Startup Seoul newsletter [01/30/2020]

Hello friends,

The scene in Asia as the coronavirus spreads, as it plays out in the drama that is Western media, is like “Contagion” coming to life. I hope you’re all staying safe and infection-free.

As I curated this month’s newsletter, another movie scene came to mind. In the futuristic “Minority Report,” police officers in the “pre-crime” unit arrest individuals for crimes they haven’t yet committed. Controversially, the U.S. and U.K. are already using algorithms pulling from various data to identify people who are at risk of committing a crime.

This month, South Korea unveiled plans for its own version of predictive technology to tackle crime — an AI-based CCTV surveillance system with tech that will analyze video footage, court rulings and criminal patterns to predict the possibility of crimes. The aim is to help prevent crimes such as sexual assault in public places. On privacy, the research team claims a “masking effect” will automatically cover people’s faces, and only authorized people will be able to see the original video.

While concerns over privacy and surveillance are peaking in Western countries, such state-run practice is status quo in China and Singapore. When this project officially launches in a few years, how will South Koreans react? How do we trust that privacy is truly protected? Will the assurance of safety override concerns of over-policing?

Things to think about as AI-driven technology impacts society.

Otherwise, it was a busy month for Korean tech to kick off the new year.

Here were a few intriguing highlights (scroll down for links):

  • Big money for Spoon
  • LG Uplus is selling its payment gateway business to fintech unicorn Viva Republica
  • Startup Alliance’s Lim Jung-wook was named cochief of Naver’s VC firm TBT
  • Seoul is getting AI-powered surveillance cameras to detect the likelihood of crime
  • Hyundai Motor and Uber will colaunch an air taxi service
  • Korea is the eighth country to roll out 5G nationally
  • Health care startups EXOSYSTEMS and Neofect won CES 2020 Innovation Awards
  • Coupang wants to IPO in 2021
  • Binance has invested in BxB, the fintech startup behind KRWb, the first Korean won (KRW) backed stablecoin
  • South Korea ranked second on the latest Bloomberg Global Innovation Index
  • The finance ministry is considering a 20% income tax on cryptocurrency transactions
  • The military is developing a blockchain-based biometric ID

At Forkast.News, we’ve released the China Blockchain Report into the wild. You can read all the articles on our website here. Let me know what you think.

May you enjoy health and prosperity in the year ahead.

