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.

 


The annual Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile event, runs from Feb. 25-28 in Barcelona, Spain. (Yonhap)

The annual Mobile World Congress, the world's largest mobile event, runs from Feb. 25-28 in Barcelona, Spain. (Yonhap)


By Min Yea-Ji and Kim Hwaya

The annual Mobile World Congress (MWC), the largest global event for mobile phones and devices, opened on Feb. 25 in Barcelona, Spain, for a four-day run. Korea's three telecommunication giants, the world's first to launch 5G technology, used the expo to highlight the power of the new standard. 

SK Telecom, Korea Telecom and LG Uplus stressed the superiority of 5G in offering faster speeds and low latency to deal with big data, offering core services such as a smart factory, virtual reality (VR) and 5G robots powered by artificial intelligence (AI). 

At its individual exhibition room, SK showcased its so-called platform 5G Hyper Space that allows users to visit a virtual restaurant, hotel room, office and shopping mall using VR goggles. Visitors flocked to the booth as reservations made via VR are valid in the real world. Additionally, pressing a button on the hands allows users to move to another VR place in a second. 

SK’s "5G AI Machine Vision" connects workers to AI for quality control. When products on a conveyor belt are photographed and sent to a cloud sever, the pictures are screened for products that have scratches on the surface. The faster detection of defective items allows each worker to double productivity. 

SK Telecom models and travelers visiting Barcelona pose in front of the Catholic church Sagrada Familia. (SK Telecom)

SK Telecom models and travelers visiting Barcelona pose in front of the Catholic church Sagrada Familia. (SK Telecom)


Korea Telecom demonstrated real-time communication using its emergency rescue platform 5G Skyship from Barcelona to Busan. In an emergency, the Skyship rushes to the rescue site using augmented reality (AR) glasses and a neck band based on 5G. The 5G-powered control center informs ambulance drivers of the best routes for faster arrival at hospitals and tells other vehicles to get out of the way.

The company also showed its 5G AI hotel robot that delivers items to hotel guests. When someone places an order via voice or touch, a robot delivers the desired items to the room. Using 3-D spatial mapping and self-driving technologies and AI cameras, the device can find its destination utilizing a pre-made hotel map. 

LG Uplus presented a 5G-connected smart factory system able to control from Barcelona autonomous mobile robots in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi-do Province, or about 10,000 kilometers away. The camera attached to each robot displayed the robot's movement in real time on the exhibition room's screen. Also featured was LG's environment monitoring system that controls temperature and humidity, two crucial factors in precision processing.

This year's MWC, under its main theme "Intelligent Connectivity," also features the latest foldable phones such as Samsung Electronics's Galaxy Fold and Huawei's Mate X. 

With 2,400 participating companies from 208 countries, the MWC is expected to attract more than 100,000 visitors. 

Korea Telecom’s booth at the Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (Korea Telecom)

Korea Telecom's booth at the Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona, Spain. (Korea Telecom)



jesimin@korea.kr

 

Drone Show Korea 2019 opened on Jan. 24 at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO). First Vice Minister of Science and ICT Mun Mi-ock (third from left) and Vice Minister Cheong Seung-il join visitors in listening to an explanation about the power pack, or a fuel cell battery used in drones, produced by Doosan Mobility Innovation. (Ministry of Science and ICT)

Drone Show Korea 2019 opened on Jan. 24 at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO). First Vice Minister of Science and ICT Mun Mi-ock (third from left) and Vice Minister Cheong Seung-il join visitors in listening to an explanation about the power pack, or a fuel cell battery used in drones, produced by Doosan Mobility Innovation. (Ministry of Science and ICT)



By Jung Joo-ri and Yoon Sojung

Drone Show Korea 2019 opened at the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center (BEXCO) on Jan. 24, with the annual event displaying the past, present and future of the drone industry. 

Under the theme "Connected by Drone," this year's exhibition is the fourth of its kind and runs from Jan. 24-26. It features approximately 300 drones and related parts and materials produced by a combined 110 companies from Korea and overseas. 

A drone powered by a hydrogen fuel cell grabbed visitor attention at the opening ceremony. Developed and produced by Doosan Mobility Innovation, the drone can fly up to two hours, far longer than the 20- to 30-minute limit of other drones using lithium batteries. 

Another popular event was a demonstration of long-distance video transmission using 5G, namely SK Telecom of Korea’s "T live caster" service. When a user from the 5G control tower at BEXCO gave a signal to a drone placed at Haeundae Beach, the service enabled the user to shoot and watch a video from a long distance. 

A combined 410 booths offer a variety of drones with cutting-edge technologies. 


One drone that stood out was Shift Red, developed by This is Engineering and a hit at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month. The light drone allows users easy remote control simply by putting one's thumb in the small ring. 


Another popular drone was the Dronebot by the Republic of Korea Army. This device is capable of reconnaissance and surveillance functions and can even remove explosives as part of the military's drive to set up a dronebot structure.

Replicas of drones usable in natural disasters or for public safety purposes developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) were also on display. 

