DreamPlus: South Korea’s Fintech Accelerator

“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.

Welcome sign in the lobby of DreamPlus

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 library at Hanwha’s DreamPlus Center
Jess Beidelman (’18), Taylor Palank (’19), and Kelly Lundy (’19) in DreamPlus’ recording studio

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.”

Students in Hanwha’s lounge and meeting space
Checking out the green screen in the media lab
DreamPlus’ soundstage and filming room

Lindy Gould (’19) is an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School.

#SeoulExcited for South Korea: An Interview with Kyungsun Chung (’19)

With our Chazen South Korea study tour kicking off on Sunday, I sat down with trip leader Kyungsun Chung (’19) to chat about his plans for the trip. Prior to joining CBS, Kyungsun was the Founder and CEO of Root Impact, a nonprofit that focuses on building capacity for the social innovation sector in Korea. He is in the third-generation of the Hyundai family.


Why did you want to plan a Chazen trip to South Korea?

I really wanted to add something to the Columbia community. I knew this Korea trip was something I could do well and it seemed like a good fit. Since I’m coming from a family business background, I thought I could add an interesting mix into the trip.

On that note of family business, I know one of the things we’re going to be learning about is this idea of chaebol. Would you tell me more about that?

A chaebol is a large business conglomerate that is owned by family members. With companies like Samsung, they are billion-dollar companies, but they are controlled by maybe 10-50 people in a family. So chaebol is basically family business—but with a crazy business size.

How did this idea of chaebol get started in South Korea?

This idea of a family-controlled conglomerate is especially popular in developing countries. When an economy is developing and doesn’t have a lot of resources or infrastructure, you’ll see a government make a conscious decision that they will basically concentrate the economic power within a few family businesses so they can compete internationally. As you know, the international businesses coming from Europe or the United States have much more capacity to compete; the developing government needs to put everything they have into a small number of businesses.

In Korea, the government gave a lot of tax breaks, bank loans, and other benefits to these family businesses so they could grow fast and drive the Korean economy. In Korea, there was basically nothing after the Korean War in the 1950s—it was really devastating—but now you have these Korean conglomerates, Samsung and Hyundai, which are the #1 conductor company and #6 largest automaker in the world, respectively. I really wanted my friends at CBS to learn more about chaebol because it’s really one of the few successful cases of the government-intervention economic model.

Aside from the company visits, what are you most excited about?

Basically… everything! The food part, of course. We are going to Korean traditional barbecues. On Wednesday, we have a cultural day—we are going to the Korean War Memorial Museum.

What do you think are some misconceptions that people have about Korean culture?

Because of North Korea, a lot of people think that South Korea is dangerous. They’re worried we are going to be invaded. But it’s not at all like that. I mean, there are more than 20,000 U.S. citizens living in South Korea. In terms of crime, we are one of the safest cities in the world.

Lindy Gould (’19) is an MBA candidate at Columbia Business School.

A Historic and Whirlwind Week in the South Korean Capital

Miriam Krule ’18
Chazen South Korea

New York—I’m back in the United States attempting to recover from the 13-hour time difference by donning one of the 43 Korean face masks I did not at all impulsively purchase on Dongdaemun Street, so there’s no better time for me to take a few minutes (the directions advise 15-20) to reflect on our whirlwind week in Seoul.

It was a truly fascinating time to be in South Korea. Many in our group arrived in Seoul the day after the president’s impeachment was upheld. Just blocks from our hotel, there were rallies both supporting and protesting this decision on the Saturdays that book-ended our trip . (Video above from March 11, courtesy of Heather Liu.) To top it off, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spent some of Friday in Seoul due to mounting tension with North Korea and China. This tension also meant that there were significantly fewer Chinese tourists in the country, which, while bad for the South Korean economy, made for an interesting and somewhat empty experience for us. This is all to say that our time spent visiting the DMZ and the Korean War Memorial felt like it held just a bit more significance than it ordinarily might as the historical implications of such a young country could be felt everywhere we went.

The importance of this history was the backbone of many of the companies we visited. Take the skin care and cosmetics company Amore Pacific. Even as its grown to be one of the world’s largest beauty companies, more than half of its company presentation was devoted to its humble origin story about the company’s founder’s mother. This emphasis on a foundation story was true of Lotte and Samsung as well. Even the country’s former president was in the family business. On the other hand, all the companies we visited emphasized their plans beyond South Korea and into international growth. Our meeting with newer companies, like YG Entertainment, SendBird, and Line were informative for us, but also served as mini focus groups for our hosts as they think critically about the opportunities for U.S. expansion. One of the biggest challenges for them is thinking about how to maintain their identity and home base while also appealing to a wider audience. At places like YG Entertainment, this is a particular challenge with language and style presenting a particular challenge, one that I look forward to seeing how they approach.

