How would you like to move your drone startup to South Korea Korea’s government wants to help (and pay) you

If you’ve ever wanted to take your drone startup idea and launch it in South Korea (or you already are running a drone startup that you’re eager to move), then here’s a golden opportunity. South Korea’s K-Startup Grand Challenge 2023 (KSGC) is seeking applicants from entrepreneurs now — and it’s specifically seeking applicants from drone companies, and applicants who hold a foreign nationality (meaning, they aren’t necessarily even South Korean).

It’s all a part of the Korean government’s hopes that it’ll recruit promising entrepreneurs and startups into its version of Silicon Valley, called Pangyo Techno Valley, and ultimately making the region of South Korea a global startup hub that adds jobs, increases GDP and overall raises South Korea’s global status as a tech superpower. Pangyo Techno Valley is just outside of Seoul in the neighboring Gyeonggi Province.

The award ceremony for the 2022 edition of South Korea’s K-Startup Grand Challenge. German food tech startup Koralo won the coveted ‘2022 K-Startup Grand Challenge’ as the best foreign startup team at the Demo Day. 

The benefits of participating in the South Korea’s K-Startup Grand Challenge 2023 (KSGC)

The K-Startup Grand Challenge (KSGC) is the largest global startups acceleration program in South Korea, a 15-week residency program specifically designed to assist foreign startups looking to enter the Korean market.

The program will select 60 startups that are less than seven years old, whose representatives hold foreign nationalities and wish to establish an innovative technology business in Korea. If selected, here are some of the biggest benefits:

Financial support, free office space and an intern

Each team will automatically receive roughly $10,000 to cover living expenses over the 15-week program period. The office space is also free, provided to startups within Pangyo Techno Valley (which is easily accessible by public transportation). Plus, they’ll give you a Korean intern who is fluent in English and Korean and can help assist in Korean operations — ideal for businesses unfamiliar with the Korean language or culture.

From there, there’s serious money for the finalists. The final Demo Day in November 2023 will select the top five promising startups for grand prizes, which are worth approximately $270,000.

Even if you’re not in the top five, the top 20 startups still receive additional follow-up support, including a 15-week paid extension in Korea that runs from December 1, 2023, to March 29, 2024. Those folks will get extended business startup visas, as well as ongoing support with networking opportunities and office space. Those participants also get an additional ~$10,000 to fund living expenses. Plus, there’s an additional $25,000 up for grabs to eight startup teams.

Support with networking and business growth

Expect to receive commercialization support through mentorship from Korean startup experts and accelerators. That might include assistance with fitting your business model more closely in the Korean market, invitations to meetups, and consultation and seminars related to commercialization, contract, tax, law, and policies related to doing business in Korea.

You’ll also have opportunities to meet Korean companies and investors through business meetings and events organized specifically throughout the program.

Logistical support in moving to South Korea

Usually, moving to a foreign country isn’t easy. But if selected, your company and employees will receive settlement support, including administrative assistance related to incorporation, visas, and living arrangements. The program will also help you obtain a Business Startup Visa (D-10-2) and open bank accounts.

What types of drone startups should apply for the K-Startup Grand Challenge 2023?

This accelerator isn’t necessarily a fit for all drone startups, so likely the more ready-to-operate drone service providers might skip out.

Instead, the 2023 accelerator is focused on deep tech, which typically means companies seeking to spend a lengthy amount of time on research and development. And while it’s definitely looking for applicants in mobility and robotics, it’s also open to other sectors that aren’t necessarily drone companies, including e-Commerce & Retail, ESG & Green Tech, Food Tech & Agri Tech, Healthcare & Bio, IT & Software, Mobility & Robotics, Manufacturing & IoT, Metaverse and Media.

South Korea has also been seeking to build up its manufacturing sector, so it might be an especially fit for drone hardware companies.

That said, the competition is fierce. In 2022, KSGC attracted 2,653 teams from 122 countries worldwide. Last year, just 51 teams were selected, meaning only 1 in every 52 applicants get offered a spot in the accelerator.

Among past success stories include Bear Robotics, a Silicon Valley startup founded by ex-Google employes. They participated in KSGC 2017, have since attracted more than $100 million in investments and are now revolutionizing self-driving serving robots tailored for Korean cuisine internationally.

South Korea's K-Startup Grand Challenge 2023

How to apply for the South Korea’s K-Startup Grand Challenge 2023 (KSGC)

Of course, it’s far from a guarantee you get access to all those benefits. You’ll have to apply — and be accepted to — the accelerator, first.

Organizers say that startups with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or who have specific plans to relocate their headquarters or establish a company in Korea will be given preference. It’s a two-step process where judges evaluate your written application, and then there’s a ‘global audition evaluation that assesses criteria such as problem recognition, feasibility and differentiation, expansion plan, and team.

If you want to apply, you’ll have to move fast. The application period closes on May 18, 2023.

Judges will look at initial paperwork applications starting then through May 26, and then applicants will be invited to participate in that audition evaluation sometime between May 30 and June 2.

Final participants will be named on June 15. And if selected, you’ll participate in the acceleration program, which runs from July 25 to November 10, 2023. Apply for the K-Startup Grand Challenge 2023 here.

What other 2023 startup accelerator programs are out there?

If you’re not keen on moving to South Korea (or perhaps you just want to maximize your odds of getting accepted to any sort of startup accelerator, there’s are plenty of other opportunities for drone-related startup accelerators out there.

Another huge one, Genius NY, is also accepting applications right now through May 17, 223. That accelerator program is focused more on the drone side of things (as well as all aspects of uncrewed aerial systems, IoT, big data, and robotics). It’s seeking applicants within precision and remote sensing, smart city applications, data collection and analytics, guidance or communication systems, and sensors.

The Genius NY accelerator program is based in Syracuse, New York, and will narrow down applications to five finalists, all of whom are guarantee to split part of the $3 million cash prize pool — which includes a single, $1 million grand prize. Syracuse is a particularly appealing location for many companies in the drone industry given its close proximity to New York’s Griffiss International Airport, one of just seven FAA-designated UAS test sites in the United States. 

More recently, the New York Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS) Test Site at Griffiss International Airport got approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to be able to operate drones weighing under 300 pounds throughout New York’s 50-mile drone corridor and be compensated for operations.

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