Hello friends,

Happy new year! With the new year comes new changes for the Startup Seoul newsletter.

My loyal assistant Jimin Ryu, a global manager for smartwatch maker Dot, will continue her work to support startups by entering Handong International Law School next month. She gathered news for this monthly newsletter since early 2017. Congratulations and thank you for your service!

With Jimin’s departure, Startup Seoul is engaging in an exciting new resource partnership with G3 Partners, a marketing, content and growth agency for startups expanding into or out of Asia. Together we will continue the high-quality content you expect while exploring new forms of collaboration. As Startup Seoul will always retain its editorial independence, you can trust it to continue sharing objective, informative insights.

With the new changes, I want to know more about your views on Startup Seoul. Please fill in this anonymous readership survey by Feb. 28.

Here’s a shortlist of news from this month:

  • Big money for Johnson&Johnson/Memebox, Socar
  • M&A for Samsung/Corephotonics Ltd
  • Now you can use Kakao Pay at Starbucks Korea stores nationwide
  • Blockchain R&D can get a tax credit
  • Government inspectors OKed 7 crypto exchanges: Upbit, Bithumb, Gopax, Korbit, Coinone, Hanbitco and Huobi Korea
  • Korea’s CES showcases included a walking car, indoor cartography robos, a 5G robot arm, a rollable OLED TV and a…cat treadmill

Happy lunar new year!

This month’s news

News and features on the Korean startup/tech scene from around the web.

MONEY

  • A total of 3.43 trillion won ($3.04 billion) was invested in startups last year, up 43.9 percent from the previous record high of 2.38 trillion won in 2017.
  • Coupang, Bluehole, Yello Mobile, Woowa Brothers, L&P Cosmetics and Viva Republica have made it to the list of unicorns with a valuation of over US$1 billion.
  • Samsung Venture Investment joined a $100 million Series C equity investment in Chinese diabetes management platform startup Hangzhou Kang Sheng Health Management.
  • Indonesia’s leading online marketplace Bukalapak raised US$50 million from the Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund.
  • Socar, a Korean ride-sharing platform service, raised $44.5 million from KB Investment, Stone Bridge Ventures, Softbank Ventures and Silicon Valley-based Altos Ventures to expand its infrastructure with R&D and improve its service.
  • Johnson and Johnson led a $35 million Series D funding round in K-beauty Memebox, which is home to its private-label brands Kaja Beauty, I Dew Care, Nooni and Pony Effect.
  • Indian co-living startup Zolo raised US$30 million (33.68 billion won) in a Series B round by Mirae Asset Group, IDFC Alternatives and Nexus Ventures Partners.
  • Korean trip and activity service Myrealtrip raised $15.1M USD (17B KRW) in January from Altos Ventures, Smilegate Investment, IMM Investment, IBK Capital and Mirae Asset-Naver Fund, bringing its total investments to about US$26.6M (30B KRW).
  • Korean VR tech startup Cupix locked down a $5.4M USD (6B KRW) investment from Athens, Stone Bridge, and Company K Partners.
  • South Korean solar powerhouse OCI Co. invested 5 billion won ($4.4 million) in SN BioScience, a nano-medicine research and development company, as its first investment in a biotech startup.
  • Food tech startup The PlantEat, which researches and develops alternative food products, raised $1.34M USD (1.5 billion won) in investment led by Stone Bridge Ventures and co-participated by Lotte Accelerator and Future Play–KDB Capital.
  • Medi Futures of Ultrasonic Biomedical Company has attracted $880,000 USD (1 billion won) in investment from Mega investment.
  • Kakao Ventures invested $500,000 (about 565.5 million KRW) into U.S startup Spatial that develops AR communication solutions.
  • Korean social venture Sovoro raised $440,000 USD (500M KRW) from Seoul- and San Francisco-based d3jubilee partners.
  • Femtech startup Dansaek, a women’s clothing line, raised a $350,000 USD (400 million won) seed investment from POSCO Technology Investment, Incheon Creative Economy Innovation Center and N15.
  • Kakao Ventures invested $170,000 USD (200 million won) into Mobiletoong, which operates mobile exchange service Travel Wallet.
  • Samsung Electronics and Amazon invested in Israeli semiconductor firm Wiliot, which develops chips that use ambient radiation as its power source. (amount undisclosed)
  • Social Bean, a household goods manufacturer, raised a private series A round with Kakao Ventures, KB investment Union, Platinum Technology Investment and Busan United Holdings. (amount undisclosed)
  • Sentbe raised a series B investment (amount not disclosed) from Stone Bridge, Hanwha securities, Leo Partners, d3jubilee.
  • Naver’s technology startup accelerator D2 Startup Factory (D2SF) invested in AI and self-driving companies MORAI, which developed self-driving simulators, and Genesis Lab, which developed AI-based emotional recognition technology for job interview consulting and self-driving cars. (amount not disclosed)

