500 Startups: Asia is all about the mobile internet. And one particular country, home of amazing food and amazing connectivity has quietly been a technology leader not just regionally but worldwide. That’s right, I’m talking about Korea: home of 2NE1, PSY, Samsung, and a quickly growing tech startup scene.
For a country of roughly 50 million people, Korea is disproportionately important in technology. Did you know that it was ranked second in the world in 2013 by Google Play in terms of both revenue and number of downloads? That’s why App Annie calls Korea one of the “superpowers” of apps. The Internet is ubiquitous in Korea, with over 80% of households having wifi at home, compared to just 61% in the US. Koreans also have the fastest internet in the world, a blazing 300Mbps. As if that weren’t enough, data is also ridiculously cheap in Korea, ranked #1 in “best bang for your buck” in a worldwide survey of pricing for mobile connectivity and triple play plans. Having been there five times in the past six months, I can verify this is true.
500 Startups has two overachieving Korean-Americans on our team: Managing Partner, Christine Tsai, and Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Tim Chae. This year, 500 is ramping up efforts to find and fund awesome Korean startups. We are also lucky to have some great friends on the ground helping us spread #500STRONG love in the heart of Seoul. 500 Startups has a very international community — over 25% of our portfolio companies started outside the US, from more than 40 countries — and we want to make sure more Korean startups get to become part of the 500 community.
Our first Korea investment was Shakr Media, a place where you can make a professional video (perhaps advertising your startup!) in literally minutes using drag-and-drop. It’s been featured numerous times in the media and actually won TechCrunch Disrupt 2011 in Beijing. Since then, we have made investments into social networking tools, an education startup, and are actively looking at our sweet spots of e-commerce and SMB productivity tools — all seed investments. As more and more Korean startups seek to expand globally, we are actively scouting for accelerator candidates, and have been very focused on finding the right teams to welcome into our #500STRONG family, and here are some of the things we are doing:
The first is working with the wonderful folks at beSUCCESS, one of Korea’s leading tech media and the organizers of beLAUNCH, often referred to as the largest tech conference in Seoul, with a format similar to that of TechCrunch Disrupt. We are incredibly honored to be able to be part of the judging panel at the annual flagship conference May 14-15 of this year, and will be represented by 500 Startups EIR, Tim Chae. We are also excited to announce, in partnership with the team at beSUCCESS, that we are offering guaranteed interviews to our next accelerator program to all of the 20 finalists of the Startup Battle contest. Finalists are selected from hundreds of applicants, and we are really looking forward to meet them in person. The lucky 20 are able to skip the application and review process and engage with our investment team directly face-to-face in an interview that is typically only granted to less than 6% of applicants.
Additionally, we are holding an info session about our accelerator for Korean startups on May 19th at 4PM in downtown Seoul with our media partner Demoday. Demoday has one of the largest databases of Korean tech startups in the country and aims to be a platform for resources that can aid the entrepreneurial community. They have kindly organized talks for us in the past, and we hope to add to the ecosystem this time by not only demystifying our accelerator, but also showcasing some of our distribution expertise via a short workshop by EIR Tim Chae, as an example of some of the content that startups can hope to be exposed to at our Bay Area accelerator locations. For more details, interested entrepreneurs should keep an eye out on the Demoday homepage.
And yet that’s not all! We have been very active with the first Global Hackathon as organized by AppCenter and sponsored by Seoul Broadcasting System. The Global Hackathon is exactly that … a hackathon featuring hackers from all over the world, with a theme of addressing the “common good.” It is a new but highly anticipated addition to the Seoul Digital Forum, one of the largest conferences focused on technology and media in the region. Not only is 500 Startups Founding Partner, Dave McClure, slated to be the concluding Keynote speaker, Tim and I will be also mentoring the over 100 participants expected to attend the hackathon, of which 25 I was able to recruit from major cities in Greater China: Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Attendees from over 13 countries have already confirmed to attend, we can’t wait to see what kind of interesting results will come out of 4 days of late-night hacking over kimchee, fried chicken and beer!
Last but not least, back in California at our headquarters, we are excited to host the startups of the current batch of KSTARTUP, a leading accelerator backed by Google for Entrepreneurs, AppCenter, SK Planet and the Banks Foundation. It is an organization with which we have had a long standing relationship and which we are very glad to be able to continue to support through mentorship and co-hosted events. For those investors in the Bay Area interested in what the latest leading Korean startups have to offer, do come to the KSTARTUP Demo Day. Get in touch if you are interested in attending!
It may seem that May is Korea Month at 500 Startups with all of the things that we are doing in Seoul. However, I assure you, as long as there are Korean startups who want to be part of our #500STRONG family, every month is Korea Month.
This post originally appeared on the 500 Startups blog