mobile communication services.

 

The ministry said that "Through the Digital New Deal initiative, our promising startups, which capture global attention, will see their technology and competence in the global market grow significantly. We will spare no effort to support them so they can grow into an 'international unicorn company.'"

 

For more detailed information on Korean Digital New Deal, visit https://digital.go.kr/front/main/eng.do.



 

The Next Billion-Dollar South Korean Startups

 

There has been a relative lack of emerging “unicorns” among Korean startups, but according to CB Insights, more than nine Korean startups have recently reached the rank of unicorn. (A unicorn is a privately owned startup company valued at over USD 1 billion.) Coupang, Krafton, Yellow Mobile, Woowa Brothers, L&P Cosmetics, WeMakePrice, Viva Republica, yanolja, and GP Club have all been named unicorns, and seven of these companies achieved their unicorn rank very recently. As evidenced by this increase in unicorns, the Korean startup ecosystem is continuing to grow and mature. Korea is in 5th place together with Germany in the global unicorn ranking. The United States tops the chart with 178 unicorns, followed by China (91), the United Kingdom (19), and India (16).

 

Korea’s successful rise in the unicorn rankings can be seen as the result of the mobile revolution and venture boom in Korea that started in the late 2000s. Currently, the startup ecosystem in Korea is flourishing as investors are raising a lot of new money to find the next unicorn, and there are more opportunities than ever before. As the number of new venture investments and newly established corporations continues to rise, a second venture boom is becoming more visible.

 

According to the Korea Startup Index 2018, published by Born2Global Centre, the investment of venture capital in Korea is showing steady growth. The amount of new venture capital investment in Korea has been increasing since 2012. New venture investments increased 15.2% from January to May this year, reaching a record high of USD 1.259 billion (KRW 1.4894 trillion).

 

Jongkap Kim, Chief Executive Director of the Born2Global Centre, said, "The active launch of Korean startup businesses has heightened our hopes for the birth of the next unicorn. There are a number of promising companies now on the scene. One such company is SendBird, which started its business in Silicon Valley and gained fame and secured investments directly from local and overseas markets. In this and similar ways, Korean startups are producing astonishing results in foreign countries. We have seen hundreds of these success cases in the past five years. We look forward to the day when Korean companies will go beyond the level of unicorn and pursue different challenges to achieve the rank of decacorn.”

 

The Born2Global Centre has searched far and wide to find the nation’s next unicorns, and it lists the following companies as the most promising unicorns in Korea.

Here are 10 South Korean startups that are quickly galloping toward the coveted unicorn rank.

 

Founders

: Sean Sunbeom Gwon (CEO), Seungjae Lee

Estimated Total Funding

: USD 10 million (KRW 11.8 billion)

Last Funding Type

: Series A

Lead Investors

: Coolidge Corner Investment, Industrial Bank of Korea, Korea Software Financial Cooperative, Hanwha Investment & Securities, Pathfinder H, MORU Asset Management, E&F

Ecube Labs (www.ecubelabs.com) is a startup that specializes in environmentally-friendly garbage collection and management. The company independently developed the Clean CUBE, a garbage container that uses solar power to compress waste, and CCN (Clean City Networks), a service that monitors garbage collection and processing as well as the amount of garbage collected. By using solar energy to compress garbage, Clean CUBE can hold more than eight times the amount garbage that can be stored by conventional containers of the same size. CCN measures the amount of garbage inside a Clean CUBE to help establish an effective collection route. Ecube Labs has already successfully expanded overseas. Thanks to the positive responses it received in the U.S., Belgium, and Australia, it is rapidly gaining dominance in the global waste market. In 2018, the company signed a Smart City Contract worth USD 15 million (KRW 17 billion) with the city of Baltimore. The company plans to install at least 5,000 more Clean CUBEs within the next three years.

