A Korean Diplomat’s Vision
Mr. Youngtae Kim, who returned to Korea at the end of 2013, served for two years as the Industrial Attaché at the Korean Embassy in Israel. Unique among diplomats, Youngtae exhibits a warm and outgoing demeanor, and is outspoken about his love for – and personal attachment to – Israel, which he considers his second home. In addition to his diplomatic standing, Youngtae is also the Director of the Small and Medium Business Administration (SMBA) of the Republic of Korea – an organization with over 15k members and 1500 employees. Upon his return to Korea, he has remained at the helm of this important organization, and was also invited to work at the Blue House.
The Blue House, situated in Korea’s capitol city of Seoul, is the home of the executive office and official residence of the President of the Republic of Korea. It is actually a massive complex of buildings – covering ±250k sq meters (62 acres) – that includes the Main Office Hall, the Presidential Residence, the State Reception House, the Press Hall, and the Secretariat Buildings.
A Visionary with a Diverse Background
As one of the most dedicated and ardent supporters of bi-national cooperation between Israel and Korea, Youngtae brings a remarkably broad range of knowledge and expertise – together with an exceptional ability to grasp issues from multiple vantage points.
Education-wise, Youngtae has completed coursework for a PhD in Business Administration, specializing in Venture Financing – from Soongsil University, Korea. Youngtae has a Masters degree in Financial Markets from Illinois Institute of Technology, U.S.A., and a Masters in Public Administration and a Bachelors degree in International Economics from Seoul National University, Korea. Professionally, Youngtae has served in various high level executive positions, including Director of the International Affairs Division, Director of the Overseas Marketing Division, and Director of the Venture Investment Division.
This mix of knowledge, together with his management experience, and his profound understanding of the two cultures – enables Youngtae to understand key issues from myriad angles – from the side of the entrepreneur, the investor and the government agency – a unique capability and breadth of understanding that informs his vision. Utilizing this rare combination has allowed him to develop practical methodologies that enhance the complementary advantages of each culture while minimizing the disadvantages of each – in order to create a powerful team on the world business scene.
In Youngtae’s vision, there are two key elements that can form the basis of a successful, long-term, and mutually beneficial cooperation. For Israel, Korea can act as a gateway to China and other Eastern countries, and for Korea, Israel can become a gateway into the US market. In addition, Korea can mentor Israel on global marketing and sales as well as efficient industrial production techniques – and Israel can become the inspiration for expanded Korean innovation.
Similarities and Differences
According to Youngtae’s insightful analysis, the similarities between the cultures include the following: a long history of hardship and adversity; the establishment of both countries in 1948; distinctly unfriendly neighbors; the miracles of rapid economic development within a framework of successful democracies; and, cultures exhibiting improvisation as well as tough negotiations.
Among the differences are Korea’s product and result orientation as opposed to Israel’s process and idea orientation – and Korea’s engineering and hardware focus and its globally recognized industrial ecosystem, in contrast to Israel’s focus on science and software and its global leadership in the high tech startup ecosystem.
In size, Korea encompasses almost 100k square kilometers, while Israel covers less than 21k. Korea exports almost $550 billion, with Israel exporting around $64 billion. Korea has a population of around 50m and a GDP of $1.5 trillion, while Israel’s population hovers around 8m with a GDP of around $0.25 trillion – though the per capita income is almost the same – $32,431 for Korea and $32,212 for Israel.
In order to develop open, ongoing cooperation, the two peoples will need to learn to understand each other and what is happening beneath the surface during interpersonal interactions. Here’s Youngtae’s comparison of the cultural differences between the two societies:
Toward a Korean Innovation Culture
A steady stream of Korean delegations visits Israel – made up of individuals from various governmental, semi-governmental, and private organizations – who are all sincerely trying to unravel the mystery of The Startup Nation in order to be able to replicate it at home. They visit representatives of every part of Israel’s high tech ecosystem – the startups, the incubators and accelerators, the universities, the VCs and angel investors, and the relevant government agencies. They meet with thought leaders and community organizers, journalists and serial entrepreneurs, mentors, attorneys, and lecturers in entrepreneurship. They analyze the differences and similarities and, thanks to the free flowing information available in the Israeli environment, they try to grasp the essence of the miracle of Silicon Wadi.
However, as hard as they try – and as dedicated as they are to the achievement of their goal – Youngtae does not think they can succeed without a profound disruption of Korean culture. In order to succeed, he says, young Koreans must renounce their parents’ prejudices and become true risk takers, unafraid to fail, ready to learn from their mistakes and to try again and again, with no guarantee of success, and without shame.
An encouraging sign is the growing number of Korean startups – some say now numbering ±200 – that are overcoming entrenched cultural stumbling blocks and are ready to take the risk. Youngtae believes that if the government can succeed in creating the right platform – and encouraging the creation of a comprehensive ecosystem, the Korean people will find a way to create their own startup miracle.
Another part of the equation is the commercialization of the significant R&D coming out of Korean universities that is currently not being utilized – not unlike the situation in Europe and elsewhere. In order to leverage this wellspring of ideas and talent, academia and industry will need to be brought together into a framework of close and ongoing cooperation.
