Startup Seoul newsletter [4/5/2020]

Hello friends,

The world is still scrambling to make sense of our new normal, but I’m glad to see Korean startup activity coming back to life in the past month – and with it, this newsletter.

To little surprise, the narrative in the West of how to overcome the COVID-19 crisis has looked to Asia – particularly Taiwan and South Korea’s vigilant strategies to coordinate and control the virus’ spread.

As we’ve seen, the differences in culture, governance, regulations, health care infrastructure and the way we view privacy and centralized command have led to opposite containment strategies and results. The crisis has highlighted ways in which South Korea excelled, as my former colleague John Power wrote in SCMP, in using aggressive testing and data tracking to zero in on infections efficiently, and deploying communications channels like text messaging to keep people informed. But who’s right?

This pandemic has opened Pandora’s box on the issue of data sharing versus privacy. Will we arrive at a new convention on what data we allow governments to access in the event of managing a public emergency? Where will the line be drawn?

Recent developments to watch:

  • Big money for Kurly, Dooson Co., Bunjang
  • Tada ended van-hailing
  • Hana Bank and Woowa Brothers’ new credit rating model will use people’s delivery orders as a variable
  • Tmon reached profitability and wants to go public next year

Speaking of conventions, my colleagues and I at CoinDesk have been working tirelessly to put on Consensus: Distributed – a fully virtual, fully free conference experience with 24/7 programming for five days, May 11-15, with many thanks to our colleagues in China and Korea holding the fort in Asia. I invite you to join the 8,000+ attendees already registered for the event of the year in the blockchain and cryptocurrency industries.
 
If you’re just crypto-curious, check out the “Unlocked” track of 101-level content for you to dip your toes into. There’s also a whole ecosystem behind the registration wall for networking opportunities and events. Let me know if you join us!

You can donate to Startup Seoul in fiat or major cryptocurrencies on our website, and follow the content on Facebook.

