Google opens Campus Seoul for startups

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The South Korea startup community has a new feather in its cap: it’s the first Asian country to have a Google campus for startups and entrepreneurs. Citing the country’s flourishing startup scene and pervasive smartphone use for its choice, Google opened the campus in the upmarket neighbourhood of Gangnam in Seoul on 8 May. Google has similar ventures in London and Tel Aviv.This latest development dovetails perfectly with President Park Geun-Hye’s declared “creative economy” policy. President Park opened Campus Seoul and during her speech reiterated her government’s intention to “develop South Korea into the fastest growing global start-up hub in the world”.

The Google campus will offer mentoring and training by Google teams and experienced entrepreneurs, as well as access to other start-up communities in Asia and beyond. Google’s plans include hosting events for tech startups and mentoring for female entrepreneurs who have children.

The timing of Google’s involvement in the Korean startup scene is interesting. It comes at a time when Korea has produced ten “unicorns” (software startups with valuations of over $1 billion) and is said to have reached a tipping point where local startups will start to go global. The ten Korean unicorns are a clear indication of the massive progress Korean entrepreneurs have made in a country that is still conservative in many ways and highly regulated by the state. These companies include messaging platforms Kakao and Line and the local versions of Google, Daum and Naver. Google does not have significant traction in Korea.

Despite their huge domestic success, Korean startups have not yet succeeded in taking their products to the global market. This is where Google’s involvement can be crucial. The US tech giant will help local startups to tap into overseas markets and enable them to build relationships with overseas startups as well as global accelerators and venture capital firms. At the same time, it is envisaged that the Seoul campus will be an entry point for overseas startups to the Asian market.

Although the Google campuses are not-for-profit projects and the company has no financial stake in the startups, the US tech giant’s huge resources, contacts, and expertise are bound to have a meaningful impact on the local startup scene. There will no doubt be untold benefits for Google as well.