Hello friends,

Greetings from Spain, where I’m having my fill of tapas in the warm spring weather. 

Thanks for filling out our anonymous readership survey last month. It’s great to hear from such a diverse crowd interested in Korean startup news. I’m pondering some tweaks in coming newsletters. If you would still like to weigh in, the survey link remains open.

Here’s a shortlist of news from this month:

  • Big money for Softbank/Grab, Hyundai/Ola, Atinum/InstaReM
  • M&A for Kakao/Tidesquare
  • Kakao and SoCar are going head-to-head in e-bike sharing
  • Shinhan Financial Group dropped out of Viva Republica’s internet bank consortium
  • Coupang hired former Walmart exec Jay Jorgensen as chief compliance officer
  • Korean airports will get biometric ID systems reading only fingerprints and veins
  • Some familiar names have joined the startup investment scene: actor Bae Yong-joon and former MLB pitcher Park Chan-ho

 Are you anticipating the release of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia 2019 list? Subscribers to Startup Seoul will get a special news blast on release day next week announcing the South Korean winners. Stay tuned and have others subscribe at startupseoul.info.

This month’s news

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


  • Grab Holdings Inc., a Southeast Asian transportation unicorn company, has attracted $1.46 billion (about 1.647 trillion KRW) of new investment from SoftBank Vision Fund (SVF). Due to this investment, Grab raised more than $4.5 billion (about 5 trillion KRW) through its current ‘series H’ (Series H).
  • Indian ride-hailing app Ola raised a US$300 million investment from Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia. The deal includes Hyundai and Kia providing Ola’s 1.3 million drivers with customized vehicles and financial support to lease vehicles and pay in installments.
  • South Korean venture capital Atinum Investment joined the $41 million second tranche of a series C round investment in Singaporean digital cross-border money transfer startup InstaReM.
  • Standigm, which is researching new drugs using artificial intelligence based technology, raised 13 billion won (US$11.5 million) from six companies including Kakao Ventures.
  • Mafia Company, which operates a digital music content platform, raised 3.5 billion won ($3.5 million) from TBT, PI Investment, and Spring Camp.
  • Kakao Ventures joined a seed investment round worth $3.37 million in U.S. cloud multi-streaming service provider Restream.
  • Spacework, a real-estate prop-tech startup, raised 1.7 billion won ($1.5 million) from KB Investment, Stone Bridge Ventures, Zigbang, and Hanyang University Technology Holdings
  • Hana Bank and Hana Life Insurance have invested 200 million and 300 billion won respectively in startup Welgram, which provides insurance comparisons, for about 14.3 percent of shares.
  • Byandus, which operates hospital appointment booking app Chaj-Assdag, raised 300 million won ($265,000) from Enlight Ventures. The appointment service, which allows immediate medical attention at the time of reservation, is designed to solve the problem of long-term hospital waits.
  • One Key, which is developing a precision-based smartphone key solution for vehicles, attracted 1 billion won from CKD-BS Start-up Venture Investment Association in February.
  • ENERZAi, a Korean startup that provides AI-based solutions for the energy sector, received seed round investment from Springcamp, a venture capital subsidiary of Naver Corp. (amount undisclosed)
  • Healthcare VC firm Magna Investment invested in Milu Labs, a New York- and Singapore-based medical diagnostics company with a focus on maternal fetal medicine and women’s health. (amount undisclosed)
  • Women’s functional clothing brand and femtech startup Dansaek attracted follow-up investment (amount undisclosed) from IBK Investment & Securities, one month after attracting approximately 400 million won.
  • Popular South Korean actor and businessman Bae Yong-joon has invested an undisclosed sum in blockchain-based seafood trade startup Seamon. Seamon is developing a blockchain-based seafood transaction and smart contract system. The project aims to make global seafood transactions “as transparent as possible, reduce unnecessary expenses, and achieve the faster and safer international transactions.
  • Singapore-based Golden Gate Ventures (GGV) is teaming up with South Korea’s Hanwha Asset Management to invest in series B rounds across Southeast Asia.