Thank you for reading,
-Elaine | 일레인 기자 드림

This month’s news

MONEY

  • Hotel booking operator Yanolja, logged revenue consecutively for five consecutive years. This year it secured $260 million in revenue, up 78.8 percent from the previous year.
  • Online grocery delivery startup Kurly has raised an additional US$150 million in new funding from existing investors Sequoia Capital, Hillhouse Capital, and DST Global.
  • Logistics startup Dooson Company completes Series A by acquiring additional investments from Naver. The company has accumulated total investment worth 64.5 billion won and raised funds from major investors including KDB Capital, Krypton and BH Investment.
  • Mobile-based second-hand store Bunjang raised 56 billion won in fresh investment. BRV Capital Management, Base Investment-S2 Partners, Mirae Asset Venture Investment, Mirae Asset Capital, and Timewise Investment participated in this investment.
  • The Korea Youth Startup Foundation and the Korea Growth Financial Investment Management form a 30 billion won ‘banknote startup companion fund’ that can support growth funds throughout the startup life-cycle.
  • Mobility startup Phantom AI raised 27.3 billion won in Series A from Ford and Celery Investment.
  • Fashion startup Brandy raised 21 billion won in funds from companies including Sematlance Link, AT Investment, DSC Investment, Mirae Asset Venture Investment, SBI Investment and Korea Investment Management.
  • Premium content platform Ridi raises 20 billion won in funds from KDB Industrial Bank.
  • Healing Paper, operator of Gangnam Unni, a beauty medical information platform, has attracted 18.5 billion won in investment from Legend Capital in Series B round. Legend Capital, KB Investment, Hana Ventures, Premier Partners and Stonebridge Ventures participated in this investment round.
  • B2B food material distribution platform startup Market Boro raised 15 billion won in investment from Daily Food Holdings. Market Boro operates SaaS-based distribution management service Marketbom and food material open market Sikbom. The company’s accumulated investment is 20 billion won.
  • Influential, the operator of the full-length audiobook subscription service WILLA Audiobook, raised 13 billion won in Series B with Korea Development Bank, SBI Investment and SV Investment participating.
  • Take One Company, a cinematic game content company and creator of “BTS World,” raised about 12 billion won in Series C from private equity firm SG Private Equity. The company’s cumulative investment amounts to 20 billion won.
  • Global startup accelerator Sparklabs and Shinhan Capital created an 11 billion won fund for Korean startups including investments from Guangdong Pharmaceutical, Youngwon Trading Holdings, SBS Media Holdings and HDS Asset Management.
  • Cybersecurity company SecuLetter raised 9.6 billion won in Series B, including from UTC Investment.
  • Self-driving startup ThorDrive raised 8.4 billion won in Series A from Kiwoom/Emford and POSCO.
  • Link Flow, a wearable 360-degree camera developer, attracts investment of 7.2 billion won in Series B. NH Investment & Securities, Eureka Asset Management and Albatros Investments participated in this round.
  • Dongdaemun fabric export platform Fabric Time raised 7 billion won in investment from ATN Investment, IMM Investment, CLO Virtual Fashion and KB Investment.
  • Music copyright sharing platform Music Cow raised 7 billion won in Series B from LB Investment, Premier Partners and Midas Dong-A Investment. Music Cow is a copyright sharing platform that allows anyone to become the owner of their favorite music and earn stable and steady profits.
  • Seoul Robotics, a self-driving rider software startup, raised 6.5 billion won in Series A. Besides KB Investments, Korea Development Bank, Future Play, KDB Capital, Access Ventures and Australia-based Artesian Venture Partners also participated in this investment round.
  • Bio-startup Next & Bio has attracted 6.5 billion won in Series A. Five investors participated in this round, including Kolmar Korea, HK Innoen (now CJ Healthcare), Stonebridge Ventures, Hyundai Investment Partners and Hyundai Technology Investment.
  • ProtoPie, a prototyping software company, raised an additional $6.3 million for its series A round led by HB Investment, with Vela Partners, DevSisters Investment, Intops Investment, BSK Investment, Wonik Investment and Shinhan Capital participating.
  • Child care service Jaekkak Crocodile raised 6.3 billion won in Series A, bringing total investments to 8 billion won.
  • Frip, operated by Friendstrip, raised an additional 6 billion won in Series B, bringing total investment to 10 billion won. TS Investment, Woori Bank, Asset Plus are some of the companies that invested in this funding round.
  • AI-based fashion tech company Odd Concept raised 6 billion won in Series B from KB Securities, HB Investment, Shinhan Capital-Kium Investment, Industrial Bank and SBI Investment.
  • Smart logistics company Wikip closed a Series A 5.5 billion won funding round with investment from Naver.
  • Joy Corporation, which manages the online business messenger Channel Talk raised a pre-Series C investment worth 5 billion won with KB Investment, AT Investment and Laguna Investment Venture Capital participating.
  • HUINNO, an AI-based digital healthcare company, received 5 billion won in Series A round of investment from Yuhan Corporation.
  • EnergyX, a social energy platform service operator, raised 5 billion won in Series A from Hyundai Technology Investment, Simbon Investment Partners, Gloria Advanced Materials Investment, Opier Equity Partners, and Venture Square.
