On June 28-29, the Korean International Trade Association (KITA) and Korean Development Bank (KDB) held the annual NextRise global exhibition and conference, bringing together startups, venture capital firms, and established industry from all over the world. The event hosted 673 startups, 116 large and medium sized companies, and 42 venture investment firms. Science offices, embassies, and universities were also represented in large numbers. Along with 3 stages and multiple conference rooms hosting speakers from around the world, there was always something to keep attendees occupied.
Lighting Up Ventures influence grows
Many of those companies in hall B1, roughly 40%, have worked with Lighting Up Ventures in the past years to great effect. With the (reportedly temporary) closure of the Seoul Global Startup Center, however startups in the Seoul area are now looking for new locations. We will have to wait and see how negatively this influences the coming year.
The awareness and reputation Lighting Up Ventures has created over the past years led it to playing an integral role in this year’s event, organizing the American Pavilion in front of the Next stage, helping to bring in the American Chamber of Commerce, WeWork, and F45, and assisting KITA with the selection and invitation of several speakers.
Speakers put spotlight on Korean unicorns
The list of this year’s was impressive and timely, with Seunggun Lee (CEO Viva Republica [Toss]), Hanjun Kim (Altos Ventures), Andrew Baek (CEO, Kakao Enterprise), Peter Harrison (Group CEO, Schroders), Dov Moran (Grove Ventures), Jayhyun Lee (Goldman Sachs Asia L.L.C.), Joshi Venugopal (CEO, Novartis Korea), and Kwanghun Chung (MIT) just a small sampling of who was there. Within just this group there is a new Korean unicorn startup and some of the most successful venture firms of recent times.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning in spotlight
The focus of this year’s event was, without question, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Incontrast to the past when startups would oversell and say they were working on artificial general intelligence, this appears to be further off than self-driving cars, another strong presence at the show, and the startups have begun to temper their exuberance and focused on making the best, and most relevant narrow AI and machine learning applications. Participating startups seemed to be focused on health and healthcare applications and included those working on drug discovery, medical imagery analysis, personal health, and disease prediction.
Excitement for blockchain falls
After several years of ICOs and cryptocurrency volatility, blockchain had a subdued presence. This is unfortunate as, even before we get to full blockchain implementation, blockchain inspired software has the potential to enhance security and significantly influence the future.
Industry highlights open innovation, innovation hubs, and corporate venture capital
Many of the largest companies have also realized they don’t have a monopoly on the best ideas for the future. They have started investing in innovation hubs and promoting various levels of open innovation. BMW, Hyundai, Samsung, Mercedes Benz, amongst others, were all present looking for the next big ideas to fund and support through their innovation hubs, accelerators, and venture funds.
Hyundai showed off its recent acquisition of Boston Dynamics, a USD 1.1 billion acquisition from SoftBank, by walking one of its robots around the exhibition hall and dancing it to traditional Korean music. This was an excellent way to draw attention to their booth, branded with their ZER01NE Accelerator.
BMW, who will be investing an additional USD 354 million in auto tech startups through its second iVentures fund, the first has already invested close to USD 600 million, was there with the BMW Startup Garage.
Main sponsor, KDB has taken a huge interest in funding the future, sponsoring 30 startups in just their KDB NextONE and KDB NextRound pavilions alone. Along with their recent announcement they will be setting up a VC firm in the United States to support Korean startups with global ambitions, it is clear that many people see the next breakthrough coming from a team outside of the world’s most dominant companies rather than from within. This is a bet that will undoubtedly pay off for some, if not most, participants
Startups take advantage of meetings
A big draw for all participants was the ability to take part in one-on-one meetings with venture capital firms and corporations from around the world. Participants included CJ, LG, Disney, L'Oreal, Clorox, Coca-Cola, HP Tech Ventures, Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, Kakao Ventures, Samsung, Hyundai, and PWC, amongst many others. Accepted startups were given the opportunity to pitch to, and learn from, these participants to help their startups move to the next stage. We'll just have to wait and see how many deals were arranged because of this opportunity.
COVID-19 has minimal influence
Aside from the mandatory temperature checks and mask requirements, COVID-19 had a subdued influence on the event. After 18 months, normality is slowly returning. While some speakers were forced to present online due to quarantine restrictions, modern technology has proven this to not be an issue. Overall, Korea has done a good job of containing the spread of the virus, and that was on exhibition for the world to see. Now, all we can do is work together to ensure this is the last time we face soemthing like this.