MOVES

  • Naver showcased automatic driving systems and indoor cartography robots as well as its xDM platform, a location and transportation solution, at this year’s CES.
  • Naver unveiled the world’s first robotic arm that can be controlled via a 5G network along with other robotic and AI technologies at this year’s CES.
  • Naver has no plans to launch an internet-only bank, shutting down rumors that the IT giant might open the country’s third such bank after K bank and Kakao Bank.
  • Naver added a Korean honorific feature to its Papago artificial intelligence (AI) translation app to allow foreigners to “communicate more accurately.”
  • Naver announced plans to make its Naver TV service an open platform where anybody can freely upload videos, pitting it in direct competition with YouTube.
  • NHN Entertainment will offer its clouding computing services to more financial companies and online shopping malls, going after Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft and other multinational service providers.
  • Kakao Corp. is temporarily suspending the pilot of its unnamed app-based carpool service in order to create an atmosphere of smooth communication to promote cooperation with the taxi industry and advance social cooperation.
  • Kakao Corp. announced plans to introduce Global Signal, a program that blocks messenger phishing.
  • Kakao Mobility signed a joint business agreement with Tago Solutions in order to provide high quality taxi services.
  • Kakao Pay made $17.7B USD (20 trillion KRW) in annual sales last year.
  • Kakao Pay launched its payment service at Starbucks Coffee Korea stores nationwide.
  • Kakao M will produce its own video content to vie with Netflix and CJ ENM as the firm appointed former CJ ENM CEO Kim Sung-soo as its new leader.
  • KakaoHairShop, a reservation service platform for hair salons, recorded 1.03 million customers and 60 billion won (US$53.21 million) in transactions last year.
  • Samsung Electronics opened a fine dust research center to find technological solutions to counter the environmental and health threats it poses.
  • Samsung and Apple joined hands to add Apple’s iTunes Movie, TV and AirPlay 2 features to Samsung’s smart TVs.
  • Samsung Electronics‘ in-house startup incubation program C-Lab have received the Innovation Awards at CES 2019 underway in Las Vegas, further enhancing the profile of the Korean tech giant’s startup program.
  • Samsung Electronics Co. is launching a major ‘green’ initiative and it will now use paper and eco-friendly materials for product packaging, as part of a campaign to address environmental problems surrounding resource depletion and accumulating plastic waste.
  • Samsung has signed a deal to acquire Tel Aviv-based smartphone camera company Corephotonics Ltd for $155 million. Corephotonics has developed a camera with dual lens technology for smartphones, which is designed to improve the quality of smartphone images.
  • Samsung and LG showcased their latest lineup of air conditioners with artificial intelligence capabilities and advanced air purification features to target the premium market.
  • LG Electronics Inc. unveiled the world’s first rollable OLED television, which can appear and disappear from a base unit with a click of a remote control.
  • LG Uplus and Google agreed to jointly back 3D virtual reality video content for distribution via LG Uplus wireless platforms and video streaming service YouTube.
  • LG Electronics Inc. and Naver Corp. will partner to develop an advanced guide robot. The two Korean companies agreed apply Naver’s integrated location and mobility solution eXtended Definition & Dimension Map (xDM) in LG’s guide robot called Air Star.
  • LG Electronics and KAIST are embarking on a research and development plan to connect a sixth generation telecommunications network with the upcoming fifth generation (5G).
  • SK Telecom will build a 5G mobile network for Seoul’s C-ITS project, an intelligent transportation system that allows drivers to receive information through a vehicle-to-everything (V2X) system on major roads, at a faster speed than through the 4G LTE network.
  • SK Telecom will team up with the country’s three terrestrial broadcasters to set up a local online video content service by June.
  • KT Corp. demoed a specially rigged bus in central Seoul to demonstrate its capability to deliver fifth-generation (5G) mobile network service.
  • Good Mobile will revive Pantech Co.’s SKY Phone within the first half of this year through an exclusive license deal, and is looking to take over SKY and Pantech service centers. It will be supplied to the nation’s three major carriers as well as budget mobile carriers.
  • The founder of South Korea’s major online game publisher Nexon Co. is poised to sell a controlling stake in the firm’s holding company.
  • Hyundai Motor Group’s ‘Silent Taxi’ project is developed to allow hearing-impaired individuals to drive safely by providing sound information with visual and sensory cues.
  • Hyundai Motor Co. has outlined its future mobility strategies at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), coming up with three key words: electrification, connectivity and open innovation.
  • Hyundai Motor unveiled a concept car that walks on legs during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
  • Hyundai Motor Group and Swiss deep-tech startup WayRay co-developed a holographic augmented reality (AR) navigation system.
  • Hyundai Motor Group has developed the world’s first multi-collision airbag system that provides additional protection in multi-collision accidents.
  • Hyundai Motor will build open innovation centers in Berlin and Beijing this year to complete a global open innovation network.
  • Singapore-based Grab began using Hyundai’s Kona Electric for its ride-hailing service.
  • SK hynix is conducting research and developing non-memory chips for vehicles.
  • The city of Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province, is working on a bid for the site of the construction of SK hynix Inc.’s 120 trillion won (US$106 billion) cluster for semiconductors.
  • SK hynix, Korea’s second-largest memory provider, achieved an all-time high net income of W15.5tr in 2018, but will slash capital expenditures amid negative forecasts for memory chip prices and demand in the first half of the year.
  • POSCO introduced a smart safety helmet at its factories to maximize safety and efficiency.
  • Facebook Inc. agreed to pay fees for providing content to Korean users through the lines of South Korea’s internet service provider SK Broadband Inc., a move that may pressure other major platform multinationals like YouTube and Netflix to take similar actions.
  • Viva Republica, which operates mobile financial service Toss, will release actual mini-insurance products that will guarantee daily risks.
  • Equity crowdfunding platform OurCrowd partnered with Korea’s KEB Hana Bank to support Korea’s innovation ecosystem.
  • Yanolja, a hotel and motel booking app operator, kicked off its global hotel booking service, enabling users to book hotels in the Americas, Europe, Japan and China as well as Southeast Asia.
  • Seoul’s oldest market Dongdaemun market has adopted the modern world’s way of working by hopping on to the digitalisation bus with Korean startup portal Linkshops.com.

