The newest chapter of the 70-year alliance between Korea and the U.S. is emerging as the two nations begin to collaborate in the area of technological innovations and entrepreneurship. While previous chapters of this most dynamic bilateral alliance were characterized by the massive and efficient flows of supportive resources from the American government and industries to Korea, this new chapter of partnership starts with the curious and energetic pilgrimage of Korea’s young innovators and entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley and Boston, the hottest innovation and entrepreneurial hubs of America.
While the direction of flows have reversed, the outcome of new alliance remains the same as before. It benefits the people of both nations by creating venues of economic growth and contributes to the entire world by providing extraordinary solutions to the toughest problems using the most innovative technologies and scientific discoveries.
Just as the Obama administration focused on innovative entrepreneurship as the newest economic growth engine, the Korean government under the leadership of President Park Geun-hye formulated economic growth policies on the basis of creative economy principles. By stimulating entrepreneurial spirits of the millennial generation and taking advantage of explosive and exponential advance of information technology, the creative economy policies aim to develop businesses and industries that create exciting and sustainable employment opportunities.
From its inception, Korea’s creative economy policy included the globalization principle as one of the most critical success factors. In this era of global economy and open innovation, the economic outcome of innovation multiplies when the business model is connected to the diverse markets abroad and potential partners around the world can collaborate in the creation of exceptional solutions. The Korea Innovation Centers were thus established in Washington and Silicon Valley, the two hottest hubs of innovation economy in the world, with the mission to help Korea’s scientists and entrepreneurs engage with America’s innovation ecosystem via market participation and investment exploration.
At the same time, KIC is trying to examine and learn the most critical elements of America’s advanced practices and processes that support the world’s most admired innovation economy. For example, KIC in Washington works with the National Science Foundation to avail NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) curriculum to Korea’s aspiring scientists and engineers so that they could develop entrepreneurial skills and perspectives. Young scientists from Korea’s prominent national technology institutes learn from America’s I-Corps instructors and mentors how to identify potential customers’ pain points, build business models to maximize the value propositions from their technical solutions, and ultimately create commercial and economic values from their laboratory research.
In another program, KIC is assisting Korean startups to enter prominent America’s private-sector incubators such as MassChallenge. As the largest accelerator in the world, MassChallenge runs an annual innovation competition and provides mentoring and business development assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs from around the world. By winning a seat as one of the 128 “finalists,” a Korean startup team last spring earned the opportunity to work with other competitors who gathered in Boston to take advantage of world’s richest startup ecosystem.
Indeed, through various programs offered by two KICs, close to 100 innovators and startups came to America in the first year of operation. This number is expected to double in 2016 as the experiences and lessons learned by these pioneers are shared intensively via social media among aspiring entrepreneurs in Korea. Also listening to these stories are innovation community leaders, in universities, national labs, technology park administrators, and government ministries, all endeavoring to improve Korea’s young innovation ecosystem.
There is no doubt this innovation alliance is highly beneficial for Korea’s creative economy. While the administration has successfully completed the aggressive goal of establishing 17 Centers for Creative Economy and Innovation across the nation, they need to fill these centers with effective and efficient processes and platforms, which would help future entrepreneurs create extraordinary business models and startup organizations. The U.S. has accumulated a vast amount of knowledge in this area and has established efficient mechanisms to run an end-to-end innovation system, and when transferred systemically, these advanced practices will transform the innovation and entrepreneurship culture and systems in Korea.
This dramatic inflow of Korean innovators also benefits the U.S. economy and society. In this globalized economy, U.S. innovators need an efficient access to the global supply chain in order to deliver their extraordinary solutions and values to global customers, and these Korean startups are natural connectors to that critical link. When U.S. entrepreneurs want to find demands and develop markets in the rapidly growing Asia, particularly in China, Korean counterparts working in the same ecosystem become natural partners. In addition, in this era of open innovation, American innovations can find useful complementary solutions from their Korea partners, thus shortening the time to market and enabling reliable deliveries.
Lastly, the U.S.-Korea alliance benefits a larger world, particularly the customers in underdeveloped nations awaiting breakthrough solutions for their pervasive problems. In a country that overcame the challenges of postwar destruction and poverty in a miraculous time and simultaneously achieved economic development and political democratization, Korean entrepreneurs still possesses institutional memories of how things work in emerging economies. Innovative firms and organizations of the U.S. and Korea, working together with shared entrepreneurial spirits and processes, can greatly contribute to solving global humanitarian problems.
Since the end of World War II, the U.S.-Korea alliance has for the past 70 years contributed to the peaceful and prosperous world, overcoming numerous challenges of the Cold War-era conflicts, global economic crises and environmental sustainability threats. The newest chapter of this most productive and coherent bilateral alliance now reaches to the field of innovation and entrepreneurship, and it will undoubtedly create a new plateau of accomplishments for the people of the two nations and the entire world.
• Jay S. Kim, Ph.D. is Director General of the Korea Innovation Center in Washington.