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September 24, 2015

Beyond the Valley – Seoul

This past week the University of Waterloo in partnership with Communitech hosted the Waterloo Innovation Summit. Warren and I had a chance to attend and some fantastic conversations with leading Canadian and international stakeholders like Kevin Lynch, Salim Ismail and Mariana Mazzucato.

Amongst the topics of conversation was the subject of place and connections between them. And while the Valley dominated as the place, as Ajay Royan, co-founder of Mithril Capital Management, noted “Every ecosystem needs to build on the unique capabilities it has. We can’t copy and paste the Valley or Tel Aviv.”

In our ongoing work on the Canadian ecosystem this topic has come out loud clear. As I wrote in August, the 2015 Compass report highlights that Canadian startups still struggle to diversify away from the United States. To be caught in a southern gravitational pull is a natural thing for Canadian companies, however, given the hyper-competitive market in the US, and in the Valley in particular, there’s a definite need to look elsewhere for markets, partnerships and insight.

Royan went on to note that Seoul, South Korea might provide a better, modern template for what makes a magnetic innovation space. He noted that Seoul offers 24/7 nightlife and services that cater to both young and families, a benchmark that serves to attract talent at a variety of levels.

As it happens I spent part of the weekend speaking with South Korean diplomats and officials as part of the Canada-South Korea forum hosted by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). While the focus of the forum wasn’t on innovation, I spoke briefly on the Canadian innovation ecosystem and the potential areas of partnership between both countries. Professor Lee Ju-Ho of the Korean Development Institute School of Public Policy, and former Minister of Education, Science and Technology, also spoke on Korea’s need to better align its education system with entrepreneurship – now enabled by a USD $ 5 billion package pledged by President Park towards the development of a “creative economy.” It would seem that there are opportunities for both market access and institutional design learning across these two national ecosystem.

Earlier in the year I spoke with Nathan Millard, founder of Seoul-based 3G Partners. He put together this great slide deck on South Korea’s startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem that I thought I’d share here. It’s well worth a look both for the insight into Korea’s ecosystem, as well as some of the challenges regarding transaction volume and corporate activity that mirror Canadian challenges.

All this to say, while focusing on the Valley is natural, there are other spaces around the globe that may offer attractive market opportunities for Canadian technology firms, as well as insightful spaces to learn from for policy makers looking to create competitive magnets for talent.

DH

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