Everything you need to know about the world’s largest global accelerator programme: The K-Startup Grand Challenge 2021

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Conceptualised by South Korea’s National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA), the K-Startup Grand Challenge was launched in 2016 to enable startups from overseas to leverage South Korea's prominent startup ecosystem and expand across the country and other Asian markets.

Over the years, the programme has supported participants who’ve gone on to design solutions in fields like artificial intelligence, logistics, biotechnology, robotics, beauty wearables, gaming, urban solutions, and more. The participating startups spanned across countries like India, Sri Lanka, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Nepal, Pakistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, and Palestine.

The country can serve as a stepping stone for startups who have plans to expand their business across Asia. It’s burgeoning startup ecosystem has garnered international attention and the country ranked first in the Bloomberg Innovation Index for the year 2021. The index assesses countries’ capacity to innovate on the basis of their performance on metrics like productivity, high-tech density, researcher concentration and patent activity.

If you still haven't applied for the programme and have questions on your mind, here's everything you need to know before you participate.

Why should I apply for the K-Startup Grand Challenge 2021?

The challenge can provide you and your startup with ample support that you would need to launch your business in Asia. The benefits include:

  • Access to state-of-the-art South Korean R&D labs for prototyping, testing and expert support
  • A $320,000 prize pool for the Top 10 winners
  • Grants and living expenses during the programme
  • Access to cutting-edge technologies and digital products
  • Workspace at the centrally-located Global Startup Campus in Pangyo Techno Valley
  • Mentorship sessions with experts
  • Corporate partnerships with South Korea's top companies
  • Additional investment opportunities

Who can apply to the challenge?

The programme invites promising startups who have a clear objective to expand into Asia by leveraging the South Korean market as a stepping stone to apply. You need to meet the key requirements below:

  • The startup should have been started in or after 2013
  • The team leader and members must not be disqualified from staying in South Korea or acquiring a visa for South Korea
  • The team must have one or more members with a bachelor’s degree or a higher degree

How long will the programme be?

The accelerator programme will span over 3.5 months, from August to November 2021.

How will my application be evaluated?

The applications will be evaluated on the basis of their business plan, idea, how well they fit in context with Asian markets, strategy and execution, and the team. An interview round will assess the applicant’s target market, the relevance of the problem, need and solution, the team, the board, mentors and advisors, traction, competition vs. competitive advantages, revenue model, financial projections, Asian market fit, overall presentation and the Q&A.

What's so special about South Korea?

Located in East Asia, South Korea has strong cultural and economic ties with China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other Asian countries. It is also home to some of the most illustrious industries and innovative companies in the world such as Samsung, Hyundai, LG and the Shinhan Group, among others. Burgeoning investments in artificial intelligence, big data, virtual reality, and renewable energy-powered solutions have also kept the country on top of several innovation indices. Additionally, Seoul has a thriving network of organisations that offer mentoring, office space, and other resources to startups.

Do I need to be fluent in Korean to participate?

The official language for the challenge is English, so all participating teams are required to have at least one English-speaking member. Having a Korean speaker would be optional. You will also have South Korean interns working with you —one intern for every two teams — to help you with language and cultural barriers during the programme.

Will my living expenses be covered during the programme?

Each of the 60 startups selected for the programme will receive $11,136 (₩12,250,000 per team) to cover their living expenses while living in South Korea for 3.5 months, from August to November 2021. (The living expenses include a quarantine fund for two weeks before the programme starts, in the wake of the travel restrictions introduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The top 30 startups selected on the Demo Day will also be eligible to receive more grants worth $11,136 (₩12,250,000 per team) between January and April 2022.

Will I have access to mentors from the local ecosystem?

You will have the chance to be mentored one-on-one by some of the world’s top tech companies. There will be information sessions, coaching on South Korean and Asian business culture and seminars on topics like patents, accounting regulations, tax laws and more.

Is there potential for additional investment through the programme?

Startups will get to meet VCs and investors who may choose to invest in their ventures. The programme’s accelerators may also make equity investments in the most promising ventures.

What is the last date to apply? Where can I sign up

Applications close on June 15, 2021. Click here to know more and apply for the K-Startup Grand Challenge 2021.


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