In the land of the Tiger Economy, South Korea’s commitment to economic growth for over 30 years has been clear. Some of the biggest names in technology and automotive industry in the world have thrived in South Korea and it’s clear that there’s a strong commitment to continuing that progress and growth in the future. While times have changed in the world economy, with production of most physical goods being exported largely to places like China, South Korea’s continued growth has been shaped by their attempt to have world-wide cultural influence through industries like K-pop and K-drama entertainment. However profits are hard fought for and hard to keep, especially in the age of the internet. What could potentially spur an additional growth spurt, if done right, is innovative blockchain technology ideas born and developed in South Korea.
South Korea may not have as loud or robust a startup culture that countries like those in Europe, or the U.S.A. and Canada have, where there are huge tech incubators, accelerators and communities built around VC firms looking to get their hands on the next big thing. However, considering that such a massive amount of South Korea’s GDP is controlled by just a few companies, it’s not surprising that so much private enterprise effort has been put into developing blockchain technology through those channels. However, that’s not to say that the smaller and scrappier teams aren’t working hard to grow and get noticed. As the debate over private vs. public blockchains evolves, the power of developing the next big application of that technology may shift away from the mega-corporations to the startups and maybe Korea’s startup scene is suited quite well for that opportunity.
So who else is looking into blockchain technology currently? Despite what is admitted publicly, pretty much everyone in finance and beyond is toiling away to discover how they can be a first-mover. Some experts have predicted that capitalization surrounding blockchain-related industry could be around $1 Trillion by as early as 2019. If any executives at giant South Korean companies like Samsung or Hyundai were to give even the slightest credence to these predictions, they’d at least be prudent to form some sort of internal “task force” to sort the wheat from the chaff as far as what’s applicable to their interests and what isn’t. Then again, it’s not entirely clear whether or not both aforementioned companies aren’t already deeply invested in seeking out their own private blockchain innovations.
Not all development in the blockchain space is being taken from a top down perspective. A local incubator space in Seoul called the Bitcoin Center Korea offers work spaces, networking events, and workshops and has generally been a champion of all things Bitcoin and blockchain related from a startup level. General Manager of the Bitcoin Center Korea John Saeyong Ra has brought a dynamic events calendar together to build a strong community around Bitcoin and the blockchain and hosts some interesting up and coming startups in the space as well.
John Saeyong Ra told BTCManager, “Bitcoin Center Korea is basically a hub for all these companies and organizations and functions as a think tank from time to time in order to create better ecosystem.”
If you do a quick search in Google for how the biggest companies in South Korea are becoming involved with blockchain technology, you’ll find primarily that entities like the Korean Securities Exchange (KRX) and large Korean Banks like Kookmin Bank are publicly stating that they’d like to explore using blockchain technology. However, you’d be forgiven for scratching your head and asking yourself, “that’s it?” Don’t be too surprised as much of the news can likely be found on the South Korean search engine that’s widely used domestically, Naver.com. It’s possible that Korean companies don’t focus on international press coverage as much as Western companies do, however given the technological power that Korea has in many aspects of its everyday society, it’s worth digging a little deeper to see what Korean companies are accomplishing in the blockchain technology space.
Even if some of the biggest companies in South Korea may be very cloak-and-dagger about their approach toward blockchain technology, the startup scene is still thriving, growing and continuing to evolve. LG CNS is actually developing a startup called Blocko, which offers a product called Coinstack, a blockchain-as-a-service software. Shinhan Bank has a financial tech incubator called The Futures Lab which also supports several blockchain startups. Also, from a governmental perspective, the Chairman of the Financial Services Commission Yim Jong-yong has shown support for blockchain and Bitcoin startup culture in the last year.
Regardless of national and international publicity on blockchain technology and what bankers and government officials are saying about it, it’s clear that the cat is out of the bag as far as blockchain technology goes. The culture and economy behind what blockchain exists as, which is Bitcoin, is thriving as well, with some struggles along the road to becoming wide-spread. However, for every financial executive that writes of Bitcoin as a joke or failure, they’re often saying within the next breath that blockchain technology is at least something that they’re taking seriously and plan to look into so as not not be left behind in case of a massive sweeping technological revolution. It will be exciting to see how Korea’s private and publicized efforts with developing blockchain technology contribute to the movement as a whole.