Thank you for reading,
Elaine | 일레인 기자 드림

This month’s news


  • Hyundai Motor Group will invest 129 billion won ($111 million) in London-based EV startup Arrival, in an effort to secure electric vehicle manufacturing technology and market dominance.
  • Spoon, an audio live stream platform, raised 45 billion won in its series B funding round from investors such as KB Investment IMM Investment and SBI Investment.
  • NPIXEL, a game developer startup, raised 30 billion won in its series A funding round from investors such as Altos Ventures to help launch its first game Gran Saga.
  • Lunit, a Korean AI startup that develops medical image analytics and data-driven imaging biomarkers, raised 30 billion won in its series C funding round from investors such as Shinhan Investment, Kakao Ventures and China’s Legend Capital.
  • StradVision, which works on camera technology for autonomous cars, raised a $27 million Series B funding round led by Posco Capital.
  • South Korea’s science ministry will allocate 26.9 billion won (US$23.2 million) in 2020 to expand the country’s innovative drone capabilities.
  • Buzzvill, a global leading provider of rewarded ads platform, raised 20.5 billion won from investors such as SBI Investment and LB Investment.
  • SuperBin, a clean tech startup, raised 20 billion won in its series B funding round from investors such as Humax and TBT.
  • Private equity firm ATU Partners announced the launch of a $17 million growth fund that will invest in the esports space, becoming Asia’s first fund focused on the burgeoning industry.
  • Dholic, a Korean e-commerce startup targeting Japanese market, raised 16 billion won in its seris A funding round from We Ventures.
  • Balaan, which provides a shipping platform for luxury fashion, raised 10 billion won in its series A funding round by investors such as SBI Investment and Kolon Investment.
  • Bomapp, maker of a mobile insurance management solution, raised 8.5 billion won from Hana Venture Capital.
  • Spacework, a Korean prop-tech startup that provides AI-based real estate solutions, raised 8 billion won in its series A funding round from investors such as KB Investment and Stonebridge Ventures.
  • AITRICS, a Korean startup that provides AI-based health care solution, raised 8 billion won in its series A round funding from investors such as Premier Partners and BNH Investment.
  • Funda, a Korean startup who provides P2P Loan service platform, raised 6.6 billion won in its series B funding round from investors such as IBK Bank and Korea Investment Partners.
  • Deeping Source, a Korean data anonymizer solution startup, raised 5.5 billion won in its series A round funding from investors such as KDDI Open Innovation Fund III and Stonebridge Ventures
  • Afuninteractive, a Korean startup creating 3D content based on real-time rendering technology, raised 5 billion won from investors such as Timewise Investment and XRM media.
  • Kaipharm, a Korean AI-based pharmaceutical startup raised 5 billion won in its series A funding round from investors such as KB Investment, Kolon Investment and En Venture Partners.
  • Marketit, a Korean startup that provides an influencer marketing platform, raised 5 billion won in its series B funding round from AlpenRoute asset Management.
  • Viva Wave, a Korean beauty startup with their own brands ‘Hince’, raised 5 billion won in its series A round funding from Smilegate Investment and Hana Ventures.
  • Nunap Vision, a digital therapeutics startup that provides perception training using a VR headset to help treat visual field defects caused by brain damage, raised 5 billion won in its series A funding round from investors such as K Partners, KTB Network, and K2 Investment Partners.
  • Tictoccroc, a Korean startup that provides a matching service between parents and babysitter, raised 5 billion won in its series A funding round from Smartstudy ventures who is known for its brands Pinkfong.
  • Bear Robotics, a company that develops autonomous robots built to shuttle food from restaurant kitchens to tables, raised 4 billion won in its Series A funding round from investors such as Soft banks, Lotte Investment and Smile Gate.
  • Dohans, a logistics startup, raised 4 billion won in its series A funding round from investors such as BeHigh Investment and Shinhan Alternative Investment Management.
  • Twave, a Korean fintech startup raised 3.8 billion won in its series A funding round from investors such as Square Ventures and Bokwang Venture Capital.
  • Tripbtoz, a Korean online travel platform startup, raised 3.3 billion won in its series A funding round from investors such as TS Investment and SJ Partners.
  • AmazeVR, a cloud-based platform for high-quality VR content production and distribution, raised 2.9 billion won in additional Series A funding from investors such as Partners Investment and YG Investment.
  • South Korea-based distributed ledger blockchain game developer SuperTree Co. Ltd. raised $2.5 million in a Series A investment led by Korea Investment Partners and SBI Investment Korea.
  • Hey Joyce, which provides a membership-based networking club for career women, raised 2 billion won in its pre-A series funding round from investors such as UTC Investment and IGIS Asset Management.
  • Beecanvas, which provides collaborative whiteboard software, raised 1.2 billion won from investors such as ES Investor, KB Securities and Ascendo Ventures.
  • Ichrogene Inc, which analyzes DNA data to offer a detailed healthcare solution that is personalized for each individual, raised 1.1 billion won in its pre-series A funding round from investors such as Naver and NewFlight.
  • Chianlogis, a logistics startup, raised 1 billion won in its pre-series A funding round from Schmidt and Base Investment.
  • Shopl, which provides retail management solution based on SaaS software, raised a 1 billion investment in its pre-A funding from TBT Corporation.
  • Payple, a fintech startup that provides a startup-focused payment gateway service, raised an undisclosed amount of investment from Strong Ventures.
  • LFin, a Korean startup that provides a location based authentication system, raised an undisclosed amount of investment in its pre-A series funding from investors such as Samsung Venture Investment and Seoul Business Agency.
  • CellMEAT, a Korean startup that produces cultured meat for sustainable environment, raised an undisclosed amount of investment from Strong Ventures, Primer Sazze Partners and Primer.
  • Rael, which sells organic maxi pads and other feminine-care products, raised an undisclosed amount of investment from Unilever Ventures.
  • Homefit, a Korean healthcare startup that provides matching service between trainers and customer who wants home training, raised an undisclosed amount of investment in pre-series A funding round from investors such as Strong Ventures and The Works.
  • Snackfor, a Korean startup that provides snack subscription plans specially curated for the workplace, raised an undisclosed amount of investment in its series A funding round from Kakao ventures.
  • Naver D2SF, an accelerator for tech startups operated by Naver, made new investments in four promising healthcare startups, Ichrogene, Soundgym, Huray and N.Cer.



