K-Startup Grand Challenge: The gateway to South Korea for international startups

K-Startup Grand Challenge Program is the flagship accelerator program for international startups organized by the Korean government-funded by the Ministry of SMEs & Startups. Launched in 2016 the program hosts promising startup teams in South Korea for a three and half month program in Pangyo, south of Seoul. The accelerator program ends with top startups getting additional financial incentives and the possibility of doing business in Korea.

How did the K-Startup Grand Challenge (KSGC) program start?

The Korean government has been proactive in developing a sound ecosystem for startups in the country. The government has actively funded, mentored, and invested in the growing number of startups. In 2016, with the objective of making South Korea the Asian hub for startups, the government started the K-Startup Grand Challenge Program inviting foreign startups.

In April 2016, the KSGC was started under the aegis of Korea’s Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. The program was supported by the National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA) and is now a leading program funded by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups. The all-expenses-paid program is the first of its kind in Asia.

The Selection

In its inception year itself, KSGC received an overwhelming response. The program received applications from 2439 startup teams from 124 countries. After a meticulous selection process, 40 startups were chosen for a 3-month acceleration program in South Korea. Tech startups with innovative technologies got the edge over other startups in the KSGC program selection.
Startups from industries like AI, Information security, Blockchain, IoT, FinTech, Big Data, Robotics, Gaming, etc. were chosen from the pool of applications.

The Incentives

The startup received $4,100 per month to cover living expenses, along with free round-trip flights to Korea for three team members. The teams also got office space at Korea’s $160 million Startup Campus in Pangyo. The program that started in September, included mentorships by leading Korean Tech firms like Samsung, LG, Naver, etc.

At the end of the program in December 2016, a demo day was organized in which 20 promising startups received funding of $33,000 from the government, with the top four getting an additional $6,000 to $100,000. The KSGC team also gives follow up support to the top startups for them to establish a business in Korea. The prominent winners of the 2016 KSGC program were Fingertips lab, the company that developed mobile interface O6, Preksh Innovations, the company using AR/VR helping physical stores reach a virtual audience, Traversal Networks, a cybersecurity solution company, and Imagga. This company has developed a cloud-based API for automated image and video tagging for businesses.

The KSGC program became quite popular in the subsequent years, with 49 teams participating in 2017, 73 teams in 2018, and 36 teams in 2019. The KSGC program is now in its fifth year. As per a report, the KSGC program has provided support for over 197 companies for four years, and about 77 companies were established in Korea, attracting investment worth 87.1 billion won or $ 72 million.

The startups that are interested to know more about the KSGC program and the applications for 2020 can logon to the official website – www.k-startupgc.org.

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