“In order to achieve sustainable growth, innovation is vital.” -Hanwha DreamPlus Entrepreneur
Walking into Hanwha’s DreamPlus center, you might initially think you are at a regular office building for the life insurance conglomerate. Yet far from a traditional Hanwha outpost, the DreamPlus center—which will have its grand opening next month—is a Pan-Asian innovation ecosystem and the largest Fintech accelerator in Korea. It finds, cultivates, and supports startups in global expansion, investment opportunities, and innovation acceleration. DreamPlus centers handpick high-impact startups across payment, lending, security, cryptocurrency, and a variety of other Fintech spaces. Since 2014, 5 DreamPlus centers have opened across Asia, including three in South Korea, one in Japan, and one in China.
The DreamPlus center is intentionally designed to foster a collaborative and growth-oriented culture. For example, the 4th floor contains a media center, complete with soundstage and recording studio, while the 3rd floor is built out as an expansive library. The lower level includes a sports bar, convenience store, and a meeting space decked out with neon lights and graffiti. On the 9th and 10th floors, early- and mid-stage start-ups are housed together to promote continued conversation and shared resources.
The Korean start-up scene sits within a unique landscape. One of the major benefits to start-ups is that the Korean government invests heavily in its conglomerates, or chaebols, providing subsidies that allow for quick growth, expansion, and maturity. In addition, many Koreans we met with pointed to the economic and cultural dynamism of the country as a key facet of the industry’s competitive advantage.
Yet start-ups here are not without challenges. There already doesn’t exist a lot of work-life balance in Korea, and this is even more pronounced in start-up culture. It can also be difficult to attract top talent to these companies. The Korean education system is incredibly competitive and, most parents want to see their kids go to work at traditional market leaders, like Samsung and Hyundai.
We asked one of the entrepreneurs about the biggest benefit of DreamPlus. “You don’t have to spend money or time here trying to appear successful,” he said. “You can focus on the work, the innovation, and solving the problem at hand.”
Lindy Gould (’19) is an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School.