During our final night (post DMZ, pre Octagon) we had a few moments to debrief in small groups at dinner. My table was interested in looking forward. Coming from the DMZ, we were all wondering if it would be possible for the two Koreas to reunite. The discussion turned into a debate about whether it was economically feasible for the south to absorb the north, or if Russia or China would get to it first. The one image I can’t get out of my mind though is how cut off from the rest of Asia, and by extension Europe, South Korea is by land. At the DMZ, we visited a train station that was meant to be part of the Trans-Asian Railway. It was eerie to see hopeful signs that say “To Pyongyang” despite the fact that North Korea hasn’t agreed to anything yet.

North Korea
Looking to the future … and North Korea.

And no, I didn’t forget about the live octopus dinner. For the queasy (me) or vegan (me) I’ll just link to them here and here.

Seoulong for now!

A Whole Lotte Fun

Miriam Krule ’18
Chazen South Korea

SEOUL–I would apologize for that punny headline, but if you had the day we had, you’d have Lotte fever too. Lotte is the largest confectionery manufacturer in South Korea, but over the past 50 years has grown from a Japanese gum company to become one of South Korea’s largest conglomerates, expanding into hospitality and chemicals. It’s impossible to walk around Seoul without seeing something Lotte on every corner.

We started the morning at one of Lotte’s distribution centers where we learned about the three different processes they use to pack deliveries using the “pick-by-light system.” For items that are purchased the least frequently, they use a “decanting” station to unpack from the bulk orders and then grey bins are sent over to operators who match the incoming grey bins to the outgoing red bins.

Image via KPF

We then headed to Lotte World Tower, the fifth-largest building in the world, and, as you can see in the above image, designed to look like a calligraphy brush. Before hearing from Lotte’s CEO, Shin Dong-bin, Columbia Business School class of 1981, about the history of Lotte and its 2020 goals, we got a private tour of the still unopened observatory where we could look directly down all 123 floors.

from above.JPG

We also saw the beautiful concert hall and enormous aquarium, both inside the tower. The only analogy we could think of for how comprehensive the tower is–it also has offices, hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and every possible retail store you could ever want–is a modern-day palace. Within its gates it has everything you could ever need.

After lunch, we headed over to Lotte Accelerator, Lotte’s newest division. We heard presentations from some really fun-sounding startups, like Prinker, which allows you to sketch an image on your phone and then use a handheld inkjet printer to create a temporary tattoo. With something like this, there are a lot of opportunities for growth beyond just fun tattoos–hospitals can use it to track patients vitals for example. But we definitely had fun playing around with our personalized CBS/Lotte images.


Bonus Points:

On Wednesday we visited Gyeongbokgung Palace dressed up in traditional hanbok:


Some of us also ate LIVE octopus for dinner. Check out my next post for video evidence!

Gangnam Style

Miriam Krule ’18
Chazen South Korea

SEOUL–It’s been a bit more than 48 hours since our group touched down in Seoul (and became #CBSSeoulMates), so it’s no surprise that we already got Gangnam Style down. In our first two days we met with a representative from YG Entertainment (the home of PSY and his record-breaking music video), experienced an authentic night of passionate karaoke, and spoke with startup founders in Seoul’s answer to Silicon Valley, Gangnam Valley.

YGA small group of us interested in media had the chance to speak with a member of the global investment team at YG Plus, a division of YG Entertainment. Unlike in the U.S., South Korean record labels generate revenue from all commercial activities of their artists (like concerts), not just the record sales. While this seems to work in South Korea, in the pre-visit case we read, this model was compared to what Motown was like in the late 1960s, when companies owned artists’ likeness and artists were not very pleased with that situation. On the other hand, it also pointed out that Lady Gaga has a “360-degree deal,” which is similar to what YG Entertainment offers. This difference is one of the many important things YG has to think about as it begins plans for expansion into the U.S. The representative spoke candidly with us about these plans and how it might affect YG’s existing Korean fan base. We also learned about some quirks of the Korean music business. One fun fact: All Korean music is released at 12 a.m. so that fans can listen right away and the song can immediately top the charts that day.

In continuing on our musical theme, I was going to tell you a bit about our evening of karaoke, but I think it’d just be best to leave you with this video:  Read more

See You in Seoul!

Miriam Krule ’18
Chazen South Korea

NEW YORK–Reading about South Korea in the news these past few months provides a surreal distraction from our own U.S. political drama. When I land at Incheon International Airport tomorrow, the Republic of Korea’s Constitutional Court will announce the results of the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. But that’s just one of the things I’ve been thinking about in preparation for this trip. I came to CBS interested in pursuing a career in technology and media, so Seoul placed high on the list of cities I hoped to explore over the course of my two years. In the upcoming week I’ll be joining 39 of my classmates in visiting companies like YG Entertainment—home to some of the biggest K-Pop stars (yes, PSY too)—and the growing messaging startup SendBird.

