Reflections on the transformations surrounding Seoul’s startup ecosystem

Last week I wrote about the Wattpad-Naver deal because I was excited about collaboration between the Canadian and Korean tech communities. I got some great feedback from readers. Notably, there was interest from the Canadian side to learn more about what’s going on in Asia. While I’ve bounced around across the continent, my most recent in-depth experience was in Seoul, so thought I’d start there.

Coincidentally, a great primer on Seoul’s startup scene is Start-up, a Netflix production by Naver’s Studio Dragon. The show is about a young Korean woman with dreams of becoming an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs. Having…

The scoop on the Wattpad-Naver deal from a Canadian involved in Korea’s tech scene

It was a big week for the Toronto startup ecosystem. Like many others, I had my opinions on Alex Danco’s rendition of finite and infinite games comparing Toronto and Silicon Valley. But, the big news that got me fired up was Toronto’s connection with the other side of the world: Wattpad’s acquisition by Korean conglomerate Naver for a whopping US$600 million.

I returned home to Toronto six months ago after spending six years in Asia, three of which I spent in South Korea as an active member of its vibrant startup ecosystem. My passion for startup communities was sparked in…

When the organizers of the Unusual Suspects Festival first approached me to participate, I knew I wanted to take the opportunity to share my story in Seoul. I’ve been living in Korea for a year now, and as any foreigner will tell you, we often feel like just that- foreigners. I’ve met foreign residents who have been living in Seoul for over 10 years, some of whom speak Korean and work at Korean companies, and yet they still feel out of place. I thought that the Unusual Suspects Festival would serve as a space to share stories.

One major problem…

Almost a year working in the space of social innovation and entrepreneurship, and I finally have a version of an answer that I can agree with. Today, I attended a lecture led by a private sector development specialist from the International Finance Corporation, who highlighted two key points.

  1. The purpose of the company
  2. While businesses create overall good for society, they do not address the problem of inequality. Rather, they often exasperate it.

cue: eureka moment!

I’ve sometimes had a difficult time clearly communicating the unique value proposition of a social enterprise. Sometimes it feels like one in the same…

Last weekend, I took part in Startup Weekend: Women’s Edition, a global initiative put forward by Google Entrepreneurs with Techstars. Shoutout to homie Jay for inviting me, and introducing me to the awesome entrepreneurial community in Seoul. I asked Jay, “Is the weekend for women entrepreneurs or enterprises targeting women’s issues?”

Why this question even comes up should be a question for all of us.

At a start-up weekend focused on women, men play a key role.

Women’s issues are not exclusively women’s issues. They are a part of all of us — whether as the affected, the perpetrators, the enforcers, the bystanders, or the clueless. The weekend brought together not only…

Working at a South Korean university, I’ve been learning about the advantages and gaps in the Korean education system. On a Friday afternoon, during a visioning conversation, my team leader said to me, “Our young people have only been taught to find the right answer. They are never asked to think of the right question.” We’ve all watched Do Schools Kill Creativity? (at least I hope you have), and can appreciate the genuine need for creative thinkers in an age where our greatest achievement may be to develop something that surpasses our own intelligence (cue: the future of artificial intelligence).

As if running a social entrepreneurship boot camp (or developing social entrepreneurs in general) wasn’t challenging enough, my organization decided to give ‘founding’ a social enterprise a twist.

I recently started working at a leading private research university in South Korea, geared towards establishing itself as a global leader in social innovation. This may come as a surprise to you, but South Korea ranks amongst the top ten countries in Social Innovation ( The Economist’s Social Innovation Index 2016). However, while the rhetoric of social innovation is strong, and the policy framework robust, there is one fundamental element that is…

Zahin Hussain

A curator for the curious. I mostly write about entrepreneurship, investing, and social impact.

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