The Skolkovo innovation city could soon be welcoming its first resident startups from South Korea, if applications from four companies currently taking part in a soft landing programme here are successful.
Representatives of the South Korean startups and KISED pictured in the Skolkovo Technopark. Photo: Sk.ru.
The quartet of Korean startups arrived at Skolkovo on Monday, and are spending three weeks meeting with potential partners and mentors and learning about the support offered to hi-tech startups both by Skolkovo and other Russian innovations incubators.
“This is our pilot soft landing programme for foreign startups,” Sergei Pogrebnyakov, an acceleration manager at the Skolkovo Technopark, told Sk.ru.
“We’ve invited them here to show them what opportunities there are for them to develop their businesses here in Russia,” he said.
The four startups were selected from dozens who applied via the Korea Institute of Startup and Entrepreneurship Development (KISED), with whom the Skolkovo Foundation signed a cooperation agreement last year. They have already received preliminary approval from the relevant heads of the Skolkovo Foundation’s clusters, and are now in the process of applying for residency, said Pogrebnyakov.
“To attract investment and do business here in Russia, the Korean startups need to register a Russian business,” he said.
The trip to Russia is not the first for at least two of the startups.
Hayden Lim, CEO of IT startup Greetalk, spent two years working in Moscow for a global company, he told Sk.ru. Five months ago, he set up his own company back in Seoul to develop a mobile app to help users learn English, and when he heard about the programme at Skolkovo, he applied to take part.
“The e-learning market is growing rapidly. Asia is the number one fastest-growing region, and Eastern Europe is the second, driven by Russia,” said Lim, explaining why he was interested in entering the Russian market.
“The second reason is that in Korea, they focus on exams to learn English. Here, people do interviews. I think it’s a good chance to sell our product to some Russians interested in working at international companies,” he said.
The entrepreneurs will spend three weeks in Moscow learning about the opportunities available. Photo: Sk.ru.
The Greetalk app content is determined by big data analysis to identify the most common words and phrases used in contemporary English.
“Popular expressions are different depending on the English teacher,” said Lim. “They might say something is a popular expression, but that’s very subjective. We select popular expressions by statistics.”
The app shows users short examples from popular TV shows of native speakers using the expression in question, and users can then test their pronunciation via the app. If the sound or emphasis is wrong, the app will highlight the words needing improvement on a written sentence.
The next step for Greetalk is to integrate its app with Amazon’s smart assistant, Alexa, so that English-language students can practise their English whenever they want, free of charge.
“There’s no cost of talking, because it’s AI,” said Lim, adding that his startup has already analysed 10,000 scripts for popular words and phrases.
There was certainly no culture shock for the representative of another Korean startup, the biomed company Kang & Park Medical. Its R&D director Timofey Chekalkin is Russian, but moved to South Korea 18 months ago to work there.
Kang & Park Medical is developing new generation implants made from superplastic materials, designed for use in various branches of medicine, including dentistry, oncology and various kinds of surgery, Chekalkin told Sk.ru.
“During our three-week visit, several meetings are planned with scientific establishments and institutes, where we will talk to our colleagues directly about pre-clinical and clinical trials,” he said.
The startup has not yet begun clinical research, but has had several papers published in international science journals, leaving Chekalkin optimistic that the project will be well received by experts from Skolkovo and other Russian institutes, he said.
Both Lim and Chekalkin said the conditions offered to resident startups by the Skolkovo Foundation were what had attracted them to the programme.
“There are many advantages of becoming a resident startup: the tax advantages, and getting help with acceleration, and meeting with partners interested in the education business,” said Lim.
The four Korean startups have met representatives of services offered by Skolkovo, including the grant committee and intellectual property department, and will also be visiting other technoparks in Moscow, said Pogrebnyakov.
One of the startups – Economy Housing – will take part in the upcoming Batimat Russia construction trade fair in Moscow together with representatives of Skolkovo’s energy-efficient technologies cluster, he said, and the Korean companies will also meet with Skolkovo startups working in similar areas. The fourth startup, DoubleMe, which converts 2D videos into 3D models for use in areas such as VR/AR and gaming, was already in talks with a potential partner on Wednesday morning.
The startups were accompanied to Russia by representatives of KISED, which was set up with the support of the Korean government in 2000 to foster innovative startups and help them to commercialise their products, including on the global market.
The agreement signed last year between KISED and Skolkovo foresaw the implementation of a joint accelerator programme for Russian and South Korean companies, as well as the exchange of experience in developing an ecosystem of innovative startups.
The soft landing programme is a new step in the cooperation between the two government-backed organisations.
“We are showing them that the Russian ecosystem isn’t only aimed at our own startups, but that foreign companies can make a soft landing here too,” said Pogrebnyakov.