2021 has been a breakthrough year for the Korean startup ecosystem despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Korean Chat API startup Sendbird raised $100 million in Series C funding with a valuation of $1.05 billion. Sendbird is now one of the 12 unicorn startups based out of South Korea. South Korea’s largest e-commerce company, Coupang, raised around $4.6 billion in the biggest US initial public offering (IPO) this year. In the first quarter of 2021, at least 34 companies (many of which were tech startups), have applied to the Korea Exchange (KRX) for IPOs.

South Korea wants to grow its tech ecosystem and digital economy by making it easier for startups from abroad to expand in the country. The South Korean government aims to attract global startups to set up operations in South Korea and help broaden the spectrum of tech-related products and services available in the vibrant market.

As such, startups from around the world are now able to apply to K-Startup Grand Challenge 2021, South Korea’s government-backed global acceleration programme. The programme started accepting applications from April 15, 2021.

Organised and financed by the Korean government, South Korea’s Ministry of SMEs and Startups (MSS) and National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA), the programme represents an unparalleled opportunity for startups to expand into the South Korean and wider Asian markets.

What global startups can expect from the programme

The programme opens up a slew of perks for all interested participants. KSGC 2021 will offer 60 teams and entrepreneurs an all-expenses-paid, 3.5-month residency programme in South Korea that includes access to expert guidance, co-working spaces, state-of-art R&D labs, corporate partnerships, entry to Asian markets, and more.

Not only that, but startups will be able to immerse in a conducive environment where they have access to some of the latest innovations today. The acceleration programme is hosted at the startup campus in Pangyo Techno Valley, a tech hub near Seoul. The top ten chosen startups will also win grants worth $320,000, with the first-placed team receiving $120,000.

The programme has historically yielded some of the most successful expansions by global startups into the region.

Texas-based health-tech startup Ommo technologies spread its reach to the Asian markets with participation in the K-Startup Grand Challenge 2020 programme. Since joining the KSGC programme in the summer of 2020, Ommo technologies has raised US $3M led by Korean investors.

Kyul Ko, Co-founder & COO, Ommo technologies shared — “KSGC helped pave the way for us to reach out to potential investors and partners. Not only does the Korean government support domestic startups, but it also helps international startups help find their home in Korea to take advantage of the support it provides, KSGC being the epitome. Once you are able to run your business successfully in Korea, then all of Asia is within reach.”

How interested participants can join

To apply, startups must be less than seven years old, and their representative must be of foreign nationality. They must also demonstrate a clear interest in expanding into the Korean and East Asian markets.

The programme first launched in 2016, aims to promote the expansion of an open entrepreneurship ecosystem in Asia and assist in South Korea’s evolution into a prominent startup and business hub in the region. In the year 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the programme saw a 58% surge in applications, with 2,648 teams applying from 118 countries.

For further information and to apply for the K-Startup Grand Challenge, visit the website at https://www.k-startupgc.org. You may also check the Facebook page and the LinkedIn page for more information and further updates.

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