  • Naver Corp. will develop 5G-enabled service robots in partnership with the country’s telecom giant KT Corp. and U.S. tech firm Intel Corp. The partnership would allow Naver Labs Corp., a R&D subsidiary of Naver, to use Intel’s computing solution based on KT’s 5G communication network.
  • Kakao Corp. partnered with local hospital Yonsei University Health System to provide health care and tailored medical services to patients. Yonsei will provide management know-how on medical data and information, while Kakao will provide technical support via big data and various platforms.
  • Kakao Corp. has launched a pilot scheme for electric bike-sharing. Kakao T Bike is available for test-runs in the western port city of Incheon and in Seongnam, south of Seoul.
  • Kakao Games has set up its subsidiary Life MMO that will deal with “gamification” services.
  • Kakao is seeking to make inroads into the tourism industry after acquiring a local travel company Tidesquare.
  • Kakao will reportedly integrate its crypto wallet in its messaging app KakaoTalk to allow users to send peer-to-peer transactions.
  • Tago Solutions, a taxi franchise service operator, teamed up with Kakao Mobility, the transportation service arm of Kakao, and launched a rejection-free taxi hailing service Waygo Blue and a female-only cab service Waygo Lady.
  • Kakao’s artificial intelligence-enabled digital assistant will be used in Hyundai Motor’s new Sonata to take voice commands for drivers. The 2019 Sonata will be the first Korean vehicle to be equipped with an AI assistant. It is the first time the Kakao i system will be made part of a car’s infotainment system.
  • Kakao’s blockchain subsidiary Ground X will launch public blockchain platform Klaytn in June with the goal of popularizing services based on the advanced database technology.
  • Samsung Electronics Co. will release its first 5G smartphone in the first week of April in South Korea, which will be the world’s first mobile device with the next-generation network capability. The Galaxy S10′s 5G model will go on sale on April 5, without a preorder program.
  • Samsung Electronics revealed the cryptocurrency wallet for its newly launched flagship phone, the Galaxy S10. The Samsung Blockchain Wallet is currently compatible only with ether (ETH) and ethereum-based ERC20 tokens. Bitcoin is not yet supported, despite the logo appearing on earlier pre-release presentation images.
  • LG Uplus Corp. will launch Nvidia’s GeForce NOW cloud gaming platform for Internet Protocol (IP) television services and upcoming 5G smartphones.
  • LG U+ has teamed up with Finnish streaming game operator Hatch Entertainment to provide a differentiated 5G game service. LG U will offer 5G-based virtual reality (VR) games in time for the release of its 5G smartphones later this year.
  • LG Uplus and Hanyang University have successfully trialed their 5G-connected autonomous vehicle, dubbed the A1, which rode on the streets of Seoul alongside regular cars in heavy traffic for 8 kilometers in 25 minutes.
  • KT Corp. will work with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to develop a global monitoring system to help tackle climate change. As part of a broader move, KT and the UN agency agreed to collaborate on building a big data platform on global environment known as the “world’s situation room” to gather information on climate change and environmental degradation to help policymakers around the globe take appropriate actions for sustainable development goals.
  • SK Telecom is launching a taxi-hailing app dedicated to taxi drivers with hearing impairments in partnership with Coactus, a local startup that has been developing driving-aid solutions for taxi drivers. SK Telecom is currently training drivers with hearing impairments on how to use a special T Map Taxi app designed for them. 
  • Shinhan Financial Group dropped out of the internet-only bank consortium led by Viva Republica, the operator of the popular mobile money transfer app Toss.
  • Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors have completed the development of a smartphone-based digital key and will sequentially apply it to new cars to be released in the future. The technology utilizes near field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth low energy (BLE) communication between a smartphone and a car and has the same functions as the conventional smart key.
  • IBK Bank selected Minds Lab for ‘IBK-NH Smallgiant Private Fund (PEF)’ and invested $6 billion in the form of takeover of redeemable convertible preferred stock.
  • Coupang, the ecommerce unicorn, has hired Jay Jorgensen, Walmart’s former global chief ethics and compliance officer, to serve as its general counsel and chief compliance officer.
  • E-commerce company WeMakePrice plans to launch a food delivery app service, intensifying the competition led by dominant players like Baedal Minjok and Yogiyo.
  • Global startup accelerator SparkLabs brought on national sports star Park Chan-ho as a Venture Partner to support and invest in startups.
  • HSBC is seeking to forge ties with local banks to launch a blockchain platform enabling companies to process and settle their invoices for trade efficiently. It is looking to commercially launch the Voltron platform, which is in a pilot stage, in the near future as the bank expands its alliances with other banks and tech companies.
  • Bespin Global, a three-year-old South Korean cloud IT solution startup, has landed a massive deal to convert Petro China’s legacy IT system into cloud computing.


