[INTERVIEW] SparkLabs eyes blockchain to boost growth
[THE INVESTOR] TOKYO -- SparkLabs Group, Asia’s largest startup accelerator, is seeking further expansion globally and its latest weapon is blockchain.
The group on Sept. 20 launched its new startup accelerator focusing on blockchain and cybersecurity in Washington D.C. After years of expansion mostly in Asia since its launch in Korea back in 2012, it is now expanding into the US market.
“The US may be a leader in crypto trading but it is Asia where there is technological innovation. We want to bring what’s happening in Asia to the US and other markets,” Bernard Moon, co-founder of SparkLabs, told The Investor on the sidelines of the TEAMZ Blockchain Summit held in Tokyo on Sept. 28.
Despite a lackluster crypto trading market, he pinned high hopes on blockchain for the group’s next big leap, citing a clear shift from the trading side to technology more recently. SparkLabs launched its own US$100 million blockchain investment fund called SparkChain Capital last year.
“The next wave of entrepreneurs and investors are coming into the market,” he said, adding that tech buzzwords like artificial intelligence and virtual reality are fast losing their luster in the startup scene.
Stressing the role of Korea, along with China, in the blockchain industry, he downplayed the impact of regulatory hurdles.
“Having more favorable regulations is not crucial for innovation. What matters are its users, active implementations, and investment and startup activity. Korea and China are already implementing blockchan technologies at both the government and enterprise levels,” he said.
“Korea used to be seen as an early adopter of consumer tech and has now become an early adopter of enterprise tech. Big companies like Samsung and Hyundai Motor are paying keen attention to adopting blockchain technology. That’s rare in other countries.”
SparkLabs, an extensive network of accelerators and venture capital funds, already operates in Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia. It also launched an energy-focused accelerator in Oman in May.
Starting with the newest blockchain accelerator in the US, the group plans to speed up its expansion into Europe and Southeast Asia as well. Moon hinted its next destination would be a Nordic city that will create a global network of its tech hubs along with Seoul and Beijing.
Bernard Moon, co-founder of SparkLabs
“We already have good partners in the US. Now the network is becoming more solid by having a physical presence there,” he said. “It is a good growth period for us. The next five years will be more interesting as our network will become stronger.”
Almost 100 startups have graduated from SparkLabs programs in Korea alone. They include Memebox, an online beauty retailer whose total equity funding reaching 170 billion won (US$153 million), and Blocko, a blockchain platform developer whose key partners include Samsung SDS and Hyundai Card.
Now about 200-300 startups are applying to participate in its highly publicized demoday event. Stronger teams are joining and the evaluation process is getting tougher.
“We now see stronger startups. Established people like engineers from big companies like Samsung are willing to come out and try to establish startups,” he said. “That’s probably a testament of the Korean startup eco-system.”
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org)