EMERGING

  • Korean startup Studio XID has created a prototype tool Protopie and has been endorsed and utilized by designers from many high-profile firms like Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Alibaba, etc.
  • Bitsensing Inc, a Korean company that specializes in IOT radar technology believes in providing the best safety to this hyper-connected world. From smart surveillance to weather forecasting, it can send/receive data and communicate with various other devices via the internet.
  • Korean startup The Little Cat unveiled a $1,800 smart feline treadmill that aims to be the answer to pet obesity.
  • IT&Basic, the operator of Korea’s top audience response system Symflow, aims to reach break even in 2019 by expanding its domestic and overseas business.
  • KAIT (Korea Association for Information Communication) and KTOA (Korea Telecom Business Association), released an Android and iOS app that recommends tailored data plans based on customers’ usage.
  • Korean edutech startup RiiiD is expecting to launch its machine learning engine into Vietnam and China by 2020.
  • The Korea Insurance Development Institute started developing a new assessment tool called ‘Automobile Repair Cost On-line Service-α’ (AOS-α), which will estimate vehicle repair costs by analyzing pictures of car wrecks caused by traffic accidents.
  • Korean startup FutureBioWorks’ Biotechnology Research Institute is developing a shape memory polymer for safe and fast vascular implants.
  • BrandNew Tech, which has an AI-based design platform, Vivivik.com, has signed an MOU with Dodoom Korea, a company that designs IT-based social contribution programs.
  • ZOYI Corporation, which operates real-time chat consulting solution Channel Talk, surpassed 10,000 client companies in 22 countries including the US, Japan, Germany and Vietnam.
  • Wadiz facilitated over 100 billion won ($88.6 million) of investment in 2018, making it the first crowdfunding platform in Korea to cross that threshold.
  • The Korean startup Radish is revolutionizing the mobile-reading space with its serialized storytelling platform. Radish serves a wide variety of stories that can be read in bite-sized installments optimized for the smartphone reader.
  • Lollicam, a real-time mobile video application developed by Korean startup Seerslab, takes an approach called “pre-processing” which enables the user to create and edit videos simultaneously.
  • Spoon Cast, a private radio broadcasting service targeting Gen Z-ers, surpassed $20.2M USD (23B KRW) in 2018 annual sales, marking a nine-fold annual growth rate.