  • SoCar, the South Korean car-sharing and ride-sharing startup, is branching out into the “micro-mobility” segment. The company invested an undisclosed amount in Nine2One, the operator of e-bike sharing service Elecle. Leveraging SoCar’s mobility platform technology, Elecle plans to officially launch its service with 350 e-bikes and aims to expand to 2,000 units around the country by the year-end.
  • Tune!T, a new technology start-up affiliated with Hyundai Motor, introduced its “smart key” system to make automobiles shareable for people.
  • Penta Security Systems Incorporated released PALLET X, an advanced digital asset wallet that provides security solutions for blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT) and data to crypto trading services providers.
  • Cosmetics manufacturer Kolmar Korea Co. claimed it has become the first to apply 3D-printing technology to produce skin care cream on high concentration essence.
  • Seoul Global Startup Center in Yongsan, central Seoul, is selecting 40 new teams to move into its incubation hub. Startup teams led or co-led by a foreign resident and in operation for less than seven years are eligible to apply.
  • Korean tech startup 42Maru is moving to expand its presence in Britain, as part of efforts to spread what it calls the Question Answering system built on deep learning technology beyond the local market. The QA system is being used not only for digital chatbots but also for the Smart Watch from broadband carrier LG U+ and smart speakers from telecom giant KT.
  • Fintech startup QARAsoft launched its official version of AI-powered robo advisor investing app Kosho, featuring financial forecasts of stocks in Korea and the U.S. for up to three months.
  • VRisVR and Lusso Factory Co, makers of a ‘VR Truck,’ received both a temporary permit and special exception to alter the design of trucks to be used as movable platforms for experiencing various virtual reality (VR) content. The ‘VR Truck’ will go around to different locations to deliver VR content.
  • Vietnam’s largest private enterprise Vingroup has opened a research center dedicated to applied internet of things (IoT) technologies, artificial intelligence, robotics, and smart manufacturing plants in South Korea’s Daegu City, a famous electronic hub. Vingroup’s research center targets to develop products and solutions for vehicles and transportation.
  • Classting, a South Korean education technology startup, plans to develop an AI robot for education by the end of the year in cooperation with robot engineering specialist Wonik Robotics. The two companies will be developing the education robot equipped with human robot interaction (HRI) technology.
  • Korean startup LetinAR aims to develop an optic solution for a lightweight, compact pair of augmented reality (AR) glasses that actually look cool and can deliver high-quality content.


