[INTERVIEW] WeWork Labs opens first Asian operation in Seoul
[THE INVESTOR] Innovation is often driven by tiny startups as seen in the case of tech giants Google, Facebook and Apple, which all began small.
In Korea, similar success stories of fledgling businesses growing to be unicorns have inspired entrepreneur-wannabes to jump on the startup bandwagon. To support these early-stage startups, WeWork has been renewing its push for its accelerator program WeWork Labs.
“Only a minority of businesses in the world are early-stage startups, but future revolution is very likely to come from this very small group,” Roee Adler, global head of WeWork Labs, told The Investor in a recent interview.
WeWork goes all out to change way people work
Adler visited Seoul in the last week of May to celebrate the openings of WeWork Labs’ locations in four of the firm’s existing coworking offices, including Yeoksam 2, Euljiro and Yeouido.
WeWork plans to open 25 Labs in 14 cities worldwide by the end of this year. It is also working to launch accelerator programs in other parts of Asia, and Seoul is the first location for Labs in Asia.
Adler said Korea, which has achieved amazing economic growth based on exports, manufacturing capability and technical expertise, can become an inspiration to the rest of the world, and Korean startups can learn a lot from global peers as well.
“Whether it is New York, Tel Aviv, Shanghai or Berlin, we all have so much to learn from one another,” said Adler, who used to run several startups in the past before joining WeWork.
In partnership with Korean startup organizations and companies, such as D.Camp, Startup Alliance Korea, and Dayli Financial Group, the coworking firm will offer what is needed for initial-stage startups, such as consulting and mentorship from seasoned entrepreneurs. Former Naver CEO Kim Sang-hun and Nexon co-founder Kim Sang-beom will take part in Labs’ programs as advisors.
Of all the benefits offered through Labs, including accounting and finance courses, a sense of community, which made the executive fall in love with WeWork back in 2013, is what makes the program stand out from similar accelerator programs.
“WeWork’s community team creates events, everyone in the building gets to know each other and then oftentimes unexpected things happen, which I call serendipity, as those connections lead to business relationships,” said Adler.
Labs managers, many of whom have startup backgrounds, also give a hand to startups at any stage to address issues emerging from daily operations.
“We also do more specific programs to help female entrepreneurs, and we have a guy who has already sold his fintech company Newsystock to Dayli Financial Group and is now a manager at the Yeouido branch,” said Samuel Hwang, head of WeWork Labs Korea, who was also present during the interview.
WeWork Labs, was launched in 2011, but was more or less pushed to the back burner amid the firm’s focus on coworking spaces. Now with 274 WeWork offices up and running in 74 cities around the world, it is taking up its role in serving as a springboard for early-stage entrepreneurs.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)