  • Korean online coding education provider, Codeit; raised 4 billion won in series A and received investment from A Ventures, Pearl Abyss, Future Play, KDB Capital and Shinhan Capital.
  • QStorage, an urban self-storage and small warehouse platform, and Qbiz Korea, an unmanned space management platform, raised 4 billion won in investment from NHN.
  • TLab, a private training studio managed by GymT, raised about 4 billion won from Yellow Dog, Terra Arc, Union Investment Partners and HGI-Simon Asset Management.
  • HMC Networks’s intermediary O2O platform CareNation raised a 4 billion won Series A round from HB Investment and LSK Investment, totaling 5.5 billion won in investments.
  • A data intelligence startup, SW2 Lab raised 3.5 billion won in funds in Series A investment from LB Investment, Stonebridge Ventures, and Magellan Technology Investment.
  • Banban Taxi, the operator of the anti-taxi mobility platform, raised 3.5 billion won from SK Gas, Motov, Northern Silicon Venture Capital (NLVC), SBA and An Investment.
  • Real-time restaurant reservation platform startup Catch Table (formerly Table Note) attracted 3.5 billion won in a bridge investment. The company’s total investment now tops 8 billion won.
  • Fast Lane Co., Ltd., which manages skin surgery platform Yoshin Ticket, raised 3.5 billion won in Series A from Bridge Investments, IBKC, Maple Investment Partners and Magna Investments.
  • Table Manager, a restaurant reservation and customer management solution company, attracts 3.5 billion won in Series A round of investments from Mega Investments, SJ Investment Partners, Strong Ventures, Capstone Partners, Ernest Ventures, KB Securities, and Shinhan Capital.
  • Valientex, which manufactures a robotic arm (camera car) that can attach to a vehicle for filming car scenes, has attracted a total of 3.3 billion won in seed investment from two companies including Company A. The investment was made through the company’s accelerator program, Kimg Sejong the Great × Queen Sejong the Queen Napshio, a science belt operated by the company.
  • KST Mobility completes Series A by raising an additional 3 billion won in bridge investment from Aju IB Investment and Wonik Investment Partners. The cumulative funds raised in Series A amount to 18 billion won.
  • Luxury pre-order platform Encode attracted investment worth 3.4 billion won in Series A from SV Investment. Decode (Encode)  is a D2C platform that directly connects consumers and suppliers of luxury brands such as Maison Margiela, Tom Brown, Celine, Army, and Maison Kitsune.
  • Solar Equity raised additional investment of 3 billion won from BNK Venture Investment. Solar Equity is a subsidiary of the Solar Connect Group and specializes in solar investment.
  • Spendit, a fintech startup that provides B2B solutions, raised 3 billion won in funds from Hana Ventures and Kolon Investment in Series A.
  • Flower tech startup and flower brand Kukka raised 3 billion won in Pre Series B. KB Investment, Aju IB, Mega Investment, and Hyundai Technology Investment participated in the round. Kukka’s cumulative investment is at 6 billion won.
  • Bio venture company MX Bio raised 2.8 billion won from CKD Startup Investment, HB Investment, KB Securities and Shinhan Capital. MX Bio develops sustained-release drugs and medical devices using nanofibers.
  • Jimsa, a price estimate comparison platform for moving services, raised a 2.8 billion won Series A investment from Pearl Abyss Capital, Mirae Asset Venture Investment, TEL Asset Management and Big Basin Capital.
  • The Wave Talk raised 2.6 billion won from Yellow Dog and Big Basin Capital. The company uses sensor technology to quickly and accurately detect bacteria, develop water quality sensors, and monitor equipment.
  • The Sandbox, also known as the blockchain version of Minecraft, raised around 2.5 billion won. Big investors such as Japanese game maker Square Enix, B Cryptos, True Global Ventures and Mindfulness Capital participated in this funding round.
  • Process mining-based data science company, Puzzle Data has attracted 2.3 billion won in Series A investment from Hyundai Technology Investment, Sulim Entrepreneurship Investment, Korea Growth Financial Investment Management, Inlight Ventures and Samsung Venture Investment.
  • Reward-based dating platform Vanilla Bridge raised 2 billion won from Stonebridge Ventures, Square Ventures, and Base Investment.
  • Insurtech company Habit Factory, operator of Signal Planner, raised 2 billion won in Series A from Sematlance Link Investment as a follow-up investment.
  • Motion2AI raised 1.5 billion won ahead of Motion Kit and Motion FMS’s release. Motion2AI provides unmanned mobility resource optimization solutions to distribution centers.
  • Delivery service provider Chain Logis, an on-time raised 1.2 billion won in Series A with Sematlance Link participating, bringing the company’s total investments to about 2.2 billion won.
  • Live commerce company Epiens raised 1 billion won in investment from K-beauty brand Clio. This investment combines Clio’s brand power and a new distribution called Live Commerce.
  • Breeze Investment invested 1 billion won in interior logistics prop-tech startup Howser, a software as a service (SaaS) company focused on the online and offline home furnishing market.
  • Global Mortgage Group attracted an investment of 600 million won from SparkLabs and Mirae Asset Venture Investment.
  • Logistics startup Dooson Company raised an undisclosed amount in its Series A with funds from Naver. Total funds are worth 64.5 billion won from major investors including KDB Capital, Krypton and BH Investment.

