I stepped off the bus in Suwon to a beautiful spring-cum-summer day in Gyeonggi province, just about an hour south of the oppressive bustle of Seoul. The majestic concrete wings that gave shelter to the World Cup Stadium here gave a little excess shade to me from what was left over from the stadium. Their presence reminded me of the politically-minded flurry that spawned all of these stadiums around Korea for the 2002 World Cup. I would be reminded of that same sentiment several times during the day, because the same passion for construction that created the stadiums created the complex that I was about to visit.
The Gyeonggi Small Business Center might cater to small businesses, but they do not share their size, at least as far as construction is concerned. The massive business park housed a number of small businesses, but also an experimental semiconductor fabrication lab, a biotechnology center, and an office building for an MBA program.
But I was not here for those, I was here to talk to a fellow Texan. His name was Dr. Joel Momberger, the program director of the Gyeonggi-UT Innovation Program, and he emerged around the side of the World Cup Stadium on a rescue mission to find me. After guiding me back through the sculpture park and up the hill, we arrived at his office, emblazoned with the University of Texas at Austin logo.
Dr. Momberger is part of a unique program here at the GSBC. He described it as a rifle shot of a comprehensive business growth, compared to the shotgun approach of other programs. His program selects 8 to 12 exceptional Korean small and medium-sized businesses and puts them on the track to international success. This is not an exaggeration. The program that is in store for the very few lucky companies that qualify is more comprehensive growth aid than I have seen in any other program, and its end product is simply business contracts that make money. Lots of money.
Focused Aid to Qualified Companies
Joel summed up his job by saying: "It's just about the most fun you can have." He thoroughly enjoys the position he is in because the program he follows gives practical, real-world results.
"What we do is, we start off with an assessment and selection process where we look at small and medium businesses, at university researchers, at other entrepreneurs and innovators in Gyeonggi Province. We look at their technology, we look at their market readiness, we look at their intellectual property. We go through a fairly detailed assessment methodology," Dr. Momberger explained. The program processes about 100 applications each year from qualified businesses, however they only have the resources to help some of them. So they select approximately 20 companies to go to the second step, the Go-To-Market Strategy step.
"One of the problems of technology commercialization is that very often you will see a technology, and you'll go oh that's a cool technology I could sell that. But there may not really be a market for it. You may think there is but there may not be," Dr. Momberger explained. So in order to really assess the market for each of the twenty-odd companies they are evaluating, they do two things. First, they offer a mini-MBA course presented by top-flight experts from the McCombs School of Business of The University of Texas at Austin and some people from the IC2 Institute.
This course is offered as sessions on the weekend for about three months to better prepare the Korean businessmen for the global marketplace. At the same time, the Program prepares what they call a QuickLook report, which is preliminary market research evaluating the potential of the company's products in the US market. "We actually hire a business analyst, consultant type, who will then do primary research - who will actually call potential customers, potential partners, potential licensees, and say if you could get this product, with these features, at this price, would you buy it," Dr. Momberger explained. Based on the primary research results, approximately ten companies are taken to the next step.
Qualified Companies, Real-world Results
The third step that the Gyeonggi-UT Innovation Program takes with the companies is business development. Although there is usually only resources and personnel enough to take 10 companies to this level, in 2009 the Program has taken on 12 companies because they were all such strong candidates. The Program actually finds qualified personnel to fill in gaps in a company's employee lineup, focusing on the ability for a company to speak English, the language of international business. The Program also flies company representatives to the US to meet with business development professionals which are associated with the IC2 Institute which immediately go about finding the company deals. "This whole program is really driven by Governor Kim of Gyeonggi Province. I think he sees this as a really powerful way to have real-world results," said Dr. Momberger, and its true. Each company benefits immensely from this program and goes on to become an extremely profitable international business.
The entire idea of the program, each of the steps that the Program takes, is based on tried and true technology commercialization steps from the IC2 Institute of the University of Texas. The IC2 Institute is a globally recognized component of the University of Texas at Austin. Its mission is specifically to "engage in cutting-edge research to enhance the solving of unstructured problems related to market economies, wealth creation, growth and prosperity though entrepreneurial activity and the commercialization of technological innovation," from the brochure. Dr. Momberger said that when he first read through the methodology that the Institute recommended, he had some doubts about its effectiveness, but after following it, he realizes that it is based on sound principles and gives excellent results. "The commercialization activites we've engaged in have been very, very successful so far." Dr. Momberger is very excited about the work he is doing in Suwon, and quite frankly so am I. I hope to be able to write a follow-up story about the commercialization of a few IT companies later on this year. Look for that in future editions.