By Beatrice Loh
When you think of South Korea, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the music or the tv series. The “Hallyu Wave” combines the glitzy world of Korean Pop (Kpop) and drama serials has catapulted the country to fame, with Kpop garnering fans from all over the earth. However, less known is South Korea’s blooming startup scene. According to Korea’s Small and Medium Business Administration, the number of startups in the country soared to roughly 30,000 as of January this year, up from a mere 2,000 at the beginning of the millennium. President Park Geun-hye has vowed to provide financial incentive for entrepreneurs, earmarking $92 billion to support small and mid-sized businesses, including startups.
Amongst the startups quickly gaining success are several that focus on social issues. In 2011, the Korean government introduced a plan to support social enterprises through preferred contracts, expanded funding channels and exclusive business management programs specifically for social enterprises. As of November 2014, there are 1,165 certified social enterprises in South Korea. The government aims to promote more than 3,000 certified social enterprises by 2017.
Here are 7 social startups to look out for in South Korea:
A pioneer in the realm of social enterprises in South Korea, Delight is a manufacturer and distributor of hearing aids at low prices. The goal of the company is to “make a world where there is no one who cannot listen because one has no money”.
Delight created a solution by cutting costs and using technology and a lean distribution model. Delight hearing aids are designed to fit Asian physical characteristics and are distributed solely through its branch stores nationwide, thus enabling the company to provide quality products at affordable prices.
An impact-investment and incubation company, Crevisse invests in companies in industries ranging from education to the environment. The company encourages the growth of the social enterprise sector by providing financial and mentorship opportunities for new startups.
The focus of Crevisse on entrepreneurship is to make the world more beautiful by going beyond our limits. The company challenges itself to stand against notions of inequality and injustice and targets global business expansion of their projects.
D3jubilee is a startup that aimed at harnesses business entrepreneurship and the use of financial resources as leverage toward the creation of a better society and help the environment. The company plays a similar role to providing venture capital but also emphasises the building of a community of entrepreneurs and like-minded investors who are committed to the creation of companies with economic, social and environmental considerations. It is also committed to spurring social innovation through mutual inspiration and collaboration.
Considering the intense education system in South Korea, Bapul is an innovative app that has been created to help students with mathematics. Bapul is a social question and answer (Q&A) platform that enables users to ask and answer study questions. A student working on a tough question can take a photo using a smartphone or tablet and write out their approach to solving the problem. Within an average of 21 minutes, a response will be given with the correct answer and explanation.
By bringing 1:1 tutoring to the smartphone, Bapul is lowering educational inequality for students who cannot afford expensive tuition. Currently 300,000 middle school and high school students in South Korea use the app to aid their studies.
The emotional of working adults is often overlooked in the social startup sector. Blind is a startup trying to make life in corporate Korea easier by providing an anonymous social network for corporate workers. A user is verified by using their company email but then he or she is free to create an anonymous avatar through which they are free to talk without worrying about traditional hierarchical rules and statuses.
Blind gives employees a safe space to discuss firm-wide issues, get communal advice and build awareness for certain causes that you are championing in the workplace. It gives workers a chance to commiserate and is a way of relieving stress.
Combining powerful tools that help individuals understand their health with wearable technology, HUiNNO is a startup that is making waves in the health industry. The mission of the company is to deliver smart products and apps that will help individuals monitor their bodies as they work, play or sleep. With HUiNNO’s instantaneous, non-invasive and continuous monitoring, users can check and manage all essential vitals with extreme accuracy.
HUiNNO’s main product, CIRCLO, is a new innovative that can measure blood pressure instantly, accurately and continuously help to manage health without traditional cuffs. The product hit the shelves for sale to the public this year.
ZipBop focuses on an issue often overlooked both by new companies and large conglomerates – social cohesion. Society has become increasingly fragmented over the decades of economic development and traditional community has been dismantled.
ZipBop is an online platform that allows people to plan meetups over meals based on interests and themes. Users can look for meetings and expand their social network by going for dinner with like-minded individuals. This startup hopes to recreate the sense of community amongst Koreans by linking up individuals that would otherwise have no opportunity to meet.