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  • [Born2Global’s Picks] The 10 Most Promising Unicorns


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    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.

     


    Comments

STARTUPS OF THE WEEK

    • 1 Riiid
      Headquarters

      29, Teheran-ro 87-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea

      Description

      Riiid is bring creative disruption to education market through AI technology.

    • 2 SendBird
      Headquarters

      541 Jefferson Ave. Suite 100 SendBird, Redwood City, CA 94063

      Description

      The Simplest Solution for Chat and Messaging

    • 3 NEOFECT
      Headquarters

      West Building #401, Dankook Uni., 152, Jukjeon-ro, Suji-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do, 16890

      Description

      Smart Glove Speeds Rehabilitation of Stroke Patients

    • 4 SMART STUDY
      Headquarters

      5F, 94, Myeongdal-ro Seocho-gu, Seoul, 06668

      Description

      Sing, Play and Learn with PINKFONG

    • 5 SketchOn
      Headquarters

      Corporate Collaboration Center #85313, 2066, Seobu-ro, Jangan-gu, Suwon-si, Gyeonggi-do, 16419

      Description

      Harmless, Easy-to-Erase Printed Tattoos

    • 6 linkflow
      Headquarters

      Yugi tower 13F, Teheran-ro 69gil 5, Gangnam-gu, Seoul Korea

      Description

      Wearable 360 degree camera company

    • 7 MOIN
      Headquarters

      B2F, Google Campus, 417, Yeongdong-daero, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, 06182

      Description

    • 8 Exosystems, Inc.
      Headquarters

      #804, 815, Daewangpangyo-ro, Sujeong-gu, Seongnam-si, Gyeonggi-do, Republic of Korea

      Description

      Exosystems provides a new paradigm of rehabilitation with the slogan-“Fun @Home, Data Driven Rehab!”

    • 9 Dable
      Headquarters

      #301, 22, Nonhyeon-ro 79-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, 06237

      Description

      Explain Your Business in One Line

    • 10 Visual Camp
      Headquarters

      Startup Campus #325, 289beon-gil 20, Pangyo-ro Bundang-gu, Gyeonggi-do, 13488

      Description

      Eye Tracking Technologies for Mobile VR Devices

    • 11 4DREPLAY KOREA
      Headquarters

      3003 NORTH 1ST ST. SUITE#221 SAN JOSE, CA, 95134

      Description

      Creating Experience ─ Highly Advanced 4D Video Solution

    • 12 MOPIC
      Headquarters

      85307, corporate collaboration center, 2066 Seobu-ro, Jangan-gu, Suwon-si Gyeonggi-do, Korea 16419

      Description

      Your Breathtaking Mobile 3D Theater

    • 13 NEWRATEK
      Headquarters

      2~4F, Iksung Building, 6, Bongeunsa-ro 112-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, 06170

      Description

      New Radio Communications for a New Era

    • 14 ZOYI Corporation
      Headquarters

      15F, KR Tower, 141, Teheran-ro Gangnam-gu, Seoul, 06132

      Description

      Growth Hacking for O2O Commerce

    • 15 Salted Venture
      Headquarters

      340 Nonhyeon-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, 06227

      Description

      Fixing Golf Swings and Squats from the Feet

    • 16 REDTABLE
      Headquarters

      410, Startup Campus Building #3, 20, Pangyo-ro 289 beon-gil, Bundang-gu, Seongnam-si, Gyeonggi-do, Korea

      Description

    • 17 eyedea
      Headquarters

      5F, 98, Seongmisan-ro, Mapo-gu, Seoul, 03986

      Description

      Autonomous Flying Selfie Drone

    • 18 Innomdle Lab
      Headquarters

      2F, 3, Eonnam 1-gil, Seocho-gu, Seoul, 06778

      Description

      Touch Your Sound

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