Hello friends,

Greetings from Uganda, where I’m exploring lush East African landscapes and appreciating the simple life

Meanwhile in South Korea, the money has been warming up, with funding rounds for future unicorn Zigbang as well as NHN Payco and Fastfive.

Here’s some interesting news from this month:

  • Big money for Zigbang
  • Flitto was listed on KOSDAQ
  • KEB Hana Bank incorporated Toss into its global payments system
  • SK Group put $10M into leading blockchain developer ConsenSys
  • Woowa Bros. plans to open a “smart restaurant” with autonomous robots and smart orders – I’ll be watching for your foodie photos

I’ll be returning stateside in September, to Chicago until further notice. Let me know if you swing into town.

I hope your summer is productive, restful or whatever else you need to power through the rest of the year.

This month’s news

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

MONEY

  • SoftBank Ventures organized a 320 billion won ($271 million) fund based in Korea to support artificial intelligence-related startups mainly from Asia and early-stage start-ups that innovate markets. 
  • Real estate platform operator Zigbang raised 160 billion won ($135.6 million) and acquired proptech startup Sugarhill
  • Payment solutions firm NHN Payco raised funding of $64M to beef up its competitiveness in fintech while developing new financial services and data-driven solutions. 
  • Shared workspace provider Fastfive raised $33M in its latest round of Series D funding. It aims to disrupt the traditional real estate market, also powered by its recent launch of living space provider platform Life. 
  • South Korean defense company Hanwha Systems pledged to invest $25 million in K4 Aeronautics, a US startup that specializes in flying taxis, to develop technology for personal aerial vehicles.
  • Bioinformatics startup Syntekabio closed a $17.2M Series C round of venture capital. Syntekabio is expected to go public at the end of this year, with KB Securities as its IPO manager.
  • SK Group invested $10 million in blockchain company ConsenSys, which develops blockchain solutions for companies of all shapes and sizes through the Ethereum blockchain.
  • Lemon Healthcare, a mobile fitness/healthcare startup, raised $8.7M in its latest Series B funding round. Notably, the round was heavily funded by the financial sector, its investors including Shinhan Bank, Shinhan Capital and KDB Bank Korea.
  • Pet healthcare tech startup Fitpet raised $4.6M in its latest round of Series A funding, backed by LB Investment, Mirae Asset Capital, and Samsung Venture Investment Co. The company is expected to expand into the United States, Japan, and China. 
  • Adriel, an AI-powered digital advertising startup, raised $4.3M in a Series A round funded by Korea Investment Partners, Woowa Brothers and BA Partners.
  • Fintech startup Finda raised 4.5 billion won ($3.8 million) in series A funding from multiple investors to enhance its newest paperless loan platform powered by big data. 
  • Awexome Ray raised $2M in its seed and pre-series A rounds, with investors including Kakao Ventures, SNU Technology Holdings, and D Camp. 
  • Aroundus, a Seoul-based startup offering a social job board platform for freelance and temporary workers in the media and entertainment industries, raised 882 million won ($761,700) in a seed funding round.
  • Kakao Ventures invested 400 million won ($339,000) in cloud-based artificial intelligence data platform SelectStar
  • Food and beverage conglomerate Nongshim invested an undisclosed amount in Snackfor, a personalized snack delivery startup.

MOVES

  • Naver Corp. spun off its mobile payment division Naver Pay. The new company, tentatively named Naver Financial, aims to make inroads into the financial services sector, including loans, insurance and investment. 
  • The cloud affiliate of Naver Corp. has joined hands with Singaporean cloud company Deskera to provide cloud services for small and medium-sized enterprises across Southeast Asia.
  • NHN Payco’s Payco Point payment solution will be available on YouTube, marking the first partnership between a South Korean mobile payment solution firm and the US video streaming giant.
  • Kakao’s blockchain subsidiary Ground X launched a public network platform, Klaytn, for companies and developers, as dozens of regional tech giants pledged to work with it to promote blockchain-based businesses.
  • KakaoPay acquired Inbyu, a Korean insurance-tech platform startup, a move that is widely interpreted as Kakao building its foundations to enter the insurance industry.  
  • The number of Kakao Bank users surpassed 10 million — around one-third the number of clients as major commercial banks — in two years of the online-only bank’s launch.
  • Apple will now accept Kakao Pay, the first Korean mobile payment platform to service iOS content on the App Store, Apple Music and iCloud. 
  • Samsung’s Galaxy Note10 will be unveiled on Aug. 7 at the Barclays Center in New York.
  • LG Electronics announced the commercial launch of the world’s first capsule-type automated beer maker in line with the growing home-brewing trend. 
  • Mobile carrier LG U+ will release a new virtual reality (VR) gaming platform and headset later this year, aiming to offer a more immersive experience without the prohibitive costs associated with high-end VR equipment.
  • KT released a wireless virtual reality (VR) media service with 4K resolution for the first time in the domestic market, offering a wide range of immersive content for users.
  • SK Telecom began the world’s first 5G roaming service in Switzerland in partnership with a local carrier. Samsung Galaxy S10 users with SK Telecom’s 5G plan will be able to connect to Swisscom’s 5G network when they visit Switzerland.
  • SK Corp. pledged to support $1.6M to provide free cloud service and cloud education to SMEs and startups in Gyeonggi Province. 
  • SK Hynix Inc. has started mass-producing the industry’s highest vertically stacking 4D NAND flash chip, with shipment expected in the second half of the year.
  • SK hynix, the world’s second-largest chipmaker, will downsize production amid growing concerns about demand recovery and impact of the trade dispute with Japan.
  • Hyundai Mobis unveiled a self-driving taxi that it developed with Russia’s Yandex. It will test the self-driving vehicle in Moscow soon and hopes to roll out 100 self-driving taxis across Russia in a trial run by year-end. 
  • Hyundai Mobis Co. has developed a camera monitoring system that will replace side-view mirrors in next-generation vehicles. The technology is expected to reduce blind spots for the driver and increase the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. 
  • Hyosung will team up with Saudi Aramco to expand its carbon fiber business, cooperate over advanced materials such as polyketones and develop electricity infrastructure.
  • Hana Financial Group has incorporated mobile money transfer app Toss into its global payment system, with KEB Hana Bank having signed the agreement a day earlier with Toss operator Viva Republica for a strategic partnership.
  • Woowa Brothers Corp., maker of food delivery app Baedal Minjok, will open a next generation restaurant that will be run with ‘smart orders,’ autonomous driving robots, and other cutting-edge technology.
  • With the competition for eco-friendly delivery heating up, Coupang Inc. has introduced electric trucks. The South Korean e-commerce firm will deploy 10 Calmato EVs next month, and is currently setting up recharging stations for the electric trucks.
  • Oracle established its first data center in South Korea for cloud computing services, stepping up efforts to compete against global and local vendors in the country’s growing cloud market.