MOVES

  • Tmon aims to list IPO next year as it recorded 160 million won as operating profit last month, becoming the first local e-commerce platform operator to be in the black.
  • San Mateo-based company SendBird acquired Roundee.io, a Seoul-based video conferencing platform. SendBird is a leading startup in chat and messaging application programming interface service for mobile and web applications.
  • Samsung Group has offered to aid expansion of face mask production facilities amid supply shortages. The company is sharing its experience in building smart factories with small and medium-sized businesses to help them increase the production output of face masks.
  • LG CNS has spun off Hempking, an in-house startup specializing in the customs clearance business that utilizes robotics process automation (RPA) tools, the IT affiliate of LG Group. Hempking now offers customs clearance services to customs brokerage company SEIN Customs & Auditing Corporation.
  • Hana Bank and Woowa Brothers signed an MOU to create a credit rating model that uses the number of delivery orders through Woowa’s Baedal Minjok app and the repeat customer rate in the app as variables.
  • ShopBack has acquired online cashback platform Ebates Korea, marking its expansion into South Korea.
  • Coupang is taking its service Payment Gateway out of the e-commerce business and is preparing to establish a new company, Coupang Pay.
  • Coupang may seek new investors as SoftBank Vision Fund is floundering following the collapse of British satellite telecom company OneWeb and the coronavirus pandemic that continues to hurt Indian hotel chain startup Oyo.
  • Coupang launched a same-day delivery service for fresh food called Rocket Fresh Same-Day Delivery to help customers follow social distancing practices amid COVID-19.
  • Leisure activity booking platform Yanolja will launch an education program for front desk managers at smart hotels as hospitality technology continues to evolve.
  • Medytox, a leading Korean botulinum toxin maker, has filed a lawsuit, asking Daejeon District Court to cancel Ministry of Food and Drug Safety orders that the company suspend the manufacture, sale, and use of three dosage units of Meditoxin.

EMERGING

  • SmartStudy’s revenue rose by 164 percent to 105.5 billion won since last year, while operating profit jumped 33 percent to 34.7 billion won during the same period due to overseas sales.
  • Tada, a prominent Korean SME, was forced to end its van-hailing service on April 10 as the National Assembly passed a law revision aimed at prohibiting the operation of such services with drivers who do not possess a taxi license.
  • Dot Inc, which develops digital devices for visually impaired people, won at the World Summit Awards 2020 for Inclusion and Empowerment, becoming the first Korean startup to win the award and the only Asian startup to win this year.
  • Blood cell diagnostics firm Noul seeks to win WHO validation on its malaria diagnosis device next year.
  • Medtech company MEDICAL IP developed the country’s first commercial AI imaging technology MEDIP PRO. The device can provide accurate information on the severity of pneumonia in coronavirus patients.
  • South Korea‘s crowdfunding platform Wadiz launched an offline space to help fund-raising efforts by showcasing their products to visitors and funders.

GOVERNMENT / R&D

  • The South Korean government pledged 36 trillion won to support Korean exporters, 17.7 trillion won to boost the domestic market and 2.2 trillion won for help to startups as part of coronavirus stimulus measures.
  • Korean credit card companies including BC Card have teamed up with the Ministry of Science and ICT and the Korea Data Agency in supporting a data voucher project to help small businesses and startup companies.

TRENDS/FEATURES

  • The National Assembly‘s approval of a revision bill aimed at curtailing popular South Korean ride-hailing service Tada is feared to put the brakes on mobility unicorn firms.
  • Central to South Korea’s approach to curb COVID-19 has been the extensive collection and effective use of big data as a public good – in this case, disease surveillance and testing.
  • Korea’s response to COVID-19 was widely praised. Implementing the use of innovative technology from startups including Seegene, MiCo BioMed, Ahram Biosystems and Doknip Biopharm had a lot to do with it.