In June 2020, Movel AI applied for the K-Startup Grand Challenge (KSGC), a program organized by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups of the Republic of Korea to attract promising foreign startups to incorporate in Korea. After an application review, Movel AI was shortlisted for an online interview, before finally being selected as one of the top 60 teams out of 2648 other startups from 118 different countries! It was also interesting to note that Movel AI was the only robotics startup that was in the top 60 teams.
The selection process was handled by the KSGC program and their partner accelerator firms - they evaluated the startups based on their product, team, competitive advantage and their market fit for Asia. These 60 companies would go on to participate in a 3 month accelerator program in Korea from September to November.
My name is Alvin, and I was given the opportunity to represent Movel AI for this accelerator program in Korea. I’ll be sharing more about what KSGC is about and my experience in Korea thus far.
The main objective of the KSGC program is to support foreign startups in their entry into the Korean market, with the intention to facilitate the globalization of the Korean startup ecosystem. The accelerator program spans 3 months, and culminates in a demo-day where each startup will deliver a pitch to a panel of judges. Overall, teams are evaluated based on their progress in incorporation and the level of business activity in Korea over the 3 months, as well as the uniqueness and quality of their startup pitch on the demo-day.
During the accelerator program, Movel AI was attached to a Korean seed accelerator firm, Big Bang Angels (BBA). Over the course of the 3 month program, BBA helped to connect us with potential mentors, collaborators and clients, while providing us with mentorship and support. Additionally, the KSGC program helped to manage the administrative and logistical aspects of the company’s entry into Korea, including visa applications, visa conversions, bank account opening, and so on. They also provided lessons to help program participants understand important Korean laws and regulations pertaining to labour, accounting, patenting and more. Lastly, they also gave us lessons to learn about the Korean language and Korean cultural norms.
Travelling to Korea in the midst of the Covid pandemic is an unsettling but interesting experience. The visa application process required me to have a doctor’s letter to certify that I was fit for travel, and also included a short interview. Surprisingly, the plane was not completely empty, and there were many returning Koreans on the flight. Upon arrival, there was a long onboarding process together with immigration, that checked through my documents and prepared me for the quarantine process. After a shuttle bus ride to the hotel, we made payment for the 14 day stay, got a swab test (which was really unpleasant!) got a bag of snacks and were ushered into our respective rooms.
The quarantine food was dropped outside my room in plastic bags three times a day, and included a bento box, fruits, a drink and some snacks. The bento boxes were really healthy - the food had little oil, and was served with plenty of fruits and vegetables. These were generally Korean style, with rice and a side of kimchi or pickled vegetables for most meals.
Once released from quarantine, it was full steam ahead for me as I hustled to meet mentors, investors and potential customers. With the help of the accelerator, Big Bang Angels, we were connected to many people and my days were filled with both online and offline meetings. I also spent time sourcing for leads, preparing slide decks and doing research on the local robotics industry. During these networking sessions, there was much interest in our sensor fusion technology, as well as the fact that our platform was hardware agnostic and could be deployed within a day.
Aside from meetings, I also attended the RoboWorld 2020 Expo, which featured many local robotics companies. There were many companies that showed interest in our technology, and we connected with 18 different robotics hardware manufacturers. These companies had great potential to become our clients or partners in the future. During the exhibition. It was also great to see that the robotics industry in Korea was flourishing, with some booths showcasing really sophisticated technologies.
Aside from work, I got the opportunity to do some hiking in my spare time.
The view was amazing, especially because of the autumn colours. I was also introduced to a local Ultimate Frisbee pickup community (I played the sport in college) and spent a Saturday enjoying the sport.
Time passed quickly, and soon it was time for the Demo Day pitch. Each team had 5 minutes of pitching and 5 minutes of question and answer by a panel of judges. The event was live broadcasted online, and had an elaborate setup with many KSGC staff working to ensure that the event ran smoothly. You can view the pitch on Youtube at this link (at 41min) : https://youtu.be/F0C-CHIxptg
All in all, it has been an incredible experience being able to represent Movel AI for the K-Startup Grand Challenge in Korea. I’ve had lots of support from the team back in Singapore whenever I needed help, and I’m extremely grateful for everyone’s contributions. Despite being in Korea by myself, I never really felt alone as I was always talking to my fellow colleagues back in Singapore. From my exposure to the robotics industry in Korea, I do believe that Movel AI is developing navigation software that is truly exceptional, with definite competitive advantages in terms of cost, quality and ease of deployability. It does seem that there is substantial value for robotics companies and end users to use Movel AI’s software, as it brings them large cost savings while improving their navigation capabilities.
The accelerator programme may be over, but this is definitely just the beginning for Movel AI’s entry into Korea. With a thriving startup ecosystem and a booming robotics industry, I'm sure that Korea will have many fantastic opportunities for Movel AI in the near future.