Accelerating Impact from Strategic Partnerships to Policy Entrepreneurship

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Four Approaches to Open Innovation in Korea

Open innovation in Korea is slowly moving away from building R&D capacities to reassessing business and operational models by either building its own corporate venture capital arm or working with an external consulting partner (typically a VC or an accelerator). The purpose for most Korean companies would mainly to have a testbed in innovating its business model or developing new technologies. And by running the open innovation program, the respective company would update its biz model, secure new talent, tech, market insight, and approaches to customer acquisition, etc.

Of course, a company may decide to buy a well-oiled startup with the range of technologies the company would need. For instance Hanwha Systems recently bought Satrec Initiative and plans to equip itself with the nut sand bolts to launch its own satellite.

In Korea, open innovation really used to be investing in a company one by one or expanding its social impact footprint and its CSR program, e.g., Hyundai Car’s pitch program called H-On Dream, but it is now opening up to a much more open collaborative approach. 

  1. Digital Transformation with a consulting firm: One of the most well-known open innovation consulting firm is called 로아 인벤션랩. Its most successful case studies are with KT 국민은행 and working with fashion & cosmetic brand companies that were relatively slow to innovate, e.g., LF and 신세계. Side note: It also began investing in startups, ~20 last year, via an angel-based VC, Big Bang Angels.
  2. MOU-based with VC/Accelerator: A large startup/accelerator/VC signs a partnership with a corporation to reassess its business model. The example I witnessed was the one with Hashed, a blockchain fund in Korea. It worked with an array of companies, banks, LG CNS, and those even remotely interested in learning about blockchain, including SM entertainment and CTIA, a mobile telecom company. And in doing so, the corporation’s tech or new business department could pilot a business model and the VC funneled its startups to partner with large corporations.
  3. CVC: The corporation could also decide to build its a raw datasheet of startups by opening a “신사업” or new business branch in industries it already does business in.The most successful ones I’ve seen are Kakao Ventures and Samsung Next. Most Korean CVCs do not have a very strong international base, except for the Korean conglomerates that already have a presence abroad. 한화생명’s Dream plus 63 has secured a network in Tokyo and Shanghai. Even Smart Study famous for its animation and its song, baby shark, has hired one or two investment analysts to review startups that they could be a part of. And it was quite successful at it so far. The interested company could soft-land by participating in one of KITA Next Rise’s programs as a judge/mentor. 
  4. Introduction-based: KITA has done this really quite well. KITA is the parent company that owns the space in Coex Mall and has a free lounge for startups. Annually, it hosts an annual conference called Next RIse for the purpose of assisting with open innovation. Another program KITA is famous for is a program called Fortune 500 Connect. KITA hosts an open invitation for startups interested in working with conglomerate contacts, notably BMW and Chanel, in the States, etc., to make introductions. 

Open innovation may seem tricky to enter, but there are many new mediums in which the startup could enter the field of open innovation. I suggest all those who are interested to start attending the startup-corporate meet-ups and or read case studies of successful programs or acquisition models.