Startup Seoul newsletter [2/27/2020]

Hello friends,

It’s been an eventful month — not the least due to the coronavirus and Korea’s Shincheonji church taking over headlines worldwide. While manufacturing sectors like autos and smart devices as well as events are taking a hit, Korean delivery services are seeing a boom as people stay indoors. I hope you’re staying infection-free.

For my part, my years covering entrepreneurship and tech in South Korea have led me to my next chapter — in New York, where I’ve joined CoinDesk to work on audience development and global growth for the leading media outlet in the fast-changing space of blockchain technology and digital finance. Therefore, you might see more of a blockchain bent in this newsletter. Please get in touch when you’re in town.

It was a slow month due to the coronavirus outbreak, but here were a few highlights (scroll down for links):

  • Big money for Styleshare
  • Seoul court cleared Tada of operating illegal taxi services
  • POSTECH is issuing ICONLOOP blockchain-based diplomas amid coronavirus
  • Korea will allow Y Combinator’s SAFE investment instrument for easier startup fundraising
  • Bank of Korea is looking into blockchain bonds
  • Crypto startup Contents Protocol Team is shutting down and refunding $8 million to investors
  • Baedal Minjok will back any rider who needs to quarantine for COVID-19
  • Coronavirus is hampering cars, but boosting O2O retail

If you haven’t already, check out this VR experience of a mother revisiting her deceased child to say goodbye. It was aired in a documentary on MBC. The project is noteworthy in many ways. On top of it being a months-long feat to produce, it raises ethical issues. It’s not the first recreation of a deceased person — one notable example is this AI chatbot featured in Wired — but at what point does this process become toxic for the subject? Rather than helping them heal, will it harm them at some point, especially if the exposure is repeated or prolonged? Further, is it voyeuristic as a viewer to watch this intimate experience play out?
 
Food for thought. In any case, the project was a technological milestone, and who knows — maybe one day Korea’s advances in virtual reality will land it another Oscar beyond “Parasite.”

I won’t be writing much on Korean tech in my new position at CoinDesk, but if I do, you’ll see it here. 

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

  • Styleshare, a Korean e-commerce fashion startup raised 25 billion won in its series B funding round from investors such as Stonebridge Capital, SBI Investment and Premier Partners.
  • H2O Hospitality, a Korean startup dedicated to vacation rental management in Japan, raised $7 million from Samsung Ventures, Stonebridge Ventures, IMM Investment and Shinhan Capitalto to meet its fast-growing working capital needs on the back of strong growth.
  • CastingN, a Korean startup that provides B2B matching services for outsourcing, raised 4 billion won from investors such as MAGNA Investment and Hana Banks.
  • Neurophet, a Korean AI-based brain disease diagnostics company raised an additional 3 billion won in its series A round funding from SBI Investment.
  • HONT, a Korean company that provides shared kitchen space Monthly Kitchen, raised 2.3 billion won in a series A funding round from investors such as DS Asset and HUMAX group.
  • S.Lab, a Korean startup that provides cold chain logistics service, raised 2 billion won in its pre-A funding from investors such as TBT, Honest Ventures and We Ventures.
  • JD Solution, a Korean sound-tech startup, raised 1.6 billion won from Michigan Venture Capital.
  • Deediim, a Korean startup specialized in developing and manufacturing machine vision sensors, raised 1.5 billion won in its pre-A series funding from Lighthouse Combined Investment and Laguna Investment.
  • Indent Corporation, which runs the video consumer review platform VReview, raised a 1.2 billion won seed investment from Future Play and Insight Equity Partners.
  • Consumer Bridge, a Korean startup which runs electronics comparison website Honey Review, has attracted a seed investment of 300 million won ($251,000) from Kakao Ventures.
  • Realwith, a Korean startup that provides education and game content based on XR, AR and VR, raised an undisclosed amount of seed investment from Infobanks.
  • BPM, a Korean startup that provides wearable audio device Run-up, raised an undisclosed amount of seed investment from Y&Archer.
  • Control F, a Korean startup that provides an O2O platform for sharing reviews after cleaning services, raised an undisclosed amount of investment in its pre-A series funding round from IBK bank and Y-Alliance.
  • Dogugonggan, a Korean startup that develops self-driving robots, raised an undisclosed amout of seed investment from Future Play, Shinhan Capital, and KDB Capital.

