The Startup Grind Seoul Chapter kicked off to a promising start this week with high energy, large turnout, and wild cheering – literally. On August 26, the long-awaited Seoul Chapter of Startup Grind held its first event at Maru 180, a startup coworking space, in Yeoksam. The event provided light refreshments and a time to network with fellow entrepreneurs from Seoul’s startup community, followed by a fireside chat session with guest speaker, John Hanjoo Lee of SparkLabs.
As a bit of background, Startup Grind is a global startup community designed to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs. Powered by Google for Entrepreneurs and with chapters in more than 100 cities and 42 countries, Startup Grind is a great resource that helps to connect people in startup hubs all over the world. Startup Grind’s values, as stated on their website, include making friends, not contacts; giving, not taking; and helping others before helping yourself. I, for one, am personally very excited that Startup Grind has launched a Seoul Chapter, as I’d been wishfully waiting for one since earlier this year. The Seoul Chapter is directed by Joon Oh, Chief Strategy Officer at MangoPlate, who also hosted and moderated the fireside chat. He even led the way for our cheering, which might have seemed “slightly odd for Korean culture,” but quickly raised the energy levels in the room and gave a warm welcome to the guest speaker for the evening, Hanjoo Lee. During the fireside chat, Hanjoo shared his story of starting Hostway with his co-founders in the U.S. to transitioning to Korea to start SparkLabs, a startup accelerator that is now going through its fourth class and has a portfolio of startups that are full of potential, such as MangoPlate, KnowRe, and Memebox. Throughout the evening, Hanjoo’s experiences revealed a recognizable theme of adding value – to the Korean startup ecosystem, to the startups in SparkLabs’ accelerator program, and also to the listeners in the room. Hanjoo had traveled frequently to Korea during his time at Hostway, and as startup companies were an important customer segment, he got to learn about the startup community in Korea. “I found out that there are actually unmet needs in Korea,” Hanjoo said. “From the energy in this room and because of what I do with SparkLabs, I know there is a lot of activity and the ecosystem is being built in Korea, but there’s still something lacking, and I thought I, along with my co-founders, have something meaningful to add to help Korean companies go global.” And with this idea, SparkLabs was created. SparkLabs, one of the top players in the startup acceleration space in Korea, accepts about 10 early-stage startups in each class and provides a 12-week program, a $25,000 investment, office space in Maru 180, and access to an impressive global network of mentors. In addition, Hanjoo provides mentorship to the startups by prompting them to make their own decisions by asking the right questions. “The founders and development team are the ones that run the company, so we really try to avoid giving a direction,” Hanjoo says. “We’re not an incubator, we’re an accelerator. We act as an enzyme. The fundamentals of the chemical reaction has to be there, we just help you get over that hump.” Providing quality mentorship is a key aspect of SparkLabs, and the accelerator carefully considers which startups are accepted into the program. Hanjoo shared the three high-level criteria that SparkLabs looks for in startups, modeled off of Jeff Clavier’s “Three A’s”:
- “Whatever your idea is, it’s gotta have a BIG ASS MARKET.”
- “Whatever problem you’re solving has to be a PAIN IN THE ASS. It can’t be something that can be easily solved.”
- “You gotta have a KICK-ASS TEAM.”
On this third criteria, Hanjoo adds that this is “perhaps, the most important, and you’re not just going to hear this from me, but from pretty much every investor you’re gonna talk to.” He also quoted Go Young-ha of Go Venture Forum (GVF) who advised, “Before you gather money, gather people (돈 모으기 전에 사람 모아라).” On top of sharing how he is contributing to Korea’s startup scene and the companies in SparkLabs, Hanjoo also shared some valuable insights to the audience, particularly on the ever-popular topic of going global. Since SparkLabs’ mission is to help startups succeed globally, Joon asked whether Korean startups do or don’t do well in this aspect, and Hanjoo honestly answered:
It’s not that it’s hard to go global, it’s just hard to start a business. If you’re in the US, is it easier to go global? No… But is it hard to start a business and become successful? Yes. I just want to dispel the myth that somehow it’s harder for Koreans to go global. That’s not true… There is absolutely no DNA issue here. There’s no cultural issue here… It’s in your mind. Remove that mind block.
Throughout the rest of the fireside chat, Hanjoo shared insightful perspectives, gave examples of working with startups within SparkLabs, and also took questions from the audience. If you’d like to listen to the entire session, you can watch the full video, wild cheering and all, on YouTube via Startup Grind Local:
Startup Grind Seoul’s launch event was a resounding success, and by creating a casual, open environment for learning and networking within the Korean startup scene, we can all look forward to more opportunities in the future for connecting, sharing, and truly building a startup community. Many thanks to Startup Grind Seoul for starting this initiative! If you missed out on this week’s event, the next Startup Grind Seoul Fireside Chat will take place on September 24 and feature Jung-Hee Ryu, CEO of FuturePlay as the guest speaker. Be sure to check out Startup Grind Seoul’s Facebook Page and follow them on Twitter for all the updates on upcoming events. We’ll be sure to cover more of these events on the Buzzvil Blog in the coming months as the Seoul startup scene continues to grow. To be the first to know about our latest posts, don’t forget to subscribe by email in the sidebar to the right!
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