I visited Gyeonggi Content Agency today at their headquarters in Seoul TechnoParkII and was able to meet their President Oh Chang-Hee, and Choi Yoonsik and his talented team.
The GCA manages six tech clusters across the wider region in and around Seoul supporting hundreds of young digital and tech start-ups. There’s a strong lean towards animation, immersive content and gaming though I did manage to meet companies developing AI and Robotics for entertainment and education.
I am struck, though, by the eco-system model the GCA operates. Just like The Landing at MediaCityUK they have fantastic facilities and prototyping/MVP lab spaces wrapped around open co-working and managed offices. However, unlike any managed tech spaces in the UK, GCA has significant governmental funding to support the clusters directly (tens of millions). Further, they take no equity in the companies they are nurturing, no ‘golden share’, no growth royalty, no incubation fee.
In the UK we have InnovateUK which does great things funding R&D and projects with demonstrable commercial relevance and potential, encouraging the commercial application of IP and academia/private sector partnerships. This is designed to unlock and accelerate ideas and products and bring them to market quickly, especially through our Universities.
And for our UK tech sector there’s an underlying belief that eco-system development is better left to the private sector which can more accurately assess a company team and its scalable product potential and provide targeted investment.
At the GCA, however, I’m seeing a different focus - on the young people themselves and their development as entrepreneurs. In essence it seems that GCA is funding entrepreneurship by providing space and services where emerging entrepreneurs can prove themselves. It’s a ticking clock but still gives start-ups a completely unfettered, undiluted three years to get something off the ground (a sort of Jobs-Wozniak time frame?). And no-one is hanging around here. There’s a manic energy amongst the companies and a desire to get to market. And they have plenty of larger corporations engaged too, assessing the supply-chain potential and scalability/exportability of company product.
But the really interesting thing for me at GCA and a possible USP for these Korean tech clusters is the organic interactions between the start-ups and a sense of wanting to push at ‘the new’, to do something fresh. It reminded me of an earlier UK Indie music scene which was unregulated but self-aware in its desire not to be derivative.
There may be something in this. Our lens in the UK at the moment is on commercializing intellectual property globally, and perhaps rightly so given our relatively small internal market. But we should also think about how we can support young people to discover and develop their own internal entrepreneurial instincts and to allow them to do what entrepreneurs do best: take risks, break rules.