 

Founders

: Dongmin Kim (CEO), Wontae Kim (CEO)

Estimated Total Funding

: USD 31 million (KRW 37 billion)

Last Funding Type

: Pre-IPO

Lead Investors

 

: KB Investment, KTB Network, Find Value Asset Management, SL investment, Medici Investment, BNH INVESTMENT, INTERVEST

 

JLK Inspection (www.jlk-inspection.com) provides medical solutions through AI-based technology. JLK Inspection’s technology assists medical practitioners with detecting and monitoring more than 30 medical conditions. This includes: Alzheimer's, strokes, prostate cancer, lung cancer thyroids cancer, breast cancer and joint disease. JLK's AI-enabled image analysis technology can cover MRI, CT, X-ray and even mammography. JLK received certification approval from the Korean FDA as a class III device, obtained European CE certification from European Medical Device Directive (MDD). JLK Inspection had received an accumulated total of USD 31 million (KRW 37 billion) in investments from VCs such as KB Investment, KTB Network, and Find Value Asset Management. The company is now preparing for its expected listing as a “Technology-Based Special Listed Company,” a newly-added KOSDAQ category.

 

Founders

: Jaehyeok Kim (CEO)

Estimated Total Funding

: USD 5.8 million (KRW 6.8 billion)

Last Funding Type

: Series A

Lead Investors

 

: KB Investment, Kakao Ventures, NAVER Corporation, Korea Asset Investment Securities, Platinum Technology Investment, DSC Investment

 

LetinAR (www.letinar.com) develops and provides optic solutions for lenses that are used in AR glasses. With its independently-developed Pin MR technology, LetinAR overcomes the technological limitations of existing AR glasses (related to focal point, breath of vision, etc.) and aspires toward the commercialization of AR glasses. LetinAR’s Pin MR lens is based on technology that applies the principles of pinpoint vision to micro-mirrors. The technology enables the sharp focus of vision and the color expression of AR objects, regardless of environment, and can be directly applied to the small and lightweight platform that is embodied by AR glasses. To date, LetinAR has received a total of USD 5.8 million (KRW 6.8 billion) in investments from companies such as KB Investment, Kakao Ventures, NAVER Corporation, Korea Asset Investment Securities, DSC Investment, and Platinum Technology Investment.

 

Founders

: Beonseok Brandon Suh (CEO), Anthony Paek, Donggeun Yoo, Jungin Lee, Kyunghyun Paeng, Minhong Jang, Sunggyun Park

Estimated Total Funding

: USD 17 million (KRW 21 billion) 

Last Funding Type

: Series B

Lead Investors

: SoftBank Venture, Intervest, Kakao Ventures, Mirae Asset Venture Investment, KT investment, Formation 8, Legend Capital

 

The AI healthcare startup, Lunit (www.lunit.io), is known for its development of “Lunit Insight,” a medical device that utilizes video data and deep learning technology to identify cancerous lung tumors. Lunit Insight uses AI-based, real-time medical video analysis software and chest X-ray technology to make real-time diagnoses of pulmonary disorders. The device is currently being used by Seoul National University Hospital to diagnose/interpret videos of patients’ symptoms. In 2018, Lunit completed its Series B round of investments, attracting a total of USD 17 million (KRW 21 billion) in investments from SoftBank Ventures, Intervest, Kakao Ventures, Mirae Asset Venture Investment, KT investment, Formation 8, and Legend Capital. Lunit is currently preparing to be listed on the KOSDAQ next year in 2020.

 

Founder

: TaeJoon Yoo (CEO)

Estimated Total Funding

: USD 22.3 million (KRW 26.3 billion)

Last Funding Type

: Pre-IPO

Lead Investors

: LB Investment, BSK Investment, IBK-NH Small-Giant PEF, Q CAPITAL PARTNERS, Hana Financial Investment, Industrial Bank of Korea, BNK Capital, ETRI Holdings

 

MindsLab (www.mindslab.ai) is a startup that specializes in AI technology, which is characterized by an array of integrated functions associated with language, vision, and the ability to think. MindsLab’s major business areas include its AI hybrid customer center, AI-based smart factory/city, AI English education, AI robotics, and AI consulting services. The company recently secured a Series C investment of USD 15 million (KRW 17.3 billion), resulting in a cumulative total of USD 22.3 million (KRW 26.3 billion) in investments. Some of its main investors include LB Investment, BSK Investment, IBK-NH Small Giant Private Equity Fund, Q CAPITAL PARTNERS, Hana Financial Investment, Industrial Bank of Korea, BNK Capital, and ETRI Holdings. MindsLab plans to use these investments to strengthen its R&D, maximize the potential of existing projects (AI Hybrid Contact Center, etc.), and expand into foreign markets. The company is also the only international member of Amii (Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute), one of the top three AI research institutions in Canada, a country that is renowned for the strength of its IT industry. MindsLab was included on a list of 10 breakout Korean startups that was published by Forbes Asia in 2017.

