Top 5 reasons why South Korea is a hot destination for business-led collaboration – Lessons from a Global Expert Mission

Posted on: 05/07/2019

Aline Martins, KTN reports on a recent Global Expert Mission to South Korea focussed on Smart Cities.


South Korea is increasingly becoming a force in the international innovation landscape. It was appointed the most innovative country in the world by the Bloomberg Innovation Index 2019, particularly due to its high expenditures in R&D which in 2017 accounted for 4.5% of the country’s GDP and its modern high-tech infrastructure. South Korea is also in the forefront of the development and roll out of technologies such as 5G.

One of the sectors that South Korea stands out is Smart Cities. Seoul is internationally recognised for its smart cities’ initiatives and the city’s Mayor has recently unveiled plans to transform Seoul in the ‘capital of big data’. The initiative includes the investment of over £970 million over the next four years and installing over 50,000 sensors that will collect data on matters affecting the quality of life of citizens of Seoul.

With the ambition of gathering insights on the South Korean Smart Cities market and exploring the potential for business-led collaboration with the Asian country, KTN led a Global Expert Mission on behalf of Innovate UK with prominent UK experts representing academia, large corporations, government, and innovative SMEs.

The mission was centred in the cities of Seoul, Sejong and Busan where the delegation had the opportunity to meet with key South Korean stakeholders such as the Presidential Committee for the Fourth Industrial Revolution; the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport; the Korea Agency for Infrastructure (KAIA); Hyundai Motors; the governments of the cities of Busan and Seoul; innovative start-ups working in the smart cities sector; among others.

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Top 5

During the Mission, the UK experts had in-depth discussions with these key policy makers and businesses leaders and all the learnings will be presented in a report which will be published by the end of August. Although the report will provide the evidence to demonstrate the potential for enhancing UK’s relationship with South Korea, these are my top 5 reasons why South Korea is a hot destination for business-led collaboration in Smart Cities:


1.     The South Korea Government is committed to being in the forefront of the development and deployment of technologies of the 4th industrial revolution while fostering the country’s start-up ecosystem and promoting inclusive economic growth. In 2017, the South Korean Government unveiled the Plan for Fourth Industrial Revolution entitled I-Korea 4.0. The ambitious initiative foresees large investments to improve the R&D system and the country’s innovation environment, to enhance the country’s tech infrastructure, and to transform start-ups and SMEs into growth engines. This includes the creation of the £ 640 billion Growth Ladder Fund to expand the financing for growth of new technologies, and £1 trillion by 2022 to secure intelligent technology competitiveness by using technologies such as neuroscience, nanotechnology and material science to advance solutions in artificial intelligence, computing, and data.


2.     The South Korean Government is heavily investing in Smart Cities initiatives and wants to attract international business to take part in projects. In 2018, the Korean Government unveiled its New Smart City Policy which has the ambition of enabling South Korea to become a global leader in Smart Cities innovation. The policy sets out the investment of GBP 3 billion worth of Smart Cities initiatives and GBP 2 billion of national government funding to support these initiatives. This investment includes funding for greenfield and brownfield smart city projects where two cities – Busan and Sejong Рhave already been selected to serve as test beds for new smart cities solutions. The government has also earmarked investment to attract global businesses to the pilot cities.


3.     Chaebols are adapting to the new global innovation landscape. One of the key barriers for market entry in South Korea is the concentration of family-run conglomerates such as Samsung and LG known as chaebols. However, these companies are increasingly utilising open innovation approaches to collaborate with other stakeholders in the global innovation ecosystem. One example is Hyundai Motors that entered in 2018 as a partner in the Intelligent Mobility Accelerator working closely with the founding partners Connected Places Catapult and Wayra UK, as well as UK start-ups.


4.     There seems to be a real appetite for collaboration between the UK and South Korea. This has been demonstrated by the recent £2.4 million UK/South Korea 5G Challenge funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport the Korean Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI). The competition which closed on 1st June will enable UK and South Korean businesses to collaborate and pilot 5G technologies in Seoul underground helping South Korean investment in the UK and new business opportunities for UK companies in South Korea.  Similar competitions have been organised in the past and are upcoming ones are currently in discussion.


5.     There are clear immediate opportunities for UK businesses. Sejong is of the cities that are going to serve as a test-bed as part of the National Smart Cities Policy and itis actively scouting international companies interested in demonstrating and validating their solutions in a city environment. Although the project is currently early stages of implementation, Sejong is open for suggestions on what incentives should be offered by the city to start-ups willing to come to Sejong beyond an already planned regulatory sandbox. The selection of companies will be concluded in 2020.


About Global Expert Missions

The Mission was part of the Innovate UK’s Global Expert Mission Programme. Delivered by KTN, the Expert Missions will help further Innovate UK’s global strategy by providing the evidence base for where it should invest and by providing the opportunities for UK businesses to build partnerships and collaborations with key economies.

If you would like to learn more about the mission and the opportunities identified, don’t miss the Mission report which will be published soon. To express your interest in working in Sejong or obtain more information about the Global Expert Missions Programme contact Aline Martins, Knowledge Transfer Manager – International & Development at and Bruce Mclelland, Urban Living Specialist at

Related Events

British companies specialising in a smart city area, may be interested in the following trade mission also to South Korea, and to attend the World Smart City Expo(WSCE) 2019. This mission will be organised by the Department for International Trade (DIT).

Smart City Trade Mission to South Korea
4 – 6 September 2019

For more information and how to register, download the flyer here.

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