At our kick-off event, aside from getting the softest Chazen-branded fleeces, we learned about what else we can expect in the coming week: In addition to those I already mentioned, we’ll be visiting South Korean heavyweights like KIA Motors, Samsung, and Lotte. But we’ll also, of course, be rocking out to karaoke, dressing up in traditional clothing at Gyeongbok Palace, and visiting the DMZ.

Having a Chazen trip planned for me by my classmates is a luxury—one that I’m excited to take full advantage of—but it also means that, aside from reading the news, I’ve done a lot less of the logistical prep that goes into learning about a new place. For me though, fiction has always been one of the best introductions into a new country and culture. That’s why I’ve packed the Man Booker International Prize-winning novel, The Vegetarian, for the ultimate plane read.

See You in Seoul.JPG

See you soon in Seoul!


East Asia: Revisited

Photo Credit: Katherine Li ’17

I entered the Chazen Hong Kong & South Korea trip excited about the opportunity to explore a somewhat familiar industry in a completely unfamiliar place. And we did just that. In our amazing, motley crew of 30 students, we heard from trailblazers in the media, arts and entertainment space. From tech executives who shared their vision for connecting the next generation of consumers to famed news anchors who opened up about how they maintain journalistic integrity while running a profitable business, we got a candid look at the east Asian marketplace. The topics we once learned about in coffee chats and trade rags, were now tangible. We no longer had to read about the trends, we were with the decision-makers driving them. It was that experience that was truly invaluable.

While I was proud to leave the trip with deeper insights around the challenges studios face in getting movies into China and the hurdles digital music services encounter when acquiring customers across borders, for example, my biggest lessons of all boil down to perspective. It’s easy to be U.S.-centric and think about how to take advantage of this “all about Asia” wave as American companies focus their sights abroad, but it’s more important to truly dive into why these markets are deemed so valuable in the first place. There are so many unique cultural, economic and political insights to be uncovered that can make businesses and business leaders in any country more innovative and effective.

My most important takeaways from the trip all center around three key themes.

  1. Culture is one of our most valuable exports. It’s easy to forget that our culture creates some of the world’s most valuable products. The music we love, the movies we watch and the stories we share are not only entertaining, but how we connect with the world. The ability to harness the power of that connection is the foundation of media and entertainment industries all across the globe. Seeing the enormous growth of the Korean wave (“hallyu” 한류) and the opportunities it has created for the economy are direct proof of that. While automotive exports may generate over $60B in value, the phenomenon of Korean entertainment and pop culture has brought bringing pop music, TV dramas and movies to masses and an enormous opportunity for the Korea economy.
  2. Everything can be branded. Even with a background in advertising, I have taken for granted the depths at which consumers connect with brands. Our visit to S.M. Entertainment, however, brought this insight to another level. The team known as “the company that created K-Pop”, is not only a record label and talent agency, but a branding juggernaut. In the States, kids may have had a Justin Bieber backpack or a One Direction lunch box, but in Korea, consumers are drinking Girls Generation white ale and paying a premium to eat Red Velvet red velvet cupcakes. The sophistication with which Korean companies approach branding easily eclipses what we have seen in the U.S. It is an enlightening reminder of the ways in which American brands can think outside the box to create unique and compelling lifestyle experiences for their customers, far beyond what is expected.
  3. Localization is everything. East Asia is a rich and complex economic environment and each country, region and city has their own unique culture, norms and beliefs. Acknowledging, respecting and investing in that is the only way outsiders can even have a shot a piece of the pie. As students we are easily seduced by flashy global brands, but a closer examination of strong, local players could give us even more insight into how to create new opportunities to drive growth and profitability for any business in which we may operate. Our visit to KKBOX proved just that. Most of us could easily talk about Spotify’s scale or Apple’s network effects, but KKBOX showed us how truly thinking local can not only drive revenue, but also create new business opportunities. While U.S. players may rely on recurring credit card payments, for example, KKBOX recognized that they could acquire more diverse customers with a wider range of payment options. Their partnership with local telcos, peer-to-peer communities, and even convenience stores are a prime example of this idea of local innovation that we could translate into all markets.

So while I was sad to see our trip come to an end, I feel lucky to know that I got far more out of this experience than I could have ever imagined. I have tangible lessons about global businesses, and the media and entertainment space more specifically, that I can directly apply to my career as I prepare to leave CBS this spring. The greatest gift though, as I think all of us could attest, were the relationships we were able to create during our whirlwind ten days abroad. From realizing we didn’t bring enough layers to brave the Korean cold or getting pressured into trying Cantonese chicken feet for the first time, we all had this unique chance to jump outside of our comfort zone, together. Because of that, I have created bonds with people through this incredible shared experience that I will never forget.

Thanks for the memories.


Courtney Richardson ‘17