 

Founders

: Ethan JaeSeok Lee (CEO), Jinwook Nujabes Baek, JinWook Baek, Sure Bak, Woosup Shin

Estimated Total Funding

: USD 22.3 million (KRW 24.9 billion)

Last Funding Type

: Series C 

Lead Investors

: KTB Network, Stonebridge, Yellowdog, SoftBank Ventures, Samsung Venture Investment Corporation, Formation 8, Golden Gate Ventures, Bokwang Investment

Founded in 2011, MyMusicTaste (www.mymusictaste.com) is a startup for the planning and conducting of K-pop performances overseas. Its most noticeable strength is that it uses big data to predict concertgoer demand (i.e. whether enough people in a certain region/country wish to see a certain concert/performance). K-pop stars who have given global concerts through MyMusicTaste include BTS, Exo, Apink and GFriend. Last year, the company recorded USD 11 million (KRW 13.1 billion) in sales (37.9 percent higher than in 2017). Thus far, MyMusicTaste has received a combined total investment of USD 22.3 million (KRW 24.9 billion) from companies such as KTB Network, Stonebridge, Yellowdog, SoftBank Ventures, Samsung Venture Investment Corporation, Formation 8, Golden Gate Ventures, and Bokwang Investment. Its overall value is believed to have more than doubled since the completion of its Series C funding in 2017. The company is now preparing to be listed on the KOSDAQ next year.

Founder

: Jeong Gyoun Han (CEO)

Estimated Total Funding

: USD 34 million (KRW 40 billion) 

Last Funding Type

: Series B

Lead Investors

: SK Telecom, LB Investment, Capstone Partners, Korea Development Bank, AJU IB INVESTMENT

 

Since its founding in 2013, 12CM (One-two-cee-em, www.12cm.co.kr) has created subsidiaries and joint ventures in seven countries, including Japan, the US and China. It has attracted over USD 34 million (KRW 40 billion) in investments and is rapidly growing as a leading O2O/fintech company with a business model that combines cloud-based software, smart stamp hardware and authentication services. echoss stamp is a format that involves stamping directly on the mobile phone screen. Each stamp has a unique identifying geometric pattern and is activated by static electricity from the human body. echoss stamp is currently protected by approximately 220 patent rights. With 12CM echoss stamp service available over 20 countries around the world. Currently, approximately 520,000 people are using 12CM’s source technology to operate mobile businesses. The company achieved over USD 8.4 million (KRW 10 billion) in sales in 2018 and is now preparing for its expected listing as a “Technology-Based Special Listed Company,” a newly-added KOSDAQ category.

 

Founders

: Youngjun Jang (CEO), Jaewe Heo

Estimated Total Funding

: USD 23 million (KRW 27 billion) 

Last Funding Type

: Series C

Lead Investors

: Premier Partners, AlpenRoute Asset Management, DSC Investment, IMM Investment, Korea Growth Investment Corporation, D Ventures Private Investment Fund

 

Riiid (www.riiid.co) has secured USD 18 million (KRW 20 billion) through its Series C funding round, which was led by Premier Partners, AlpenRoute Asset Management, DSC Investment, IMM Investment, Korea Growth Investment Corporation, and D Ventures Private Investment Fund. Riiid, an AI tutoring solution startup, has published the results of its research on its one-on-one AI tutoring deep-learning technology in an academic journal and is currently providing independently developed AI technology as a B2B solution known as "santA.Inside." Having already secured a cumulative total of USD 18 million (KRW 20 billion) in R&D investment, Riiid will be using most of its recently raised Series C investment to conduct R&D and further enhance santA.Inside. The company continues to receive acknowledgment for its AI technologies not only in Korea but in the United States, China, and Japan as well, with a total of 41 registered patents and patent applications.

