Google is planning to set up a startup incubator next year in Seoul to support and foster the Korean entrepreneur community and capitalise on South Korea’s dynamic entrepreneurial culture.

Google Spearheads Investment in Korean Startups

For a number of years Google has demonstrated a desire to take a highly active role in promoting entrepreneurship: the Google Ventures venture capital fund specialises in investing in startups, while the Google for Entrepreneurs initiative provides more general support to promising business people. Meanwhile in South Korea, the number of startups has almost doubled since 2008 and has tripled since 2000. Today there are around 29,000 operating in the country, most of them headquartered in the capital, Seoul and the South Korean entrepreneurial scene is starting to really take off and make an impact. In line with this surge, there are already some large local incubators, including SparkLabs and KStartup, while investment funds worldwide are starting to put their money on Korean companies. Against this background, Google recently announced it would open a new business accelerator in Seoul within the next year to serve the large number of South Korea startups that are based in the capital.

Booming entrepreneurial ecosystem

Californian venture capital fund Sequoia Capital recently invested $100 million in a startup called Coupang, a stake which values the whole company at over a billion dollars. Coupang has created an e-commerce platform which looks like South Korea’s answer to Amazon. It has already overtaken Groupon in the Korean market, and is now confidently setting out to conquer new markets. Another example is a startup by the name of Memebox, which earlier this year became the first-ever Korean company to be accepted on to the programme run by iconic Californian accelerator Y Combinator. The beauty products e-tailer, already highly successful in South Korea, is looking to enter the US market. There is no doubt that the Korean ecosystem is currently surging, but it is still very young and South Korean entrepreneurs still lack mentors and financing to grow their businesses. After forging partnerships with Global K-Startup and Startup Weekend, Google has finally launched plans to open a campus in Seoul, which is intended to offer local firms an opportunity to interact with other Google Campuses worldwide and drive forward with their international development.

Strategic opportunity for Google

The Google campus in Seoul will likely be an excellent ‘shop window’ for the Mountain View giant. This initiative is part of the company’s clearly defined strategy of gaining a foothold wherever there is a flourishing entrepreneurial scene, and in addition this may well help it to challenge the giants of Asian electronics. Samsung, the largest Korean tech company, is not currently doing anything to help Korean startups. With its history and tradition as a classic ‘chaebol’ – a family-based business conglomerate – Samsung appears to be reluctant to invest in innovation through the startup route. Google on the other hand has stated a clear intention to expand its community of entrepreneurs – Google for Entrepreneurs – with the new campus. The programme includes provision of co-working spaces, seminars run by mentors and Google experts, plus also other programmes such as Campus for Moms and CampusEDU, which are already a feature of the campuses in Tel Aviv and London. After Seoul, Google is planning to open more campuses in Sao Paulo and Warsaw.

By Arthur de Villemandy