EMERGING

  • Flitto, a language data startup that provides a crowdsourcing translation platform, was listed on Kosdaq. Within five days of its listing, it gained more than 50% of its listing price. 
  • Socar, a car-sharing company based in Seoul, has acquired Chacare, a car cleaning and management service firm.
  • Carelabs, a South Korean digital beauty and healthcare company, acquired 53 percent of Eunogo, an online beauty and wellness concierge startup with offices in Singapore and Indonesia, enabling Carelabs in Southeast Asia.
  • Banban Taxi, a taxi-sharing app, was given regulatory approval for operation under sandbox conditions. This is the first time that a mobility start-up was included in a regulatory sandbox.
  • Drama & Company, the maker of South Korean business card app Remember, launched a business networking service targeting corporate recruiters and job seekers in hopes of competing with LinkedIn in the country’s hiring market.
  • UlikeKorea Co., a startup specializing in “LiveCare” livestock healthcare technology, surpassed 500 million data points for cattle disease, including on foot-and-mouth disease, ketosis and mastitis.
  • Applied Materials unveiled new systems for the mass production of next-generation memory chips used for internet of things (IoT) and cloud computing. 
  • Techstars launched “Techstars Korea Accelerator” in partnership with Hillstone Partners to mentor 10 Korean startups per year.
  • Merck opened the next round of applications for startup companies to participate in the global Merck Accelerator program. Startups can choose to participate in programs in Darmstadt or Shanghai.
  • The Korea Technology Finance Corp. (KIBO) and the Ministry of SMEs and Startups announced 13 Korean startups eligible for up to $8.5M in growth funding. 

CRYPTO/BLOCKCHAIN

  • Binance, the world’s top exchange by trading volume, is considering launching a branch in South Korea, raising the possibility that Binance might work with BXB to launch a Korean won-backed stablecoin on its platform. 
  • Chain Partners developed Coincare, a mobile Bitcoin-ordering service, which allows users to easily purchase Bitcoin either via Kakaotalk or calling the service. 
  • Longenesis, a Latvia-based company providing blockchain solutions for medical providers, concluded two new partnerships in South Korea with Hanshin Medipia Medical Center and Infinity Care. This partnership brings the number of business relationships it has in South Korea to four. 
  • Shinhan Card was granted a patent for a blockchain payment system. The system is described as a “world-first” service based on blockchain technology that offers credit card functionality, including setting spending limits and making monthly installments and payments to merchants.
  • SK Group invested $10 million in blockchain company ConsenSys, which develops blockchain solutions for companies of all shapes and sizes on the Ethereum blockchain.
  • Samsung released a beta version of Ethereum Blockchain-based Software Development Kit (SDK) for partner developers. This kit enables the developers and consumers a full set of functions that are required to build decentralized apps (dapps).
  • Samsung adds Bitcoin (BTC) support for their blockchain Galaxy 10 smartphone. It also began supporting six fresh decentralized applications (dapps) on its new blockchain Galaxy S10 handset, following its earlier support of 4 dapps.
  • Samsung SDS, Dutch bank ABN AMRO and the Port of Rotterdam conducted the first successful proof-of-concept (PoC) shipment from South Korea to the Netherlands, in which they tracked a container exclusively using an interoperable blockchain platform.
  • Kakao’s blockchain subsidiary Ground X launched a public network platform, Klaytn, for companies and developers, as dozens of regional tech giants pledged to work with it to promote blockchain-based businesses.
  • A group of local tech companies and financial institutions including SK Telecom, KT, LG Uplus, KEB Hana Bank and Woori Bank have joined hands to launch a blockchain-based digital identity platform available on smartphones.
  • The “Gram” token issued by Telegram became available to Upxide exchange customers in South Korea in partnership with global cryptocurrency exchange Liquid.

INFRA/R&D

  • The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport will allow the operation of new mobility services, such as Tada, run by VCNC. Considering the pushback by traditional taxi drivers, new mobility services will be granted business licenses while having to set aside a certain share of their profits to a fund providing support to the taxi industry. 
  • Busan will launch a regional digital cryptocurrency, pegged 1:1 to the Korean won.
  • South Korea is expected to add some 1 trillion won ($848.5 million) startup funding via the Korean version of business development companies designed to invite retail investors.
  • South Korea will invest 500 billion won (US$425 million) in overseas smart city projects to be built by local companies as it seeks to foster smart cities as a future growth driver.

FEATURES

  • Korean automakers including Renault Samsung Motors, Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors are rushing to launch connected car services. Some of their latest models feature voice recognition service and car infotainment technology that can control home IoT devices.