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[Herald Interview] From fintech to pandemic-friendly biz solutions: Startup scene set to shift in post-pandemic Korea

Hwang Jong-duck, CEO and president of One Asia Media
Hwang Jong-duck, CEO and president of One Asia Media

The COVID-19 outbreak shook up the startup scene around the globe. While many suffered, some well-placed companies, like US-based videoconferencing firm Zoom, saw explosive growth because they offered pandemic-friendly solutions.

Hwang Jong-duck, who helps foreign startups enter the South Korean market, sees plenty of opportunities for Zoom-like success in Korea as disruptive solutions gain ground in everyday life and spread to a wider range of business sectors.

“Firms are now launching remote working tools like virtual conferencing platforms. But, sooner or later, the scene will expand,” Hwang, chief executive of One Asia Media, told The Korea Herald.

Innovations will arrive for ordinary people in their daily lives, like leisure activities, he added.

Before the pandemic, global fintech startups, such as those dealing with cryptocurrency Bitcoin, fared well here.

But the market prospects are not as bright as before, as the Korean government is expected to strengthen related regulations, he said.

Overseas businesses will be able to find more opportunities in the nation’s manufacturing sector instead, as local firms speed up efforts to digitize their facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There will be more state-led projects as well that aim to transform local infrastructures, such as smart city and future mobility projects.”

One Asia Media is currently helping a US-based future mobility startup, valued at about $1 billion, to enter the local market, the CEO said, without revealing the client’s name due to a confidentiality clause.

This US-based startup, which US reports said has clinched total investments of nearly 100 billion won so far, is in discussions with Korea’s largest automaker, Hyundai Motor Group, he added.

“I hope to introduce many foreign firms to South Korea and connect them with local firms to open up new business opportunities.”

Aside from mobility, augmented and virtual reality technologies look promising here, he continued.

The pandemic has created an environment where people can relate to AR/VR content, which many would have not experienced otherwise.

“The ‘metaverse’ will arrive in South Korea,” Hwang said, referring to a term from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash,” which now has come to define the next generation of digital experiences in virtual worlds.

Hwang worked as a journalist at well-known Korean-language newspapers here before founding One Asia Media in Los Angeles in 2016. The company operates as a one-stop office for overseas entrepreneurs seeking to establish a presence here, providing services ranging from promotion and marketing to helping build relationships with local partners and government departments.

For local startups trying to make it here, the CEO’s advice was to create a highly scalable business model with an ambition for a global, or at least regional, audience.

“For a business model to succeed, it has to be innovative enough to attract a great number of consumers, which is difficult to achieve here, with a population of just 50 million,” he said.

Local startups might want to target the large consumer base in Southeast Asia, where nearly 670 million people live, while entry hurdles remain high for the world’s top two markets, the US and China, he added.

By Shim Woo-hyun (ws@heraldcorp.com)
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