Korean Hardware Startups to Watch in 2016

February 10, 2016

11:00 am

Working in the startup scene in Korea, it’s been quite amazing how hardware startups consistently surprise me. Not a knock on software, but something about being able to physically touch and hold a device has me hooked every time (well not every time, but close to it!). Don’t even get me started on the sheer variety of hardware startups I come across – it’s ridiculous.

Yet due to language barriers, export issues, and general lack of marketing (among other reasons), Korean startup innovations don’t quite make it overseas. I mean, name me a Korean hardware startup that blew up or had significant news in 2015. In the case you named one you’re incredibly tuned in! Otherwise, you’ve just proved my point.

However, if you didn’t get that last question, you’re not to blame.

Speaking to former BeSuccess writer Nathan Millard on the state of hardware startups in Korea, he mentioned how much things have changed in just three years’ time.

“When I first started covering Korean startups, hardware startups was nowhere near as prominent as they are now,” he said. “Given the lack of startup infrastructure and the big companies here gobbling up startups before they even had a chance, it’s remarkable to see the sheer volume and quality of startups today.”

While Seoul is still nowhere near Silicon Valley’s innovative prowess, with government support, more VC funding, and an increase in visibility, Seoul is ripe for big time news in 2016.

But seeing as how that news as yet to occur, let me be your local guide to startups here. As you’re local on the ground, I’ll give you a rundown 3 of the best hardware and wearable startups to keep an eye on for 2016. I’ve chosen these startups based on factors such as marketability overseas, technology, secret sauce and industry.

YOLK

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YOLK’s Solar Paper holds the funding record for a Korean crowdfunding campaign receiving over $1 million on Kickstarter.

Between the design, portability, and the function, I think Solar Paper is first time I’ve ever thought a solar panel looked cool. In fact me, and 6,297 (the total number of Solar Paper backers on Kickstarter) other people, think alike.

What puts YOLK in prime position to do well is the company’s placement at the intersection between renewable energy and startups. Commitments like the Korean government’s $1.66 billion investment to renewable energy in 2015, gives YOLK a very large pool to dip into, if needed. While much of that goes towards trying to reduce domestic greenhouse gas levels, a good chunk – to the tune of $350 million – is going towards R&D.

This is all before you factor in the government commitment to investing into startups.

But government benefits aside, what makes YOLK special? Solar Paper was CEO and founder, Sen Chang’s third campaign. While we’re not sure what’s next for YOLK, after the success Sen has had with Solarade and now Solar Paper, she’s set some pretty high standards for herself. With government backing and success on the international market, YOLK is primed for a bright 2016.

UVify

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Have you ever heard of drone racing? If not, I strongly recommend you go and find out what it is.

Now that you’re all familiar with what drone racing (if you cheated and skipped the above task, shame on you), let me tell you now that it is not a cheap hobby.

In fact, crashing is encouraged and basically framed as a learning experience. Yet, when you’re starting out a new hobby, nobody wants to try and repair a $400 to $600 investment off the bat as “learning experience”.

That’s where UVify’s drones come in. The company’s racing drone comes ready to competitively fly and ready to be repaired.

UVify’s racing drone is built with a modular approach. Using standard connectors to detach and reattach wings and propellers as needed, UVify’s drones drastically reduce some of the typical tear downs repairs often require. All the wiring has also been neatly hidden away and compacted to make repairs and easy as can be.

With a team of drone builders, programmers, and Korea’s first paid professional drone pilot, the team aims to equip drone enthusiasts with all the need to race – and live to tell about it after they inevitably crash.

We’ve seen drones take the world by storm already. So when people get bored of aerial shots and Amazon Prime, I’m sure they’ll make the logical transition to racing (if this is not logical to you, I strongly urge you to reconsider). I mean, there’s already a league for it.

While we await the release of said racing drone, it remains to be seen what the actual price of the racing drone will be. And obviously, until we get to fly it, we’ll never be able to fully gauge just how durable it will be. However, given an exhibit at CES and considerable seed funding, the startup has positioned itself to answer those questions in 2016.

ZIKTO

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With a crowdfunding campaign that wrapped up in early 2015, ZIKTO has been on fire ever since.

Raising a cool $164, 262 on Kickstarter, the team has managed to not only fulfill all of their KS orders (a rare feat nowadays), but also move on to the brick and mortar stores in Korea.

Adding the ability to alert users to bad walking posture, the fitness tracker easily places itself on the realm between style and function. With a variety of straps users can purchase to further customize their ZIKTO.

Even while solidifying their accompanying app, the company has been busy with an announcement in November that they signed an MOU with national tech giant, Samsung.

While it remains to be seen if ZIKTO can capitalize on all their success in 2015, many of us here are awaiting to see what their next move is.

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Sejung works in PR and helps bring startup scenes from all over the world together. Based out of Seoul, South Korea, when he's not writing about startup PR or marketing you can often find him enabling his basketball addiction.

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