On May 17th, the Ministry of Science and ICT announced the final selection of 15 startups with high growth potential to become the next unicorns through the 2021 Global Information and Communication Technology Future Unicorn Promotion Project (ICT Growth Project), with “Unicorns” referring to startups with a total valuation of more than $1 billion USD (~1 trillion KRW).

 

The initiative is a comprehensive support package started by the Ministry of Science and ICT last year for overseas expansion, funding the discovery of promising startups, and fostering 50 future unicorns by 2025. This proactive attempt comes afoot for creating another Sendbird-like case, as the world’s number one chat solutions company wrapped its successful $100 million Series C funding last month for a total of $1.05 billion valuation, making it one of only 12 current unicorns from Korea and the first from the B2B enterprise software space. 

 

The criterion for picking the ICT-based companies with strong growth potential was one of the following: 1) companies that have invested more than 2 billion KRW (~1.8 million USD) from domestic and foreign institutional investors in the last 3 years since the establishment of the corporation, or 2) companies whose sales have increased by an average of 10% or more per year in the last 3 years.

 

This year, a total of 57 companies applied, and among the 15 selected are some of Born2Global Centre’s members, such as 1) 12CM, a world-class software platform that enables marketing, commerce, and Fintech services relevant to today’s mobile ecosystem, 2) Dtonic, a Spatio-Temporal Big Data Engineering Platform, 3) Welt, a Smart Fashion Belt that manages users' wellness and tracks users' overall health, and many others. 

 

The 15 future unicorns selected by the Ministry of Science and ICT are the following, in alphabetical order: 12CM, 3D Factory, Animal Industry Data (AID) Korea, Crocus, Dabeeo, Dtonic, Elice, Furiosa AI, H2O Hospitality, Lumir, Morai, Social Bean, SILCROAD Soft, Welt, and Wizcore.

 

The aforementioned startups are provided with a total package of a credit guarantee support system, investment connections, overseas localization programs, and performance insurance through private-public cooperation with related organizations. Born2Global Centre will be in charge of implementing special programs, such as product localization consultations, counseling, and mentorship from local market experts in overseas locations. 

 

For more information on the different Born2Global Centre programs/services or the startups, please visit our website.

 

 


 

When you hear of self-driving cars, more often than not you hear about names like Tesla, Alphabet, Mobileye or even Apple. But behind these giant players are mobility companies, whose innovation and technology power some of the most critical work happening in the autonomous space right now.

 

One of these companies is the South Korean simulation-focused start-up, MORAI, whose virtual testing environments for autonomous driving software is setting industry standards.

 

Founded in early 2018, the Seoul-based company builds simulation tools and test environments for autonomous vehicles (AVs).

 

“Our founders and I were originally involved in AV research, and spent long hours on test tracks fine-tuning our algorithms and software. However, there was one defining moment that motivated us to start building our own simulation instead,” says CEO, Jiwon Jung.

 

“We were testing one of our prototype AVs for a competition in 2017, when the vehicle started drifting towards a wall at 100 kph (60mph). Thankfully the test was being performed on a closed track and we were both (my colleague – who is now our CTO – and I) in the vehicle at the time, where we managed to take manual control before the vehicle spun out.

 

“The fact was, our AV hadn’t been tested as much as it should have, and though we had an academic understanding of the importance of thorough testing, having lives on the line was a big wake up call.”

 

“This probably gives you a good idea of what our company’s mission is. We are working to provide safe testing solutions for other AV researchers and AV companies. From a Korean perspective, we saw that there weren’t many compelling test solutions that provided localized environments and, in the end, decided to build one ourselves.” adds Jung.

 

The company was started not long after. The founders gained the support of Naver, one of Korea’s leading tech companies and currently one of its main investors. The initial interest from Naver helped them reach out to valuable partners that helped MORAI grow to where it is today.

 

The company, which is a member of the innovation agency Born2Global, has been on a high for the past year or so. For starters, it has been rapidly making its presence felt in the space, with a slew of governments and private players wanting to partner with it. Moreover, in November, 2020, the company wrapped up a US$1.8 million Series A funding round.

 

Speaking about the company’s achievements, Jung says: “The Series A funding round gave us another level of validation that AV simulation will become a key part of the AV development process. We were also selected by a number of municipal government initiatives to build testing environments for cities within South Korea, including the cities of Seongnam and Sejong.”

 


 

Grasping the Growth Opportunity

 

I was keen on knowing more about the technology powering MORAI’s simulation product, especially its key features and the accuracy of the digital twins that it creates.

