Top 10 Korean Mobility Startups to Watch for – Best of 2020

Mobility startups are rising all across the globe and it is no different in South Korea. Ride-hailing, car sharing, bike sharing, and even electric scooters have allowed people living inside busy cities to rethink their transportation decisions. Seoul is such a technology-driven city that it is no wonder that there are many Korean mobility startups that offer alternative solutions to going from place to place. The future of transportation will be about connectivity and the ability to share. There will also be a heavy focus on the use of electricity and the incorporation of autonomous technology.

Transportation plays an important role for many people living in Seoul. They have many options from taking the subway or bus, hailing a cab, or even riding the Seoul city bike. In addition, recent technological advances have enabled Seoul to become more connected, convenient, and most of all, shared. However, regulations and protests from Korean taxi companies and unions have slowed the process for many mobility startups in Korea. In addition, regulations also prohibit VC investments in FinTech, real-estate, accommodation, and restaurant industries in South Korea.

There is growing optimism that the Korean government will limit regulations and move towards innovation.

The rankings were comprised by the Seoulz staff and are based on 4 factors:

  • Funding
  • Market Opportunity
  • The innovation of service or product
  • Growth Potential/Scalability

Here is our list of the top 10 mobility startups in Korea

1. SOCAR

korean mobility startup SOCARKorean mobility startup SOCAR is an eco-friendly car-sharing company. They offer their service through their mobile app. They are currently the largest car-sharing company in South Korea. Already they have over 12,000 vehicles and 4,000 Socar Zones in 103 cities. In addition, they have 5 million registered users and their revenue in 2019 was over $130 million. Seoul’s ride-hailing space is still largely untapped with user penetration at only 10%. SOCAR is open 24/7.

In 2018 SOCAR acquired a messenger app startup VCNC which operates ride-sharing app Tada. So far their total funding to date at $175 million from four funding rounds. Their focus in 2020 will be on R&D and to improve their mobility services through their platform. They will look to improve its app’s user experience, support more payment options, add new modes of car sharing, and speed up the processing of license approvals for new users.

“Socar and Tada aim to make their cars easier to move without having to own them. We will establish a foundation for a Korean mobility platform so that we can provide optimized mobility,” said Lee Jae-Woong, CEO of SOCAR.

Socar Malaysia Raises $18 Million in series A Funding

Socar Malaysia was founded in 2018 by Socar. It was Socar’s first expansion overseas. The car-sharing startup in Malaysia was able to raise $18 million in series A funding. They have raised a total of $40 million at a valuation of $118 million. The startup was able to implement its door-to-door car delivery service called Socar2U. This service allows its users to reserve their preferred car and have it delivered to their desired pickup location. After the successful launch of Socar Malaysia, Socar will be looking to enter the Indonesian market.

2.  ThorDrive

Korean mobility startup ThordriveKorean mobility startup ThorDrive is a self-driving car platform that also has its own self-driving delivery service. They finished their pilot run of deploring driverless delivery vans in Silicon Valley. It is not totally driverless as there is still a safety operator in the front seat. E-Mart, Korea’s largest discount chain signed a partnership deal with ThorDrive for self-driving delivery services. They will begin testing towards the end of 2019.  Therefore, by 2020 E-Mart hopes to use ThorDrive to deliver packed products on the same day of the purchase.

ThorDrive was established by key researchers from Seoul National University. They were the ones who launched Korea’s first self-driving car SNUver. They showcased their technology at CES 2019 in Las Vegas this year and is looking to test an autonomous shuttle to transport people across Seoul.

Partnership with E-Mart Inc.

ThorDrive partnered with E-Mart, one of the biggest big-box store chains in Korea to test out autonomous delivery vans. The autonomous delivery van will drive pre-mapped routes and a human will driver will take over driving once the van is inside the apartment building. Therefore, It will only be a matter of time before E-Mart incorporates driverless cars for delivery services in the near future.

“E-Mart being Korea’s biggest supermarket chain and actively leading the “smart shopping” era where IT is merged into shopping, the collaboration with them to provide an autonomous delivery service holds great meaning for us. Through close cooperation, we will do our best to develop autonomous driving technology that can become a part of the daily lives of the people,” said Dongkoung Gye, CEO of ThorDrive.

3.  Luxi (Kakao Mobility)

Kakao Mobility Korean mobility startup Luxi offers a solution for trying to hail a taxi during rush hour in Seoul. Their peak rush hour times in Seoul are during the morning hours (7 am-9 am), evening hours (6 pm-8 pm), and weekend nights (Fri/Sat 12 am-2 am). Gangnam, Itaewon, and Hongdae are well-known areas in Seoul where getting a taxi after midnight is very difficult. They were acquired by Kakao Mobility for $25 million to offer riders an alternative option in the form of carpooling using personalized vehicles.

