Seoul-based accelerator Kstartup just announced that it’s partnering with the Google for Entrepreneurs program. In fact, according to Kstartup co-founder and partner David Lee, this is Google’s first such partnership in Asia.
Lee was an early Googler (one of the first 200 employees), as well as a partner at SK Telecom Ventures and co-founder of XG Ventures. (He’s not the David Lee at SV Angel.) Through the partnership, he said, Google will provide an undisclosed amount of funding and other resources to help with Kstartup’s operations. It’s a three-month program that happens twice a year, providing free office space in the Gangnam district (“Psy not included“), as well as business and technical mentorship. Lee said he’s also raising a fund to make seed investments in the Kstartup companies, but that’s separate from the Google partnership.
Kstartup works with both early- and late-stage startups. The focus is on Korean startups that want to “go local or go global,” but Lee said he’s open to companies outside the country, too, if they’re looking to expand in Asia. He acknowledged that there are significant challenges facing entrepreneurs in Korea, including difficulty in raising funding from the big Silicon Valley-based VCs, as well as a national culture that doesn’t always view startups as a viable alternative to working at a big company. At the same time, he said that things are changing, and that an increasing number of people are becoming “super-excited” about entrepreneurship.
“Silicon Valley has had such a huge impact on Korea,” he said, later adding via email:
The valley is still the best place for this and the model for the rest of the world (because the best from all over the world is there), but demand for talent and superior technology is very competitive and in high demand which makes looking to other far away lands that are developing rapidly that much more appealing. You just need the right filter to find them. … And in many ways the ‘far away’ entrepreneurs are way ahead of the curve. Mobile and broadband penetration is high there and we can see ideas that are at work LONG before hitting the rest of the world. Cyworld for example, an early social networking service, predated Facebook by many years but didn’t have the global growth that Facebook had.
Kstartup was founded this year as a partnership between AppCenter, a Korean nonprofit “hub of more than 220 app centers nationwide,” and SeoulSpace, a coworking space. There’s a lot of crossover between the organizations. Lee also co-founded SeoulSpace (with Richard Min), while AppCenter was founded by JinHyung Kim and KJ Byeon, who are computer science professors at KAIST University and Ajou University, respectively. Kim is an advisor at Kstartup, and Byeon is the other partner. (Stanford Professor Richard Dasher is also a Kstartup advisor.)
Starting today, the program is accepting applications for its next class of approximately 10 startups, with a scheduled start in mid-January. You can apply here.