 

Founders

: John S. Kim (CEO), Brandon Y Jeon, Forest Lee, Harry Kim

Estimated Total Funding

: USD 120.7 million (KRW 139 billion) 

Last Funding Type

: Series B

Lead Investors

: ICONIQ Capital, Shasta Ventures, August Capital, Y Combinator, FundersClub, Tiger Global Management

 

SendBird (www.sendbird.com) is a chatting/messaging platform that enables messages and/or conversations to be exchanged via PC or smartphone. Created using superior technology, SendBird now has over 1 million people all over the world who simultaneously use its services and can process over 500 million message transmissions per day. SendBird can also connect its chat functions to any of 14,000 applications and/or services worldwide. Its clients are primarily multinational corporations, including Reddit, NBA, Yahoo Sports, KB Financial Group, Shinsegae, LG UPlus, and SBS. Recent investors in SendBird include ICONIQ Capital, Shasta Ventures, August Capital, Y Combinator, FundersClub, and Tiger Global Management. The company’s headquarters are located in San Mateo County/Silicon Valley.

Founders

: Minseok Kim (CEO), Ryan Lee

Estimated Total Funding

: USD 12 million (KRW 13.7 billion) 

Last Funding Type

: Series A

Lead Investors

: DT Capital, IBK Capital, KDB Capital

 

Founded in 2010, SmartStudy (www.smartstudy.co.kr) is a global content startup that utilizes mobile content as a foundation for smart education projects and life services. The company is already being widely recognized as a global business and has captivated users around the world (recently included in a Billboard ranking) with its independently-developed content (such Pinkfong and the Shark Family) and outstanding mobile technology. In addition to creating video content, SmartStudy operates a mobile application that features its animated characters and, to date, the app has been downloaded approximately 150 million times by users in 112 countries. SmartStudy recorded USD 34 million (KRW 40 billion) in total sales in 2018 and approximately USD 6.8 million (KRW 8 billion) in sales profits. Its goal for 2020 is to be listed on the KOSDAQ. 

 

 

 

For more detailed information, contact Born2Global Centre.

 

About Born2Global Centre

Born2Global Centre (www.born2global.com) is a full-cycle service platform for global expansion. Since inception in 2013, Born2Global has been setting the standard for successful startup ecosystem as the main Korean government agency under the Ministry of Science and ICT. Born2Global has expanded and transformed startups to be engaged, equipped and be connected with the global market.

 


서범석 루닛 대표가 지난해 12월 28일 서울 역삼구 루닛 본사에서 인공지능(AI)을 이용한 의료진단 소프트웨어를 설명하고 있다. 김순주 기자 photosun@korea.kr

Lunit CEO Brandon B. Suh on Dec. 28 discusses his company's medical AI software designed to raise efficiency in diagnosis and treatment at his office in Seoul’s Yeoksam-gu District. (Kim Sunjoo)



By Jung Joori and Lee Hana
Seoul | Dec. 28, 2018 

Korea.net in 2019 will feature startups leading innovative growth in various sectors of the Korean economy.

The third article in this series is about Lunit, a company specializing in AI-powered software for medical image analysis and devoted to advancing medical intelligence to the next level.



Imagine that a patient with a persistent cough goes to see a doctor. After being briefed on the symptoms, the doctor will likely take a chest X-ray of the patient. Based on this radiograph, the doctor will look for abnormalities and perform a CT scan if something serious is detected. 

Now imagine a different scenario in which an artificial intelligence (AI) device scans the same chest X-ray and finds abnormalities invisible to the human eye. This means a problem can be diagnosed early on and raise the likelihood of a full recovery. 

Lunit, a Korean company specializing in AI-powered medical image analysis software, is banking on this very technology. Its medical solutions are based on deep learning algorithms that help doctors more accurately diagnose patients by detecting abnormalities in radiographs.

