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Global startup community leaders take Daejeon by storm

DAEJEON -- All eyes are on Daejeon, South Korea’s fifth-largest metropolitan city, as it moves to put together leaders of the global startup community through Exit Daejeon 2019.

The three-day conference, also known as Global Startup Festival Daejeon, kicked off at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Daejeon Convention Center, hosting some 300 participants in this city some 140 kilometers south of Seoul.

“Here in Daejeon, we have a wonderful set of communities already in place with the best universities based in the heart of the city, which provide you some of the brightest minds of the next generation,” Andreas Saari, CEO of the world’s largest nonprofit startup conference, Slush, and co-founder of Wave Ventures, said in his congratulatory speech.

Participants listen during the opening ceremony of Exit Daejeon 2019 (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Participants listen during the opening ceremony of Exit Daejeon 2019 (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Daejeon Mayor Her Tae-jeong expressed high hopes for the global network that would be forged during the conference at the opening ceremony.

“The private sector is playing a leading role (in Exit Daejeon 2019),” Her said. “I hope this event will lay a cornerstone for the building of a system that matches foreign venture investors and startups here.”

Kwon Chung-won, CEO of Herald Corp., said in a speech that Korea’s future depends on how startups grow and whether they can open the doors to a global era amid a lackluster domestic economy and soaring labor costs here.

“We have hinged on fast-following and taken advantage of low labor costs to this day, but they do not work anymore. ... It is high time to take on what remains untapped,” Kwon said.

A major feature of the event is the Exit Forum, which started at 3 p.m. and featured keynote speakers such as Saari and Moaffak Ahmed, a Slush director and angel investor. Other speakers included Anne Badan, founder of Shortcut -- a nonprofit startup builder and sister organization of Slush -- HAX founder Cyril Ebersweiler, Junction head Antti Hammainen, WeWork Labs Global co-founder Matthew Shampine and Line ScaleUp Thailand Executive Director Jayden Kang.

The first day also marked the start of a pitching event called “Investment Attraction Audition,” where 24 startups are competing for three spots to take part in Slush 2019 Helsinki in November. Winners will be chosen on the last day of the conference. It also marked the kickoff of the exhibition, where some 100 booths from startups and government bodies were present and participants could receive one-stop startup counseling.

For the remaining two days, up-and-coming events include a startup meeting with Slush officials, presentations by officials of foreign embassies in Korea, and seminars hosted by representatives of K-Water, Daedeok Special District, K-biz Korea and Seoul-based startup Extriber.

By Son Ji-hyoung (