South Korea’s future as a startup hub is still a work in progress but I see a lot of reasons to be optimistic about companies emerging from this country of 50 million people. I spent two days this past week at the BeLaunch conference in Korea, a new startup event that attracted 1,500 attendees and served as a showcase for dozens of new startups.
Many of the companies are still raw and need some seasoning. And as is the case in a lot of countries, there are a lot of me-too startups, building upon an existing idea while targeting the Korean market. But I also saw some real technology on display and some innovative ideas at work. Time will tell if any of them can make a dent in their home market before setting their sights abroad, but here are four that stood out to me.
Easy Works won Qualcomm Ventures’ $100,000 QPrize for South Korea at the BeLaunch conference, impressing judges with its Yeati application, a kind of mobile and visual version of LinkedIn. With Yeati, users are able to build a profile that includes a portfolio of their work, kind of like Behance. But it’s not just for designers and visual artists. The free app allows people to add work history, skills and keywords to their profile to make them easier to recruit and makes it simple for people to exchange information. The company was launched by Seri Sheen, who spent 13 years as an executive recruiter.
Yeati is not trying to take on LinkedIn head on but it’s targeted at a younger, more casual audience. As James Kwon, senior manager of Qualcomm Ventures in Korea put it, Yeati works for many users who perhaps haven’t had as much traditional work experience to put on their resume or LinkedIn profile. I liked that it was built with mobile in mind. The company plans to make money through granting access to recruiters and also through a design tool for users. It will wrap up its beta testing by the end of August with a full launch of the app to come soon after.
KnowRe provides an adaptive learning system for students, personalizing their education based on their progress. The system, which is starting with math, runs children through a series of questions. When a student encounters problems, KnowRe drills down and finds out what exactly the student struggled with. As they progress, KnowRe’s algorithm adapts to the student and helps them to understand the lessons. There’s also gamification and social elements to help motivate them.
KnowRe is launching first in the U.S. before moving to Korea and Japan. It is starting with algebra and geometry but hopes to expand to other subjects including the SAT. The idea is that teachers could use KnowRe to help move kids along on their studies. The teachers would be able to monitor their students’ progress and see where each one needs more help. KnowRe is trying to take on the big and complicated education technology market, a ripe opportunity that others like Khan Academy are tapping. It’s a tough business requiring obtaining the approval of school boards to get into classrooms, but I think KnowRe can work also as a tool for individual students. The basic service is free with a $29-a-month premium service.
Playnery is creating a cross-platform game engine for hardcore 3-D social games that look like Infinity Blade. The cool part of Playnery is that it will allow developers to create one game that can be synced and played between iOS and online. So some users could be playing from Facebook along with friends on an iPhone or iPad. The company is working on its first game called Mother of Myth, which will showcase its game engine. The online game can be played without a big download, allowing users to begin right away with progressive background downloading of game resources.
Playnery was launched in October last year by Henry Park, the former CEO of NFLAVOR, Aeonsoft and Gala Lab. Along with the launch of Mother of Myth next year, the company hopes to have other developers use its game engine, pitting it against companies such as Unity Technologies and Epic Games. It’s in talks with some big name social game makers, who may be able to use Playnery to create more hardcore social games.
SR-Mobile, a Korean company that also has offices in Plano, Texas, is looking to help cellular carriers make seamless handoffs with Wi-Fi networks, enabling them to easily offload traffic from their cellular networks. The company, which is demonstrating its technology later this month at the Mobile Asia Expo, allows a carrier to switch a call or data traffic seamlessly between Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G. It does this with the help of a virtual radio agent mobile application on a mobile device that automatically switches between cellular and Wi-Fi modems. The VRA app works with a smart radio mobile controller that can access the network server and transfers the network traffic to the network core.
The benefit of this approach is that it allows a Wi-Fi hotspot to act as a virtual base station, which can be easily added and managed by an operator. If there’s capacity on the Wi-Fi network, it can seamlessly handle calls and data but if it gets overcrowded, it can switch back to the cellular network. SR’s approach also means that a carrier can expand their network capacity without a lot of investment, by relying on their existing Wi-Fi network or their user’s private Wi-Fi network. SR, which was founded by James Lee, a former senior staffer at Samsung Telecom America, is working on a trial with Korean operator KT, which will test SR’s technology on select LG phones.
- Easy Works founder Seri Sheen