South Korea is a global player, not just with its major brands such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia but also with its emerging tech start-up scene. With exports making up over half of its economy, it is an outward-facing country looking for partnerships with the rest of the world. When the Korea Foundation invited Creative England and the British Council to select companies to travel to Seoul for the UK-Korea Catalyst, everyone jumped at the chance.
Five companies were selected by Creative England to participate: Mike Delves from Salford-based games studio Yippee Entertainment, Ian Richardson from Salford visual effects company Carbon Digital, Benjamin Gibbs from hospitality experts Flowify; Jacqueline Lam from e-commerce platform Mihaibao (formerly Boutiny); and Emily Forbes from Seenit (who also helped make a video of the experience.) The British Council also sent 5 participants from social enterprises: Alison Fullerton (Wasp Studios); Carolyn Hassan (Knowle West Media Centre); Peter Town (Commonplace); Samiya Parvez (Andiamo); and Simon Fox (PlayLab London).
During the trip, attendees were given the opportunity to network with Korean entrepreneurs and gain first-hand experience of the Korean market and the opportunities it presents. James Bedford from Creative England was amazed by the size of the Korean market, “South Korea is 26th in the world for population but 3rd for downloads with 25% of the population actively online for over 8 hours a day.” Digital creative companies in Korea are advantaged by having a digitally engaged consumer base keen to embrace new trends and a very supportive economy. “We found out on the first day that the Korean government has pledged to invest $3.7bn in the creative economy, this really set the scene for the rest of the trip visiting incubator centres and talking to investors and entrepreneurs” added James. Carbon Digital’s New Business Development Director Ian Richardson was similarly impressed. “I was amazed at how advanced they are in the app and online gaming market,” said Ian. “I was also very impressed with the Korean Government’s commitment to helping startups in both tech and medical sectors.”
Overall, the visit was aimed at creating links between the creative industries in both countries and encouraging future engagement. With the highest number of start-ups per capita in the world, Korea is bustling with creativity and ideas, something that didn’t go unnoticed by our attending companies. “The entrepreneurial spirit I experienced was simply outstanding and seemed to be instilled at a very early age,” explained Yippee Entertainment CEO Mike Delves. “Inspiring the youth and ensuring they are globally enterprise-aware seems to be a key driver for the country and is something that the UK should take note of.”
An increased focus on social enterprise was another noticeable feature of the Korean marketplace. “We were shown a lot around how big corporations are kicking off projects just to help the community and make a social impact,” recalls Flowify co-founder Ben Gibbs. “It was really enlightening to see because over in the UK we don’t really do anything on that scale.” Yippee Entertainment’s Mike Delves agreed: “Entrepreneurialism did not necessarily have a ‘capitalist first’ mentality. Being entrepreneurial to create increased “well-being” or community service was held in the same regard as a multinational technology giant in terms of added value for the country.”
The pitch day at D Camp start-up facility was kicked off with a presentation by James Bedford giving top tips on how to pitch your business to investors. Korean and British companies then pitched to each other and Korean investors before Charles Wace (founder of TwoFour) and Tae-hyun Kim (COO of Venture Square) gave keynote speeches on the digital creative sector and their experiences growing their companies. The day finished with a debate on the issues and opportunities affecting young companies in both companies.
The hack day, run by Tom Metcalfe, sought to bring together Korean and UK entrepreneurs through jointly finding issues and then solving them in mixed teams. The clash of cultures and ideas resulted in frantic brainstorming and fantastic presentations and ultimately to genuine collaboration between the businesses. The hack day helped understanding between the different business cultures and led to a real shift in thinking for many. “It was useful in terms of realising how important the Asian market is and how young it is compared to the West,” said Mihaibao co-founder Jacqueline Lam. “It was an eye-opening trip and our company made a critical pivot as a result of it. We are now targeting Chinese customers, making it seamless for China to shop the West, online,” she adds.
Yippee Entertainment’s Mike Delves found the networking aspect of the visit to be particularly useful. “We had the opportunity to meet both large Korean games publishers and developer networks,” he said. “Free to Play/Pay to Play gaming is a great deal more mature in Korea, so I was there to learn first and speak second. The trip gave invaluable insight into Korean culture and how to do business in addition to providing a treasure-trove of contacts.”
Seven months on and the trip has proven to be highly influential on the future plans of those involved. “As the result of the pivot, our venture is worth at least 10 times more,” explains Jacqueline Lam. “We have found a unique value proposition after I returned from the trip. It triggered creativity and spotting an important market opportunity.”
The trip also resulted in a pivot for Flowify, repositioning themselves from the hospitality market to a more Korea-like social enterprise focus. “Months later, the impact that the trip has had on what me and my co-founder are doing is drastic,”
said company co-founder Ben Gibbs, “95% percent of what we are doing now is because of that trip.”
Carbon Digital’s Ian Richardson also found the trip to be beneficial for his company’s future. “We’ve gained some brilliant contacts that we wouldn’t have if I hadn’t visited Korea with Creative England. I’m in discussions with companies I met whilst I was out there and I’m confident that Carbon Digital will enter into some commercial relationships very soon.”
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