  • Naver’s content distributing subsidiary Naver Webtoon acquired local AI startup V.DO, which was supported by Naver’s startup accelerator D2 Startup Factory (D2SF).
  • The webcomic arm of Naver Corp has kicked off service in French and Spanish as part of ongoing efforts to reach global audiences.
  • Naver-backed venture capital TBT has named Startup Alliance managing director Lim Jung-wook as the new co-chief of the investment vehicle.
  • Kakao Mobility launched a ride-sharing service in Vietnam, which has many Korean tourists and no restrictions on the mobility business, while regulations toughen in the Korean market.
  • Messenger app LINE’s on-demand service LINE MAN partnered with around 100,000 restaurants, nearly double the number secured by Grab, Gojek and Delivery Hero, for food delivery.
  • Samsung unveiled its new personal care robot called Ballie, defining that artificial intelligence is the future of personalized care at the Consumer Electronics Show 2020.
  • LG Electronics signed a partnership with a Canadian startup Element AI Inc. to research and develop artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.
  • LG Electronics has joined forces with Cerence to develop a new software solution that will help integrate LG’s webOS Auto in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system with Cerence’s AI Reference Kit, a voice assistant platform for the automotive market.
  • Telecom giant LG Uplus signed a deal to sell its payment gateway business to Korean fintech firm Viva Republica Ltd.
  • SK Telecom has signed an agreement with Hong Kong-based all-electric vehicle brand Byton to focus on the development and application of an integrated in-vehicle infotainment system.
  • The merger between SK Broadband and No. 2 cable TV operator t-broad received a green light as the country’s ICT Ministry confirmed its original ruling to grant conditional approval to the combination.
  • SK Telecom has initiated a group of multinational mobile carriers titled Bridge Alliance — including Singapore Telecommunications, Hong Kong Telecom, PCCW, Globe Telecom Philippines and Taiwan Mobile to cooperate on the development of a pan-national 5G network environment in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • SK Engineering & Construction (SK E&C) has set up a joint venture with Bloom Energy of the United States to produce solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) in Korea.
  • SK Telecom has reached a deal with Microsoft to expand the service of 5G-based cloud gaming platform Project xCloud and to increase the number of games available on both platforms.
  • Hyundai Motor Group signed an agreement with Uber under which the two companies will work together to boost a promising air taxi business. Hyundai Motor will both develop and manufacture air vehicles, while Uber will provide its mobility service platform.
  • Coupang is aiming for an initial public offering as soon as next year.
  • Coupang will build its largest high-tech logistics center in Daegu National Industrial Complex, which will tap into AI-powered logistics that enhances work efficiency, create more than 2,500 new jobs and drive the growth of relevant industries in construction and operation of the logistics center.
  • Cosmetics maker Amorepacific introduced new advanced beauty technologies, including a 3D Printing Mask Pack and LED beauty mask, during its first appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
  • Hanwha Techwin, a security solution subsidiary of Hanwha Aerospace, unveiled a new artificial intelligence-based security solution package at a tradeshow in Dubai with the goal of further expanding into the Middle East.
  • GC MS plans to expand its point of care testing (POCT) business by entering into a strategic investment partnership with Rootee Health, a Korean startup specializing in ophthalmology examination.
  • South Korean biosimilar manufacturer Celltrion Inc is investing more than 600 billion won ($520 million) over the next five years to build the largest biopharmaceutical manufacturing plant in China.



  • uLikeKorea, a Korean smart livestock healthcare management company, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Denmark’s largest telecommunication company TDC to launch the world’s first narrow band IoT (NB-IoT) biocapsule in Denmark.
  • Korean health care startups including EXOSYSTEMS and Neofect received CES 2020 Innovation Awards.
  • Korean startups featured during CES 2020, including DCART’s “electric” stroller, VARRAM’s dog-care robot and RoboRisen’s smartphone-connected modular robot PingPong.
  • A group of Korean startups have signed partnership and investment agreements with leading global companies. Icon AI, which developed a smart makeup mirror, is discussing a copyright agreement with SoftBank of Japan. Tegway, which produces a VR headset with a temperature sensor (ThermoReal), has signed a verbal contract with Sony.
  • Albacheck, which provides a human capital management business solution based on big data, raised an undisclosed amount of investment from A Ventures and Miracle Lab.
  • Hyundai Card is fostering promising startups by providing its co-working space Studio Black and various other programs such as Demoday.
  • D.Camp, a leading South Korean startup accelerator, held the first startup pitching event for 2020 and the health tech startup 9to6 topped the competition.





  • The Ministry of Science and ICT will allocate a budget of 16.1 billion won for blockchain R&D and resume preliminary feasibility studies worth 400 billion won to provide innovative public services based on blockchain technology such as facial recognition and tracking and mobile personal identification.
  • South Korean government will install cameras with artificial intelligence (AI) software, which can detect the likelihood of crime, in Seoul within the year.
  • South Korea has started offering super high-speed internet service for the entire country, making it the eighth country to offer universal high-speed internet to all citizens.
  • Startup Genome and Seoul Metropolitan Government announced a partnership that is committed to spending $1.6 billion to develop its ecosystem in the next three years and engaged Startup Genome to identify key development opportunities.
  • The Ministry of Science and ICT said fostering the industries of data, network and artificial intelligence will be a priority this year in its annual policy briefing to President Moon Jae-in.
  • The South Korean military’s Military Manpower Administration has partnered with Raonsecure, one of S. Korea’s leading ICT security software companies, to provide a blockchain-based biometric ID and authentication solution for the South Korean military.



  • South Korea ranked second on the Bloomberg Global Innovation Index, which consists of the seven evaluation categories of productivity, R&D intensity, manufacturing capacity, high-tech density, higher education efficiency, concentration of researchers, and patent status.