  • Authorities in South Korea introduced a “Task Force” to counter the growing number of cryptocurrency-related crimes in the country. The Task Force was created to protect the fintech and cryptocurrency industry and individual customers who are often caught in virtual currency and initial coin offering (ICO)-related frauds.
  • Kakao’s fintech arm Dunamu launched Luniverse, a blockchain service platform that aims to help companies establish businesses using blockchain technology. The Luniverse platform will help IT companies or startups develop blockchain-based services that they lack the resources to set up on their own.
  • Kakao will reportedly integrate its crypto wallet in its messaging app KakaoTalk to allow users to peer-to-peer transactions.
  • Kakao’s blockchain subsidiary Ground X will launch public blockchain platform Klaytn in June with the goal of popularizing services based on the advanced database technology.
  • Samsung Electronics revealed the cryptocurrency wallet for its newly launched flagship phone, the Galaxy S10. The Samsung Blockchain Wallet is currently compatible only with ether (ETH) and ethereum-based ERC20 tokens. Bitcoin is not yet supported, despite the logo appearing on earlier pre-release presentation images.
  • Major hospital Seoul Medical Center plans to launch a blockchain-based automated, personalized, integrated medical information platform that will provide electronic prescription delivery, certificate issuance, and insurance claims.
  • The cryptocurrency exchange Bittrex is now beginning to conduct sales of tokens on its platform for the South Korean blockchain startup RAID. The new token sale process already has a name and it’s called Initial Exchange Offering, or IEO in short.
  • Popular South Korean actor and businessman Bae Yong-joon has invested an undisclosed sum in blockchain-based seafood trade startup Seamon. Seamon is developing a blockchain-based seafood transaction and smart contract system. The project aims to make global seafood transactions “as transparent as possible, reduce unnecessary expenses, and achieve the faster and safer international transactions.
  • SOMESING, a Korean startup that operates the blockchain-based Karaoke App, signed a strategic partnership with ChaintoB to expand its presence in the Chinese and Indonesian markets.
  • Metadium, a South Korean blockchain identity startup, is releasing its Software Development Kit (SDK) on leading game engine Unity’s Asset Store. The Metadium Meta ID service will be available to game developers using the Unity engine via the Unity Asset Store.
  • The Sentinel Protocol, a crowd-sourced threat intelligence platform, has partnered with BITBERRY to deliver crypto asset scam protection in a secure user experience.


  • The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport plans to introduce a new identification system at airports that will not require any identification except for fingerprints or vein recognition to identify a person. Biometric identification systems, first introduced at Gimpo Airport last year, will be expanded to Incheon Airport.
  • The Seoul Metropolitan Facilities Management Corp. (SFMC) will be introducing a new taxi hailing service for disabled persons using artificial intelligence (AI) speakers. The hailing service requires Clova, Naver’s AI platform, or LG Uplus’ U+tv. The user can simply ask the AI platform to call a cab.
  • The Seoul Metropolitan Government will install 50,000 Internet of Things (IoT) smart sensors throughout the capital city by 2022 to collect information on fine dust, traffic and other things related to citizens’ lives.
  • The Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica) and the Ministry of Education will lead a project to build a startup incubation centre and other initiatives to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit in students attending the country’s leading universities.
  • The Busan Port Authority (BPA) is planning to develop a port security system that utilizes blockchain, artificial intelligence, and Internet of Things technology. The Busan Port Authority plans to establish a port security system with funding of 1.84 billion won over three years.
  • Engineers in Ilsan installed a system of LED lights and lasers to help alert smartphone-using pedestrians of traffic.
  • The Ministry of Science and ICT selected The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Korea University and Sungkyunkwan University as the institutes to run government-funded graduate schools specializing in artificial intelligence (AI). The government plans to inject 9 billion won ($8 million) for the next five years to support the three universities in teaching and developing AI technology.
  • South Korea’s financial watchdog will launch a trial service of an artificial intelligence (AI) app to help people better combat telephone scams. The AI app, which will be available for customers of state-run Industrial Bank of Korea for three months, offers real-time voice analysis that detects words scammers commonly use.
  • Ulsan’s Jung District is developing an application that uses AR technology to show a restored version of the old Ulsan Japanese Castle. The district will invest 20 million won (US$18,000) into the project, led by the University of Ulsan with the project expected to be completed by June.