Currently, people using their vehicles for commercial use are banned but Korea makes an exception for certain times during the day. During peak hours between 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. and 2 a.m. on weekdays, ride-sharing services like Luxi can operate. It is unknown if Kakao will launch the app under Luxi or another name.

Kakao Mobility Acquires Taxi Company in Gangnam

Kakao Mobility signed a contract to acquire a taxi company located in the Gangnam area. The taxi company has over 200 employees and 90 taxi-driving licenses. Therefore, this move is a clear sign that Kakao Mobility wants to have mutual growth between ride-sharing platform operators and taxi companies.

“We signed this contract in a bid to conduct a test trial to see the effects of integrating IT and platform technologies with taxies,” said a Kakao Mobility official.

4. Code42

Code24 Korean Mobility StartupKorean Mobility startup Code42.ai is autonomous transportation as a service or TAAS company. Most of the team comes from Naver where they lead many AI projects. At Code42 they work on AI, autonomous driving, and mobility for both Korean and global tech companies. They help these companies develop the best solutions to attract investors. Their top project is the Urban Mobility Operating System called UMOS. The UMOS platform is an integrated autonomous platform that provides comprehensive solutions for future mobility industries. These industries include ride-hailing, car-sharing, smart logistics, food delivery, robot taxi, and eCommerce.

Code42 was able to get a total of $25 million in funding from Kia Motors, SK, LG, and CJ during their pre-series A round. This was the largest amount raised in the first round of financing for any venture enterprise in Korea. Their focus for 2020 will be to continue to develop UMOS and set up a global mobility system called UMOS Connect.

5.  TADA

Korean mobility Startup TadaKorean mobility startup Tada is a ride-hailing service that is operated by VCNC and recently acquired by SOCAR. Tada quickly became popular in Korea as it reached over 200,000 downloads in just two months.  160,000 users were repeating customers. While Tada is about 15-20% more expensive than a taxi, they are praised for their service and the fact that they do not refuse any passengers. To use Tada, simply download the app and input your destination. A van will arrive equipped with WiFi and mobile phone chargers.

Tada drivers get 10,000 won as the basic hourly rate. However, thanks to some recent changes to the policy, the high rate can be applied at specific peak hours. Therefore they can focus more on customer care. VCNC is also operating premium taxi service ‘Tada Premium’ which is working with taxi drivers.

The Anti TADA bill

TADA had to surrender its current business model based on rental vans. A parliamentary panel passed a bill would put a stop to TADA’s current operations. Many have called this move a ban on innovation in Korea. TADA will now have to do a complete overhaul of its business model in 2020. The bill states that any rental vans with chauffeurs can now only operate for tour purposes. These vans, therefore, need to be rented out by the client for at least 6 hours. Furthermore pickup and drop off locations will be limited to airports or seaports. Therefore TADA now has only a year and a half to change its business model so it is in line with the new laws. If they want to continue to run their service as it is, they would need to obtain a taxi license in Korea

6.  Buxi

Korean Mobility BuxiKorean mobility startup Buxi is an airport ridesharing service that ensures that travelers to Seoul will arrive and depart easily. When you land at Incheon International Airport you have only a couple of options. You can either have someone pick you up, take the subway, take the bus, or take a taxi. Now there is another option. Buxi passengers can input their desired pick-up location and time through the Buxi app which will then group them with other passengers. An average ride from Incheon to Seoul is around $20.

Their service transports people who are going in the same direction. Therefore by using Buxi, passengers will not lose much time. Buxi is great for family members visiting Seoul or coworkers coming to Seoul on a business trip. Up to five people can ride in one van, and the van must be reserved 2 days in advance on the app.

Korean Logistics Firm Cariskukbo Acquires 37.55% Stake in Buxi

Buxi took steps to expand into the logistics industry with an investment from logistics firm Cariskukbo. Cariskukbo will now have a 37.55% stake in Buxi. They will work together to drive innovation in supply chain logistics. Cariskukbo will look to use Buxi’s technology to develop an algorithm system that is able to calculate the best route possible based on real-time traffic data. Their goal is to work on boosting operational efficiency by saving time and costs. Buxi’s focus for 2020 will be to invest in big data and AI to be at the forefront of the mobility-as-a-service market.

