IFC to Help Korean Startups Expand in Emerging Markets

Cultural change, communication skills and access to venture capital are key for Korean innovators to compete globally, experts said at a recent IFC-hosted workshop in Seoul.  The workshop is part of IFC’s plan to increase its support to Korean businesses – including startups - in order to help them expand in emerging markets.

“IFC Innovation Day: the 4th Industrial Revolution and the startups” brought together innovators, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to discuss opportunities and challenges Korean businesses are facing during the 4th Industrial Revolution, which is characterized by the World Economic Forum as a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. 

“The beauty of startups is that it doesn’t matter where you originate. If you have a good idea in one country, there's a high chance it can be replicated in many others," said Vivek Pathak, IFC Director for East Asia and the Pacific, in his opening remarks. “The founder's challenge is to prove this next big idea can be scaled up, and that he or she has the resources and management capacity for realization."

Creating enabling environment for innovation

The panelists at the workshop also offered insights on particular cultural and economic challenges that Korean startups need to overcome.

“Culturally, Korea is not willing to accept failure,” said Jung-wook Lim, managing director of Startup Alliance, a non-profit organization that helps start-ups go global. “There should be many good quality startups that have recovered from failures. They will set a good role model.”

Good communication skills were pointed out as an essential asset for success in the global market. Dong-il Seo, CEO of VoleR Creative, said, “I can never succeed without explaining and persuading my skills and technologies.” He also stressed the importance of language skills in entering global markets. "English is an important investment decision factor when I invest in a small company as an angel investor. If you can only speak Korean, you have to hire only Koreans and you will only receive funding from Korean venture capital.”

Experts noted that foreign venture investments are important for Korean startups given the limited number of angel investors in the country.

IFC’s response

With this workshop, IFC wants to build a platform for Korean innovators to learn from and connect with established entrepreneurs and investors. IFC also plans to extend its venture investment services in Korea.

“We will work with Korean investors and innovators in supporting the country’s digital revolution and help Korea bring cutting-edge solutions to new markets,” said Joon-young Park, Resident Representative of IFC Korea Office.

IFC invested in Korea for the first time in 1969 when the country was still an IDA recipient. Now IFC is working with Korean firms to build infrastructure, extend key services and create jobs in emerging markets.   So far, IFC has provided financing of $6 billion to over 80 projects with Korean sponsors in developing countries.

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