 

Jung explains: “One of the key technologies that we leverage are our internal AV algorithms that we developed before we even started MORAI. The traffic that our users encounter in our simulation software is powered by their own autonomous driving algorithms, which helps us add a level of realism to the scene the vehicle is experiencing.

 

“The digital twin environments we build have different levels of detail to support varying use cases among our partners and users, but the foundation of all of our maps are high definition (HD) map data, and as a result are highly accurate. Of course, there is more to building a digital twin than just geospatial data – we add elements like terrain elevation and 3D buildings with textures based on satellite imagery.

 

“The main benefit of adding simulation to a verification and validation workflow is the added layer of safety and confidence you receive because the software has been tested in similar circumstances to most real-world situations beforehand. It is also easier to set up emergency contingencies/routines and practice them in case something goes awry during a real-world deployment test. Finally, there is an added benefit that simulation is a perfect testing ground where our users are allowed to fail, and if they do, they can reset and retry their tests easily.”

 

MORAI has already worked with the likes of NVIDIA, Hyundai and Samsung, which must have been quite an experience for a fairly young company. I asked Jung about the experience and how it helped shape the company.

 

“They have definitely helped in broadening our perspective of the industry as a whole and are constantly pushing us to improve both the product and our company. Meeting the requirements of key players in the industry is challenging, especially for a new company like us, but we view it as a growth opportunity, both for the company and our engineers.”

 

Simulation is a niche within the mobility space, but it has been key to development of autonomous vehicles. Like most other technologies, it is also one that is fast-paced, and according to Jung, one that has come quite way from what it was before.

 

“We’re seeing a convergence of different domains within simulation. Just a couple years ago, simulation solutions were laser focused on a single or a smaller part of each of the components of an autonomous vehicle system. We already have great simulation solutions for traffic simulation, road network building, vehicle dynamics, and sensor performance. What has changed is that today, new simulators are trying to tie all of these domains together into a single integrated solution that can become a one-stop shop for AV software,” he says.

 

As for what MORAI has planned in the near and the distant future, Jung says that the immediate plan is to refine the simulation software product to support test scenarios requested, not just by the company’s partners and users, but scenarios that are being developed by government agencies and testing centres all over the world.

 

Long-term, the company aims to become the preferred simulation partner for autonomous driving in South Korea, with plans to provide technology and services to international partners in the U.S. and Europe.

 

As our conversation drew to a close, I asked Jung how soon he sees autonomous mobility becoming mainstream, especially as someone who is in the autonomous space. “Full disclosure, since our core technology and product is not an actual AV platform or service, we don’t have as complete a picture of the field compared to current leaders in autonomous mobility. However, we do agree with the widely accepted view that mainstream adoption is a question of public perception.”

 

“Gaining the trust of the public is a key requirement to raise ridership to mainstream levels, especially for an autonomous system. At MORAI we plan to become a part of the process of gaining this trust, by becoming a trusted testing solution and showing the public just how well AVs operate – even in the most challenging conditions,” he concludes.When you hear of self-driving cars, more often than not you hear about names like Tesla, Alphabet, Mobileye or even Apple. But behind these giant players are mobility companies, whose innovation and technology power some of the most critical work happening in the autonomous space right now.

 

MORAI, Inc., a member company of Born2Global Centre and Sejong Technopark, has successfully secured US$1.8M in Series A funding round. The round includes investment from Kakao Ventures and Korea Credit Guarantee Fund (KODIT) as well as from an existing investor Naver D2SF (Naver D2 Startup Factory).

 

MORAI delivers testing solutions based on their simulation platform built for the verification and validation of autonomous vehicles. Providing engineers with a wide range of simulation environments that vary from complex city streets to warehouses and shipping yards, MORAI's solutions help customers test even the most complex edge cases efficiently. Since their initial seed funding round, MORAI has started partnerships with more than 30 different organizations in and outside of Korea.

 

MORAI’s autonomous vehicle simulation reconstructs complex scenarios in a 3D environment – allowing engineers to test their systems before deployment.

MORAI’s autonomous vehicle simulation reconstructs complex scenarios in a 3D environment – allowing engineers to test their systems before deployment.

The new round of investment will help continued development of MORAI's simulation software and the company's efforts to scale their platform. MORAI plans to reach out to international customers and partners, building on efforts earlier this year, in which the company completed multiple proof of concept programs, joined the Automated with Velodyne program in May, and opened a branch office in San Francisco in July.

 

"That some of the leading IT companies in Korea have joined us and now share our vision of safety is a great motivator," said Jiwon Jung, CEO and Co-Founder of MORAI. He added, "We plan to continue accelerating our growth, while focusing on further developing our technology and building a product that can help make safe autonomous vehicles a reality."

 

 

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