7.  Kornatus (Banbantaxi)

banbantaxi Korean mobilityKorean mobility startup Kornatus is a taxi-sharing service that offers riders an opportunity to split their fares. Kornatus already got a regulatory exemption from the Korean government as part of its regulatory sandbox program. The sandbox program allows for the development of new technologies or innovative services. Now taxi commuters in Seoul can share their taxi rides and split the costs. The startup will be allowed to operate its taxi-sharing service in some parts of Seoul. In addition, they will only operate during peak night hours between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Users can download the Kornatus app called Banbantaxi and hail a cab by paying 4,000 won (6,000 won after midnight). If two customers are within 1 kilometer of each other, the taxi will make a slight change to its original route to pick up the additional passenger. In addition, the app will accept payments only through preregistered cards. The riders can then split the fare. So far Kornatus has gotten $1 million in early-stage funding from Korean investors.

8.  Modoo Shuttle

Modoo Shuttle Korean Mobility StartupKorean mobility startup Modoo Shuttle operates commuter buses for people in areas where public transportation systems are underdeveloped. Modoo Shuttle connects rental bus operators and drivers through their platform. Their platform also recommends the best shuttle routes when commuting to work. All the user has to do is input their home and work address into their platform. If their service does not go to a particular area just input your requests. The more requests Modoo Shuttle gets the faster their service will come to your area. Furthermore, they also offer services for private events.

9.  Seoul Robotics

Korean Mobility Startup Seoul RoboticsKorean mobility startup Seoul Robotics specializes in 3D computer vision AI that enables intelligent and safer mobility technology. Therefore, they work with autonomous vehicle companies to help them utilize their 3D sensors. Their aim is to create an automotive-grade 3D computer vision for lidar sensors. Seoul Robotics is a leading provider of reliable and robust Lidar Vision Software for OEMs, Tier1, and startups. In addition, they created a high-performance 3D perception software solution called SENSR to enable automotive-grade perception AI for any industry with any Lidar.

“Seoul Robotics was founded to help the automotive industry realize the full potential of LiDAR sensors with our advanced AI software, and now we are actively helping other LiDAR-enabled industries such as smart city and last-mile robotics,” said CEO of Seoul Robotics, Han Bin Lee.

Seoul Robotics has raised $5 million led by the venture arm of the largest bank in Korea – KB Investment. Others included in the funding round were KDB Capital, Access Ventures, and Artesian VC which is the 3rd largest VC firm in Australia.

10. Todo Works

Mobility startup in Korea todoworksKorean mobility startup Todo Works solves problems wheelchair users face every single day. They are a tech-based total solutions company for people with reduced mobility. Therefore, they are a hardware supplier, service provider, and social impact creator. 100 people around the world need wheelchairs. Todo Works turns manual wheelchairs into electric wheelchairs (Todo-drive). They can even be controlled via your smartphone. Therefore, it is not only an electric kit for users who push wheelchairs manually, but Todo-drive is also the first solution for the disabled using IT technologies. To get Todo-drive, just fill out their order page, speak with a representative, make a reservation for installation, and make the payment after the installation is complete.

HONORABLE MENTION

Olulo

Olulo LogoKorean mobility startup Olulo is the operator of the e-scooter sharing service Kickgoing. Users can download the Kickgoing app and create an account by inputting their phone number and credit card information. Kickgoing has over 250,000 users and operates over 3,000 e-scooters in Seoul.  Users will need to have a Korean driver’s license. Users will need to download the app. There will be a QR code located near the handle of the scooter. A 5-minute ride costs 1,000 won. An additional minute costs 100 won.

The electric scooters can be used from 7 am until 8 pm. At night the company picks up the scooters for recharging, replacement, and relocation.

Partnership with SparkPlus

SparkPlus will cooperate with Olulo to provide a service that allows its tenants and visitors to transport in an economical and convenient manner. Therefore, together they will launch “Kickgoing Business” which will allow SparkPlus tenants to use the startup’s scooter at a discounted price.

Nine2One

Korean mobility Startup Nine2OneKorean mobility startup Nine2One is the operator of the e-bike sharing service Elecle. They got an investment from SOCAR and will look to launch Elecle in Seoul this year. They will start with 350 e-bikes then expand that number to 2,000 by the end of 2019. Therefore look for an alternative to the Seoul Bike as well as E-Scooters in Seoul. Their main competitor could be Kakao’s own e-bike sharing service called Kakoa T.

bitsensing

Korean mobility startup bitsensingKorean mobility startup bitsensing develops products & solutions using radar technology for autonomous driving and surveillance. Furthermore, their radar has a 4D imaging system that allows for a greater area of weather detection for vehicles. Sensors are placed along roads to offer drivers early detection in regards to traffic. They have raised $1.5 million in funding over 2 rounds. In addition, their focus in 2020 will be on the R&D of their radar technology in other areas.

CID Auto

CID AutoKorean mobility startup CID Auto provides a buy and sell video commerce platform for used cars powered by AI technology. Users just take a picture and video of their used car they want to sell. Once uploaded to CID Auto, additional information will be added automatically to give prospective buyers a better buying experience.