 

MOVES

  • Naver will close off comments under its entertainment news until further notice for the sake of celebrities’ mental health.
  • An Iranian official warned Samsung Electronics of plans to restrict the use of the tech giant’s mobile phones in the country, accusing the company of bowing to pressure from the United States.
  • Korea Investment Corporation will open a San Francisco office within the year to improve its deal sourcing capability for technology startups and other alternative assets, while beginning to entrust domestic asset managers with part of overseas stocks and fixed income investment.
  • Hyundai Motor Group has signed a deal with U.S. electric vehicle startup Canoo to develop an electric vehicle (EV) platform for its upcoming models.
  • Hyundai Motor Group partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy to support research and development of hydrogen technology by offering hydrogen cars, charging stations and data analysis.
  • Hyundai predicts about half its cars due in the coming months will be delayed by Chinese parts shortages caused by shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus.
  • KT has partnered with the World Bank to cooperate in international development projects based on Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data.
  • South Korean airline conglomerate Hanjin Group partnered with Plug and Play Center, a Silicon Valley-based early-stage investor and startup accelerator, to generate a new growth driver in the “travel and hospitality” business in addition to its mainstay airline business.
  • Despite record-breaking earnings in 2019, major financial institutions are struggling as prospects worsen for several troubled funds at Lime Asset Management.
  • Nonghyup Bank joined forces with Rainist, operator of the Banksalad personal finance management app, to cooperate on financial data ahead of the full implementation of the so-called three data bill, which passed in the Assembly in January.
  • South Korean food delivery service Baedal Minjok will provide financial support for its riders if they have to self-quarantine for COVID-19.

 

EMERGING

  • The Seoul Central District Court acquitted van-hailing service Tada of operating illegal taxi services, calling it a legitimate rent-a-van business.
  • Korean startup SendBird, a chat platform for mobile apps and websites, was ranked No. 38 on the Y Combinator’s recently released Top 100 Companies List for 2019.
  • Korean-based IT company HyperConnect’s video-chatting app Azar has reached Europe’s 4th top-earning app by revenue. With over 300 million downloads in over 130 countries, Azar has established itself as one of the biggest player in the dating app market.
  • The Born2Global Center member Chequer, a startup developing data collaboration and security solutions, was selected as a new service partner of global software development platform GitHub and launched its service last month.
  • PiQuant, a domestic startup with technology to detect water contamination in 60 seconds, was chosen as a partner for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

CRYPTO/BLOCKCHAIN

  • Cryptocurrency exchange Bithumb signed a deal with the elite Korea University to conduct joint research on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.
  • Crypto startup Contents Protocol Team, which raised 29,334 ETH (~$8.15 million) via an initial coin offering and private token sale, is shutting down and refunding investors.
  • Given the threat of the coronavirus, Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) is set to issue blockchain-stored diplomas to its new graduates, through blockchain-based certification service broof by ICONLOOP.
  • Saramin, a job placement platform, signed an MOU with blockchain startup ICONLOOP to build a blockchain-based digital ID and authentication ecosystem, as well as to bring transparency in the human resources field.
  • Crypto finance services startup Childly established a U.K. subsidiary to ensure the smooth, secure business operation of its crypto wallet service Dove Wallet.
  • Software giant Hancom entered a partnership with Shinhan DS, the IT services unit of Shinhan Bank, to build a blockchain-based digital asset management platform.
  • Seoul Metropolitan Government revamped its citizen engagement platform Democracy Seoul, adding blockchain support to prevent referendum voting fraud.

 

INFRA/R&D

  • The Financial Services Commission chief said the government will continue its push to deregulate the industry, despite recent private-equity debacles.
  • The Financial Services Commission and Seoul Metropolitan Government have committed roughly 19 billion KRW ($16 million) for four years to train fintech specialists.
  • Busan Metropolitan City plans to inject 205.6 billion won ($174.4 million) this year to launch a new technology hub and back the startup ecosystem in line with the nationwide venture boom.
  • Minister of SMEs and Startups Park Young-sun has pledged up to 10 billion won in policy funds for companies with high growth potential in medicine, medical equipment and biotechnology.
  • The South Korean government is poised to employ a Silicon Valley-style venture capital instrument, the Simple Agreement for Future Equity (SAFE) introduced by accelerator Y Combinator, to let startups raise funds with fewer strings attached.
  • The Bank of Korea has been seeking a blockchain services provider in order to build a blockchain bond system that would allow distribution of the bond records among all participants.

 

 TRENDS/FEATURES

  • The value of Korea’s initial public offerings (IPOs) rose 22.8% in 2019 from a year earlier, while the number of companies that made market debuts slid from 77 to 73.
  • South Korean convenience stores such as GS 25, CU and Emart 24 are competing over delivery service by having a partnership with delivery platforms such as Coupang Eats and Yogiyo
  • Online retail sales for Coupang, Market Curly and SSG.com have skyrocketed as the coronavirus outbreak keeps people out of stores.