AI is considered a major growth engine of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, though advances in this field have fueled fear as well as anticipation. Lunit, however, stresses that its vision for its products shines a positive light on AI’s future given that the company’s goal is enhancing human capabilities rather than replacing people. 

Korea.net spoke to Lunit CEO Brandon B. Suh on Dec. 28 at his company’s headquarters in Seoul’s Yeoksam-gu District to find about more about this cutting-edge technology.

"Innovation is the marriage of novelty and utility. Originality is important but we cannot call it innovation unless it has a useful function," he said. "I decided to apply our AI software to medicine because a one-percent increase in accuracy in this sector can save more lives than in any other field." 

서범석 루닛 대표가 인공지능(AI)을 이용한 의료진단 소프트웨어인 루닛 인사이트(Lunit INSIGHT for Chest Radiography)를 시연하고 있다. 해당 소프트웨어에 분석을 원하는 데이터를 불러오면 이상 부위가 색상으로 표시된다. 김순주 기자 photosun@korea.kr

Lunit CEO Brandon B. Suh on Dec. 28 runs a diagnosis on the Lunit INSIGHT for Chest Radiography at his company’s headquarters in Seoul. An abnormality is indicated by a different color. (Kim Sunjoo)



AI algorithm development backed by vast medical data

Founded in 2013, Lunit features among its products the Lunit INSIGHT for Chest Radiography, a deep learning software that diagnoses chest X-rays, and the Lunit INSIGHT for Mammography, a software for breast diagnosis and screening. Both software solutions show potential abnormalities with a heat map and calculate an abnormality score as a percentage, allowing doctors to make a final diagnosis based on these results. 

"Chest radiography and mammography are among the most commonly used diagnostic procedures, performed over a trillion times annually in hospitals around the world. Unlike CT scans and MRIs, however, both of these methods compress 3-D images into 2-D ones, which affects diagnostic accuracy. This is what motivated us to develop our products," said Suh. 

Lunit collects its data from 18 medical institutions including Seoul National University Hospital, Asan Medical Center, the University of California’s San Francisco Medical Center and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. This is because diagnostic accuracy depends heavily on deep learning of a vast amount of data. In this respect, Korea's high level of medical accessibility has proven considerably useful.

"Compared to the U.S. or China, medical costs in Korea are relatively low, which means diagnostic procedures are run more often and produce more data. Because most critically ill patients tend to be concentrated in Seoul's major hospitals, data collection is easy for us," Suh said.

지난해 11월 미국 시카고에서 열린 ‘북미영상의학회(RSNA) 2018’ 루닛 부스에서 칸 시디키(Khan Siddiqui) 박사(오른쪽에서 네 번째), 엘리엇 시걸(Eliot Siegel) 박사(오른쪽에서 세 번째), 서범석 대표(오른쪽에서 두 번째)가 자리를 함께했다. 루닛

Lunit CEO Brandon B. Suh (second from right) in November 2018 is joined by renowned diagnostic radiologists Eliot Siegel (third from right) and Khan Siddiqui (fourth from right) at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago. (Lunit)



Globally acclaimed AI software

Lunit's deep learning software has won top prizes at international competitions. In 2017, it earned the grand prize at the CAMELYON Grand Challenge, a pathology competition whose goal is to evaluate new and existing algorithms for automated detection and classification of breast cancer metastases in whole-slide images of node sections. 

The same year, Lunit was the only Korean company to receive a mention on CB Insight's list of the world’s 100 most promising companies in private intelligence. 

The addition of globally renowned diagnostic radiologists to the company’s panel of experts has also helped raise Lunit’s brand. The list of consultants includes Eliot Siegel of the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, a leading authority on digital medical imaging. Another is Khan Siddiqui of Johns Hopkins University, who is chief technology and marketing officer of Higi, a medical technology company that creates health station kiosks to allow patients to measure, track and act on their health statistics. 

Suh said Lunit can make great medical strides using AI technology, adding, "Our long-term goal is to help doctors diagnose illnesses undetectable by the human eye and ultimately help as many patients as we can in the process." 

etoilejr@korea.kr




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