The government, through the partnership with Google, decided to establish a Seoul office specialized in Google’s startup (venture) support programs. The government has actually tried to form an alliance with Google by providing substantial support since 2006, but this has not been very successful. Many eyes are on the government to see if it could draw practical outcomes this time.
Google announced on August 27 to build “Google Campus Seoul” to provide community spaces to support startups during the first half of next year. Campus Seoul will be located near Samsung station in Gangnam-gu, Seoul with a floor space of 600 pyeong (182 sq. meters). Google will bear the related lease expenses and operate various programs. Google first started to run such a space at London, the U.K. in 2012, called “Campus London.”
Partnership between Google and the Korean government began in 2006 when Jung Sae-gyun, former Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, brought the Google R&D Center into Korea. Back then, the government provided the financial support of 1.25 billion won (US$1.23 million) together with various tax benefits. This has been somewhat criticized as a special favor, since the results of Google’s R&D activities are not shared with Korean industries.
Google partially answered the love letter of the Korean government by promoting the growth of venture companies in Korea through its “K-startup” program started in 2011. Google hoped to find technologies resulting from Korean ventures that that it could add to its ecosystem such as YouTube and Google Play. However, there have been no solid cases of success among Korean venture companies supported by the K-startup program.
The idea of Google Campus Seoul was initiated at the meeting between President Park Geun-hye and Larry Page, CEO of Google, in April 2013. Google stressed on August 27, “The very first campus in Asia is to be established in Korea.”
However, Campus Seoul, just like the K-startup program, is also considered as one of Google’s corporate profit-making activities, not a special favor granted to the Korean government and ecosystem.
Google has provoked controversy in Korea over its unfairness due to the prior installation of its search engine in the smartphone ecosystem, which has officially began to be formulated in 2009. Korean companies also complained about reverse discrimination, as regulations over the Internet applied to Korean companies, such as adult verification for videos, but are exempted for foreign companies including Google. Some of the more cynical opinions heard pointed out that, “Google is hugely blamed for violating anti-trust laws in the US and Europe, but treated as a royal messenger in Korea.”
An industry professional said, “The Korean government and venture industry need to come up with more realistic and practical ways to cooperate with Google, not to rely on the success and stature of Google.”