CRYPTO/BLOCKCHAIN

  • South Korea’s government has added blockchain to the fields of research and development eligible for a tax credit meant to boost innovation. The proposed changes to the enforcement decree of last year’s tax law, which will be enforced in February.
  • KT claims to be the first South Korean company to apply cloud-based blockchain (BaaS) platform to its in-house service.
  • LG Chem and other global firms plan to use blockchain technology to trace and validate ethically sourced minerals.
  • South Korea’s four largest cryptocurrency exchanges Bithumb, Coinone, Korbit and Upbit formed a joint initiative to increase anti-money laundering (AML) efforts and foster a healthier trading environment.
  • The Ministry of Science and ICT, the Korea Internet & Security Agency and the Ministry of Economy and Finance inspected 21 crypto exchanges from September to December 2018, and only 7 of them — Upbit, Bithumb, Gopax, Korbit, Coinone, Hanbitco and Huobi Korea — cleared all the tests.
  • ICON, a major blockchain project in South Korea, has a new accelerated strategy to expand its public blockchain ecosystem.
  • Two leaders of the South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Komid were sentenced to serve jail time for faking exchange volumes. The charges reportedly outline a scheme where the exchange faked 5 million transactions in order to inflate the volume, which reportedly earned them $45 million.
  • KEB Hana Bank joined two global consortia Hyperledger and Enterprise Ethereum Alliance to promote research and development of distributed financial ledgers through blockchain technology.
  • Crypto exchange Coinzest accidentally made a Bitcoin (BTC) airdrop to its clients in the value of 6 billion Korean won ($5.3 million USD) when it was trying to airdrop We Game Tokens (WGT) to its clients.
  • The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) was launching a trial program to develop new blockchain platforms and services to improve public faith in the defense acquisition process.
  • The Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) is establishing “an intelligent import food integration system” that will use blockchain technology prevent the forgery and alteration of information of imported food.
  • Samsung Electronics appears to be expanding its mobile payment strategy to include blockchain technology and is planning to include a cryptocurrency wallet on the Galaxy S10.
  • Yeongdeungpo-gu, an administrative district in southwest Seoul, aims to strengthen its administrative transparency by applying a blockchain-based evaluation system that will be used throughout all proposal evaluation projects in the district in 2019.
  • Korean startup RemoteMonster, which specializes in WebRTC-based broadcast, has introduced a technology-based broadcasting project named CASTO that allows a decentralized media streaming network based on WebRTC and blockchain technology. The company hopes to create an affordable technology for service providers competing against web video streaming giants like Google and YouTube.

INFRA/R&D

  • The South Korean government will step up oversight on technology leaks by toughening rules on cross-border merger and acquisitions (M&A) of Korean firms and strengthening punishment.
  • The South Korean government plans to establish an automation foundation by 2025, and complete a smart maritime logistic system by 2030.
  • The South Korean Government is taking cybersecurity seriously for the impending 5G era and will dedicate US$6.2M (710B KRW) in the next four years.
  • South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT will invest 37.5 billion won (US$33.6 million) in the development of converging technologies in robotics, biology and artificial intelligence.
  • The South Korean government kicked off Drone Show Korea 2019 in the southern port city of Busan, with some 100 firms showcasing their latest drones and related technologies.
  • The government’s information and communication technology (ICT) policy promotion agency will spend 1.05 trillion won ($929 million) this year to nurture talented individuals in software engineering, a 21.8 billion won increase from the previous year.
  • South Korea conducted an artificial rain experiment over the Yellow Sea to analyze the method’s effect on reducing fine dust pollution.
  • The city of Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, used big data technology to find blind spots in its welfare system.
  • The science ministry will raise its investment in fostering data and artificial intelligence development from 14 trillion won ($12.5 billion in 2018) to 30 trillion won in 2023 to make South Korea a global industry leader by 2023.
  • The city of Ulsan plans to launch a pilot project to load shipments onto cargo vessels docked at the city’s port using drones.
  • The National Maritime Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (NMPNT) Office announced that 243 people were rescued at sea last year thanks to Haeroad, a South Korean maritime safety application.
  • Researchers at Seoul National University developed a tool for automatically parallelizing deep learning training.
  • A South Korean research team created a stress sensor that could be inserted into the human body to measure stress in real-time.
  • Korean researchers have developed a core chip for three-dimensional image sensors which function as the “eye” of autonomous vehicles, drones, and robots. In the future, the chip will be mounted on smartphones and used for various services, such as face recognition and augmented reality (AR).
  • The Seoul School of Integrated Sciences and Technologies (aSSIST) announced that it had launched the “world’s first crypto MBA course for a business graduate school. The new course launches in the first semester of 2019, includes curricula on Bitcoin, Ethereum, smart contract, cryptology, EOS, deep learning and system dynamics mechanisms.
  • The Stanford University Investment Company, also known as mProbe, which develops metabolome and proteome analysis technology, signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information for commercializing technologies.
  • South Korean researchers developed a sensor that can diagnose depression with sweat.

FEATURES

  • South Korea is expected to become one of the top five spenders on Internet of Things (IoT) technologies this year, with global spending on the industry forecast to reach $745 billion.
  • The value of South Korea’s e-sports industry increased 4.2 percent on-year to 97.3 billion won (US$87 million) in 2017.
  • Korean and Chinese smartphone makers are competing for a bigger share of the global market to keep ahead of the competition in future mobile technology.
  • Market research firm KRG forecast that the domestic IT service market will be stuck on a slow growth rate of 3 percent over the next 10 years.
  • Prices of dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips for data center servers are expected to drop about 50 percent this year due to inventory problems.