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SNU hosts competition for start-ups

Mar 27,2017
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Cheon Ye-seul, left, demonstrates her “smart stretching” machine among other start-ups at the Venture Competition, “Be the Rocket” hosted by Seoul National University. Park Won-nyeong, right, elaborates on the use of drones for real-time analysis at construction sites. [JANG JIN-YOUNG]
At a lecture hall in Seoul National University (SNU), a 30 centimeter (11 inch) or so drone softly landed on the stage after briefly buzzing over the heads of 200 onlookers. Park Won-nyeong, 26, lowered the controls and gestured toward the screen.

Bird’s-eye view images of construction sites appeared on the screen. It was a video demonstrating the possible applications of drones in investigating future construction sites by using Google Maps.

“In order to examine construction sites, one must put in a lot of legwork,” said Park. “By using a drone, one can have real-time analysis.”

Park was just one of many entrepreneurs pitching their ideas at the finals of the Seoul National Venture Competition, “Be the Rocket.” On Mar. 8, SNU hosted the event with the supervision of Seoul Techno Holdings Inc. and the SNU R&DB Foundation.

As they each climbed the stage, they enthusiastically extolled the virtues of their start-up ideas to their audience of college students, companies and prospective investors. Cho Jae-min, 26, a Yonsei University engineering graduate and competitor, has already filed five patents as of last year.

“I made this for all the mothers who have sore legs from standing around the whole day while working,” said Cho. She explained one just had to insert their calf in the device and the “smart stretching machine” would take care of the rest. By connecting the machine with a smartphone, the phone would display the areas being massaged on the screen. “I developed this product after thinking of our mothers who often complain of sore legs,” said Cho.

The competition finalists were mostly in their 20s and 30s.

There was, however, at least one team with an average age of 40, which developed a location-based mobile authentication system. “I found it encouraging and exciting while competing with the young folks,” said Park Yeong-gyeong, 47, head of his team. “I might be on the older side, but I still wanted to try a start-up.”

Anyone was eligible to compete. Their age, education and background were irrelevant as long as the competitors had a newborn start-up with a total of less than 100 million won of investment ($86,000). In all, 125 teams competed, this year being its third year running, with only seven teams advancing to the finals. Like any other real-world venture, each team received an initial investment of 5 million won.

The members of the judging committee were seasoned entrepreneurs who assessed the competitors for five rounds. Depending on the rankings by these judges, teams could receive an additional 10 million to 20 million won.

The teams were provided with clerical support to allow them to focus on the development of their product while also receiving consultation on patents, legal advice and accountancy.

The event was the final product pitch to determine the winner. A previous three-month midterm evaluation and today’s final judging were both accounted for.

The winner was Yang Jae-sik, 30, a doctoral student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at SNU. He made an egg-free vegetarian-friendly mayonnaise that accounted for egg allergies by using Korean black beans as the main ingredient.

A majority of the venture capitalists present expressed their interest and handed their business cards to Yang. Luckily, Yang was ready for this moment as he had already secured a factory to start immediate production. Hearing this news, one prospective investor said, “Let’s meet alone and talk. Consumer demographics must be done with clarity and if one does PR and marketing well, you can expect a good reaction from the market.”

Of the seven finalist teams at the first year of the competition, four attracted the investment of 2.4 billion won for the first year. Of the second-year finalists, two out of seven received an average 100 million won investment. The potential of one team was recognized and was bought out.

Seoul Techno Holdings Inc. is considering investing in one or two teams for 100 million won. Mok Seung-hwan, head of investment strategy at Seoul Techno Holdings Inc., said, “We have arranged for patent, legal and accountancy support for the teams that participated in the finals.”

BY JEONG HYEON-JIN [hwang.hosub@joongang.co.kr]