Visitors can also learn more about the latest drone technologies as an international conference, presentations of new products and technology, and drone events will be held on the sidelines.

For more information on the event, please click the event’s English-language homepage.
http://eng.droneshowkorea.com/main/main.php

Participants at the Drone Show Korea 2019’s opening ceremony on Jan. 24 look at various drones on display at the booth of the Republic of Korea Army. (BEXCO)

Participants at the Drone Show Korea 2019’s opening ceremony on Jan. 24 look at various drones on display at the booth of the Republic of Korea Army. (BEXCO)

etoilejr@korea.kr

LG U+ CEO Ha Hyun Hwoi (left), KT CEO Hwang Chang-Gyu (second from left),

Minister of Science and ICT Yoo Young min (third from left) and SK Telecom CEO Park Jung Ho

pose for a photo after their meeting at the Merriott Park Center in Yeouido, Seoul, on July 17. (Yonhap News)

 

By Lee Yoonseo and Kim Young Shin

 

Three major Korean phone and data carriers -- SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ -- will jointly launch the world’s first 5G services in March 2019. This move is in response to the Moon administration’s goal to make Korea the first country in the world to actualize 5G technologies.

 

Minister of Science and ICT Yoo Young min held a meeting with the CEOs of the three companies -- LG U+ CEO Ha Hyun Hwoi, KT CEO Hwang Chang-Gyu and SK Telecom CEO Park Jung Ho -- to discuss the commercialization of 5G services, at the Marriott Park Center in Yeouido, Seoul, on July 17.

 

“In order to make Korea the first country to commercialize 5G technology and to dominate the global market, suppliers should avoid competition to be first,” said Minister Yoo. “I urge your three companies to cooperate with each other on this.”

 

“To allow all related industry entities to share the benefits of the first-mover advantage, you three companies should try to grow together by keeping a win-win partnership,” Yoo said.

 

“We will vitalize the industrial ecosystem, as well as 5G network investments, as we develop our competitiveness,” said the SK Telecom CEO.

 

“Generally, 4G services were related to B2C businesses, but currently only a small number of B2C businesses remain,” said the KT CEO. “More investments are needed in the new 5G services as they are more related to B2B business models and more related to the public interest.”

 

The LG U+ CEO also said that his company will launch 5G services as per the schedule suggested by the government.

 

The three companies will finish selecting their equipment providers next month and begin building a commercial network in September.

 

clo1120@korea.kr

 

 

 



By Jeon Han and Yoon Sojung 
Photos = Jeon Han 
Video = Kim Sunjoo
Seoul | Jan. 30 

An igloo has been built in Seoul Plaza in central Seoul. 
This is not an ice house to avoid the cold, however. It's an igloo designed to show off the future of technology and to show what tech we already have in our day-to-day lives. 

Titled as the “Igloo Festival with ICT,” visitors to the exhibition can experience various cutting-edge technologies that use 5G data speeds.

They can also have fun experiencing various VR activities, like VR snowball fights, sledding and a robotic snow drift. There's a 360-degree VR video of the North Pole's aurora in real time that's projected onto a large dome-shaped screen in ultra high definition (7680X7680). 

People in a robotic 'snow drift ride' enjoy running down a snowy mountain in VR, at the 'Igloo Festival with ICT' on Jan. 30.

People in a robotic 'snow drift ride' enjoy running down a snowy mountain in VR, at the 'Igloo Festival with ICT' on Jan. 30.



When entering the high-tech igloo, a robotic snow drift ride is the first thing that captures the eye. 

Many children ask their parents to try the ride, but some of them have to give up as the machine requires a minimum height of 150 cm.

These kids forget their disappointment soon, however, when they see the VR snowball fight. They even take photos showing a 360-degree jump using so-called “time slice technology” and show it off to their parents. 

The Communication Center manager from SK Telecom, Jeong Uk, said, “We are participating in this festival, hosted by the Korea Business Corporation Skating Union, to provide technical support.”

“By experiencing a VR snowball fight or sledding using 5G technology, two of the all-time favorite winter activities, one can immediately enjoy the benefits of 5G in their day-to-day lives.” 

Festival-goers can experience and learn more about 5G and other forms of IT by experiencing six themed activities at the igloo, all for free. The festival will run until Feb. 25. It's open from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, and until 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Some activities need on-site reservations. 

People can enjoy a 360-degree VR video of the North Pole's aurora in real-time projected onto a large dome-shaped screen with a diameter of 23 m, all in ultra high definition (7680X768), without using any special VR goggles.

People can enjoy a 360-degree VR video of the North Pole's aurora in real-time projected onto a large dome-shaped screen with a diameter of 23 m, all in ultra high definition (7680X7680), without using any special VR goggles.


Children at the 'tech igloo' at Seoul Plaza on Jan. 30 enjoy a VR snowball fight against some VR monsters.

Children at the 'tech igloo' at Seoul Plaza on Jan. 30 enjoy a VR snowball fight against some VR monsters.




hanjeon@korea.kr



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