#Asia Meet 7 Korean startups that are poised to break out


sparklabs japan demo day

Seoul-based startup accelerator SparkLabs hosted its first demo day in Tokyo earlier this week, bringing along seven early-stage ventures hoping to break into Japanese and international markets. Each team was given an opportunity to present their product or service to the event’s approximately 100 attendees, which included a number of high-profile venture capitalists, corporate tech executives, angel investors, fellow entrepreneurs, and journalists.

The event wasn’t a competitive pitch contest, but rather an opportunity to expose startups with a market fit to potential Japanese investors or collaborators. Here’s a brief description of each startup, in no particular order.

Next Makers

next makers

Shooting a television commercial or promotional video can cost millions of dollars, especially if it features a famous celebrity. Next Makers wants to lower the barrier of entry by tapping YouTube stars and connecting them directly to brands that want to produce viral videos featuring their products. Campaigns start at just US$100.

To use the service, brands simply suggest a campaign title, provide a budget range, and write a brief proposal. They can then browse relevant creators and initiate a one-on-one chat to work out the details. Transactions are done through escrow – the startup holds the payment until the finished video is published.

Next Makers says that its current pool of YouTube talent has a combined reach of more than 120 million subscribers. More than 130 campaigns have already been completed and 50 percent of brands have returned for additional video clips. The startup says it earned US$39,000 in revenue so far this month and plans to recruit 20,000 content creators from YouTube, Instagram, Twitch, and WeChat by the end of next year.



South Korea as a whole sees 200,000 home cleaning transactions a day – but only 20 percent are satisfied with existing services. The reason, according to on-demand cleaning startup WaHome, is that many cleaners haven’t been properly trained and their businesses aren’t insured in the event that something is damaged.

WaHome’s app connects certified, fully-insured home cleaners to users with messy homes and apartments. Each of the startup’s cleaners goes through an in-house training program (facilitated by former trainers at the Hyatt and Conrad hotel chains) before being dispatched with an extensive cleaning kit that WaHome also provides. 50 new cleaners are trained a day. The service is currently targeting working mothers and housewives in Korea, with plans to expand into Japan and Hong Kong.

The startup claims to be growing 22 percent each week since it launched in July and says that it has a customer satisfaction rate of 98 percent. A number of Korean celebrities are customers and WaHome hopes to extend its service offering to laundry, interior design, electrical work, and general handyman repairs.

WaHome raised US$1 million in seed funding from SparkLabs Global Ventures, Mashup Angels, and Fast Track Asia earlier this month.



Whether you’re a bitcoin believer or not, the blockchain technology that allows it to exist in the first place has widespread potential. Blockchain is essentially a digital ledger that’s shared between users and can’t be erased. It’s what allows bitcoins to be tracked and traded from the moment they’re mined.

Blocko’s flagship product, Coinstack, is a fintech solution that helps partner businesses build apps and services that utilize blockchain technology to boost security and transparency. One of Korea’s largest banks is already using Coinstack to store electronic documents, and the startup counts LG CNS, Cisco, and SK Telecom among its existing clientele.

Blocko claims to receive 30,000 API calls a day just three months after launch. It hopes to achieve a million a day within the next six months.



“GIFs are the next generation emoji,” says PicPic, a startup that wants to make it quick and easy to create and share original GIFs. Its smartphone app lets users make GIFs up to five seconds long at an alleged four-times better resolution than existing rivals. Functions include speed control, Instagram-like filters, reverse play, text addition, and an option to isolate the animation to a specific area on the screen.

GIFs created with the PicPic app can be easily shared to Facebook, Twitter, KakaoTalk, and Pinterest. The service went live on November 6 for Android, with an iOS release coming soon.



While much of the world is still living in the stone age with physical home and apartment keys, South Koreans have been using digital door locks for the past 20 years. Similarly to Japan’s notorious “Galapagos phones” – flip phones that had TV tuners, contactless payment chips, and other high-tech functions that didn’t work elsewhere in the world – Korea’s fancy door locks have been difficult to export due to size and style variations that aren’t compatible with foreign doors. Amadas has produced a smart door lock that can fit just about any door on the planet – all you need is a screwdriver.

The startup’s door lock looks like a typical level-style door handle, except with seven illuminated buttons across the top. Simply press the code and the door unlocks. Worried about battery life? It can last for over a year with two AA batteries, and an emergency solar charging cell at the end of the handle allows you to give it juice with your smartphone’s flashlight. A companion smartphone app can be used to send one-time codes to Airbnb guests and visitors.

Amadas claims its product is 30 percent less expensive than existing digital locks in Korea, but didn’t specify an exact retail price. The startup has been awarded nine international patents and is already partnered with Hyundai Construction, Olleh, and unnamed companies in the US, Ireland, and Japan.


chartmetric bigbrainlab

Wanna know where your favorite K-pop artist ranks on the Billboard charts or how hot a single is on iTunes in a specific country? You could search each source individually, but you might eventually encounter language barriers or a sign-up wall. BigBrainLab’s service, ChartMetric, wants to give normal people access to the same analytics that only music industry insiders have direct access to.

ChartMetric uses data structuring, news crawling, big data analytics, natural language processing, data mining, and machine learning to gather information on where K-pop artists rank on local charts, in digital sales, and across a variety of social media channels. Data is automatically updated every hour, so users can see an artist’s popularity rise and fall in near-real time. The startup plans to extend its analytics platform to other musical genres in the future.



Sentbe wants to harness the power of blockchain to make international remittances cheaper, faster, and more secure. The startup’s fee is just 10 percent of what a traditional bank normally charges. A remittance can be filed in as little as a minute, with the payment disbursing in an hour.

In the four weeks since Sentbe went live, more than 250 remittances have been made, totaling more than US$150,000. The startup claims that it has retained 80 percent of those initial users, and hopes to facilitate US$70 million in remittances by the end of 2016. Hana Bank, one of the largest banks in Korea, is an early partner.

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