Pionier Garage Startup Tour of South Korea and Japan: Insights and highlights

Ana Beatriz Benatti

Insights into the culture of innovation in South Korea

Our stay in South Korea gave us a deep insight into a dynamic start-up landscape. In Seoul, we visited a large number of start-ups and met founders who presented their business models and technologies. Particularly impressive was our visit to Seoul Robotics, where we discussed the challenges and opportunities of an economy dominated by large conglomerates, including in the context of international cooperation.



Learning moments

Speed is the key to success in Korea:

Seoul, often referred to as the “Miracle on the Han River”, illustrates South Korea’s rapid economic transformation. This transformation has been characterised by strong government intervention and high speed. The government strongly supports innovation, with an average of 4.8% of GDP invested in innovation and research, according to the German Embassy we visited in Seoul.

Government support and strategic focus

The South Korean government has a significant influence on economic development through five-year plans that specifically promote certain technology areas and thus shape the innovation landscape. Social debate follows the introduction of technology. One notable observation was that in Korea, new technologies are first introduced in a market-driven manner, and only then are they discussed and regulated socially and politically. This reflects a culture of power and speed.


Making new contacts, Takeoff Tokyo

In Japan, we were fortunate to meet some of the leading figures in the startup scene. A highlight was the Takeoff Tokyo event, which bridges the gap between Japanese and international players in the startup world. Personalities such as Antti Sonninen and Vinnie Lauria shared valuable insights on the importance of networking and identifying gaps in the market.


Japan as its own founding cosmos

In Japan, particularly in Osaka and Tokyo, we met various players in the ecosystem in addition to the trade fair. The visit to DWIH Tokyo was particularly memorable. The Japanese ecosystem is economically large and linguistically isolated, which means that many Japanese start-ups focus primarily on the domestic market and show less interest in internationalisation. Language and cultural barriers certainly play a role, but it is fascinating to look at this isolated ecosystem and its currents and consider possible changes in our own systems.

The importance of culture and leisure

In between busy meetings, we took time to explore the rich culture and history of both countries. Visits to temples in Japan and walks under blossoming cherry trees not only provided relaxation, but also a welcome opportunity to reflect on the link between tradition and modernity that is also evident in the start-up culture of both countries.


Our tour of South Korea and Japan not only deepened our understanding of the local start-up culture, but also emphasised the importance of international collaboration. The experience and insights we gained are invaluable and will have a significant impact on our future projects and consulting activities. This will also result in a soft landing programme for Japanese teams in cooperation with GHPro in the autumn. We are grateful for the many encounters and the warm welcome in each country and look forward to incorporating these insights into our work.


Gamsahaeyo and Arigatō for this unforgettable experience!


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