Can these four Korean startups make a splash internationally?

Belaunch winners

South Korea is in the midst of revitalizing its startup community. It is moving away from a stigma of failure and encouraging more youngsters to forgo the traditional notion of school in exchange for entrepreneurship. Indeed, many in Korea believe the only path is to finish your degree and then work for one of the country’s powerhouses: Samsung, LG, or Hyundai.

But those who attended the beLAUNCH conference in Seoul this week see it differently. Five prizes, including a free ride to the DEMO conference, were awarded to promising startups Thursday, with that spirit of progressing farther than a predictable job at Samsung or LG. Here are the winners:

KnowRe

KnowRe is an education technology startup that personalizes lessons based on your children’s activity on the program. The technology provides lessons in various subjects, starting with math, in the form of regular question-and-answer sessions, along with games. It is intended to be used as a supplement to the teacher, and can be used during class or as homework.

The technology learns about the child by asking a series of extra questions when a child answers a problem incorrectly. This is where KnowRe’s personalization comes in to identify where exactly in the teacher’s lesson the child was confused. The goal is to help the timid child who is afraid to raise their hand and say, “I’m lost.”

The downside to KnowRe is the downside to all education startups: entering the edutech field is like chipping at a brick wall with a nail file. It’s hard to penetrate the industry, which requires various approvals before any technology can enter the classroom, and forget it if the technology is expensive. Some companies have successfully made it through, however, such as Saul Khan’s Khan Academy.

KnowRe won the Plug and Play Tech Center prize, as well as a free ride to the DEMO Conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

Weenu

Weenu is an art marketplace on your phone that lets artists tell the story of a work of art in order to help sell the piece. Artists use the app to list their works, but also images and captions about that work starting from its inspiration. For example, an artist takes a picture of a chef who inspires her. She adds that photo to Weenu with the caption, “Inspiring.” She later does a sketch of the chef, then turns the sketch into a painting, all the while adding photos and comments about its progress to Weenu. A potential buyer finds the posted artwork for sale, and is (in theory) impressed by its progress and decides to purchase.

The startup has some challenges, in that the art market is difficult to penetrate, and if Weenu is targeting more arts-and-crafts type creations, it has a huge competitor in Etsy.

Weenu won the YouNoodle accelerator prize.

TakeTalks

One of the huge challenges for Korean startups who wish to go global is the language barrier. English is a pivotal language to learn, especially when targeting the U.S. or U.K., and TakeTalks wants to help Korean startups, and anyone looking to learn English, find the right tutors. The site matches you with tutors based on your interests. You can sign in using Facebook, which helps identify those interests, and search for tutors who have listed the same. The company already has a list of 2,048 tutors with whom Koreans can video chat or message to begin their lessons.

There is no shortage of language tutoring services out there, including human-less tutoring like the popular Rosetta Stone. But TakeTalks is focusing on the Korean market, which may give it an edge in understanding cultural norms, and how English-learning is done is local schools.

TakeTalks won the Amazon Web Services prize.

Yeati

Yeati, similar to LinkedIn, is a social network that works on developing a person’s brand based on their work experience. The company lets you upload a profile with your work history, employment interests, and skills. The company hopes to set itself apart from LinkedIn with its visually focused design team, which stems from parent design company Easy Works.

Yeati won the Qualcomm Ventures QPrize.

Disclaimer: The beLAUNCH conference covered the costs for my airfare and hotel stay during the event. This does not, however, affect my coverage which remains objective.