Delivering the Message to Korean Decision-Makers
During his Israeli sojourn, Youngtae produced a number of detailed reports about the Israeli high tech scene, which were delivered to people high up in the government and in various agencies. One of the most important of these reports was entitled “Action Plan for Technology Startups in Korea Benchmarked from the Israeli Case”. In addition to preparing these reports, Youngtae has diligently compiled a massive amount of data and, after a year and a half in Israel, began writing a comprehensive, just-published book whose purpose is to give the Korean people a deeper understanding about the ins and outs of Israel’s Startup Nation. Written from the viewpoint of a government expert – analyzing a vast array of facts, delving deep into the data, and pinpointing specifics – this book, whose title is translated as “Talmud Creative Economy”, was developed and published with the full support and cooperation of the Korean Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Kim Ilsoo. Youngtae assumes that, in addition to government officials, the readers will include professors, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs. Hopefully, it will be translated into English for the benefit of would-be innovation ecosystems around the world.
Among Youngtae’s many significant accomplishments – achieved, it should be noted, in record time – are: the creation of the Korea-Israel High Tech and Venture Capital Summit, held in November 2012 in Seoul; the Korean Food Festival organized in cooperation with the Zepra restaurant; an invitation to 15 young Korean entrepreneurs to participate in an extensive program in cooperation with Tel Aviv University’s Entrepreneurship Program; the 1st Korea-Israel Creative Economy Forum, held in Nov 2013 in Tel Aviv; and, the creation of the Korea-Israel Co-Investment VC Fund (Mac Fund).
As impressive as these undertakings are, Youngtae’s most important achievement may be the Korea-Israel High Tech Network, www.koiltech.net – a continuously expanding virtual platform enabling direct cooperation between Korean and Israeli firms. The first two areas covered by the platform are Alternative Energy and Biomed, which already list 1030 and 1357 companies respectively from the two countries. Future plans include sections for Water, ICT, and Space. The goal of this project, according to the website, is “to promote business collaboration between Israeli and South Korean companies across various industries. In a collaborative effort of the Korean Embassy and the SMBA (via SBC – Small and Medium Business Corporation), with the support of the Invest in Israel initiative and the NewTech program of the Israeli Ministry of Economy, the partnership with Signals Intelligence Group was formed in order to create a Korea-Israel Hi-Tech Network to present all relevant companies in both geographic locations. This platform serves as a powerful visualization tool, establishing the groundwork for cooperation opportunities and potential business partnerships.”
Youngtae’s Young Family
Youngtae was joined in his Israel adventure by his family, whose members each succeeded in establishing typical Israeli routines and in building close cross-cultural ties while here. Youngtae brought his 7-year-old son to school at Anita’s Tree House, an English-speaking venue structured in a very German style, where he started kindergarten in what was to become a wonderful opportunity to learn English and Spanish and to develop a number of close friendships. His 5-year-old daughter also attended a local kindergarten where she became close to many of the children, and learned to speak Hebrew like an Israeli 5-year-old. Mrs. Kim was able to meet members of local families, especially the mothers of other children in the schools, and greatly enjoyed her stay in Israel.
Youngtae’s departure was difficult – not only for him, but for all the people whose lives he has touched during his 2 years in Israel. A few days prior to his return home, Israel Startup Network (ISN) organized an event focused on doing business with Korea, hosted by Microsoft Ventures at Microsoft R&D Center in Herzlia, during which Youngtae delivered a fascinating speech on the similarities and differences between the two cultures and how cooperation can be enhanced in very practical ways.
Following his presentation, he was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by ISN – “in recognition of his love for Israel and its culture of innovation, and his profound dedication to the deepening of business, cultural, and personal ties between Israel and the Republic of Korea, and between the people of both countries.”
Despite the distance and his myriad high-level responsibilities, Youngtae is determined to continue his efforts towards turning his vision into an established reality. His intention is to create a lasting bridge between high tech companies and investors from both countries, to build a model to penetrate the Chinese market together, to create a platform to facilitate exchange and cooperation, and ultimately, to create success stories around examples of strategic partnerships.
Youngtae has some concrete ideas for how to set this cooperation in motion. First, using traditional methods, he hopes to organize a major reciprocal event for delegations of key players working in all areas of the high tech ecosystem – including startups, investors, government officials, academic institutions, and service providers. He will also encourage the signing of a Free Trade Agreement between the countries, as well as expansion of the funding for the existing Korea-Israel Industrial R&D Foundation.
Next, he hopes to implement a number of more innovative concepts: creation of a Center for Collaboration; establishment of a Co-Investment VC Fund and a Co-Research Fund; formation of a Joint Technological Incubator for startups in Israel; development of a Foundation for matching academic professors for joint studies, including the study of cultural gaps and their mitigation; and, the continuous expansion of the new online platform, www.koiltech.net.
Youngtae also envisions bringing multinational programs to Korea, such as the highly successful Microsoft Accelerator operating in Israel – and sending Korean entrepreneurs to Israeli programs. He is also dedicated to encouraging cooperation between women in both countries to further their business goals.
In order to ensure continuous advancement towards the realization of these goals, Youngtae maintains regular contact with Israelis who have expressed a strong belief in his vision and who are dedicated to advancing these projects. Together, they will unleash the potential power and exciting opportunities that are made possible by a true Korean-Israeli partnership.