By Youkyung Lee, AP
SEOUL–The uber-trendy Seoul neighborhood made famous by the ��Gangnam Style�� K-pop hit is known for status-conscious people, plastic surgery clinics and Ivy League prep schools. Now it’s making a name as a bustling center for tech startups.
Many young South Koreans, some educated overseas, are going to Gangnam to start mobile or Internet businesses. Venture capitalists from Silicon Valley and Japan are opening offices in the area to find promising Korean services or apps to bet their money on. Hardly a day passes in Gangnam without a meeting or event related to startup businesses.
As one of the most wired places on earth, Seoul has been a crucible for several startup scenes. The government is even aiming to make a town south of Seoul a Korean Silicon Valley. But it is in the 40 square kilometers of land south of the Han river where the growth of Internet and mobile startups has been most evident and the related culture most vivid.
Despite its reputation as a beacon for the shallow and status-obsessed, Gangnam has a special significance in South Korea as the place where a globalized youth culture emerged from a generation that had opportunities to travel and study abroad. The present day Gangnam is still seen as the place that brings foreign culture and ideas to the rest of the country.
��Gangnam has the best of the New York city and Silicon Valley,�� said Steven Baek, a marketing director at FuturePlay, an incubator for startups.
Silicon Valley is ��tech-centric, with a lot of nerdy and geeky people but it doesn’t have much diversity,�� he said. ��Gangnam’s benefit is diversity. New York has lots of fun clubs and rich consumer-based culture like Gangnam but it doesn’t have many engineers.��
Another common reason for startups going to Gangnam is that everyone else is there, which makes networking effortless.
Near Gangnam’s Teheran-ro boulevard, many Gangnam startups, venture capitalists and startup incubators have opened offices in the past year, with more arriving in coming months. All three major media companies dedicated to covering startup stories are there too.
Around 2000, South Korea’s first wave of Internet companies dotted this 4-kilometer-long street. After the dotcom bubble burst, most of the big Internet portals and online game firms that survived moved to the south of Seoul, but left a legacy. Engineers and developers live near or in Gangnam and older entrepreneurs from the dot.com era became angel investors and startup mentors such as FuturePlay’s CEO Ryu Jung-hee.
Recent openings of two spaces for startups accelerated the startup boom and revived the Internet scene on Teheran-ro.