You’ve probably heard the buzz about the K-Startup Grand Challenge, which has brought 40 foreign startups to Korea for three months of acceleration. But what do the startups actually get out of the program while they’re here?

The startups are being hosted by four different accelerators in Seoul: Actner Lab, DEV Korea, Shift and Spark Labs. Last Thursday, G3 Partners and DEV Korea hosted their first official meeting with the 10 international startups in their batch. They invited the startups, 16 program mentors and other esteemed members of Korea’s startup community to Naver’s Startup Campus in Gangnam.

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These mentors have ‘done the hard yards’ when it comes to establishing a business in Korea. All of the mentors have deep experience and ties within the Korean startup scene, and several of them have founded, headed or invested in multimillion dollar companies. (Or in the case of Daniel Shin, CEO and Founder of Korean unicorn TMON, billion dollar companies.)

The night gave our mentors a chance to introduce themselves to the start-ups (some of whom arrived at the event straight from the airport) and uncover what they can offer in terms of specific advice and mentorship.  As well as business advice, the mentors were also happy to offer some choice advice for living in Seoul and adjusting to Korean culture.

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After basic introductions of both the startups and mentors, there was a ‘three-minute speed dating’ session, where each startup had three minutes to get to know each mentor one-on-one. It was clear that just as in the less platonic form of speed dating, some mentors really ‘clicked’ with particular startups and will have follow-up session.

I served as emcee for the event and discretely listened in on a few of the mentoring session. Questions ranged from “How does the UX (User Experience) scene in Korea differ from the West?” to “What’s the best restaurant in the area?”. And from “What is the best route in terms of securing copyright on X?” to “Do people really drink soju?”.

Answering some of these questions myself, made me think of how useful a networking event like this would’ve been when I first arrived in Korea in 2013. Not only would my network have been given a huge head start, but I would’ve also learned how to say “Please, no live octopus” in Korean. KSGCPhotos (2 of 8)

Each mentor will also host a learning session during the three-month accelerator program, taking a deep-dive into their particular areas of expertise.

While a networking session might be an odd way to follow ordinary speed dating, it worked in this case, thanks in part to an Italian-themed buffet and a selection of wines from around the world, provided by Vineworks Korea, a local wine education company founded by a foreign entrepreneur.

This final networking session over dinner really exemplified what the K-Startup Grand Challenge is all about. People from all over the world came together in Seoul to share in the startup scene. The facilities and infrastructure have always been here in Seoul and it’s exciting to see them finally taken advantage of.

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Looking around during the night and seeing excited faces, eager to learn and get to work, it made me realise that the startups were in good hands and well curated. It’s now up to them to capitalise on these resources and make the most of their time here in Seoul, the tech hub of Asia.

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