Top 10 Korean Venture Capital Firms You Need to Know – Best of 2019

Korean Venture Capital Firms have grown quickly over the last decade.  Seoul is becoming a major tech hub in Asia. Furthermore, they have the highest concentration of smartphone users.  Therefore Korea presents a good place for innovative startups that can shake up the market through technology.  Many Korean startups have been upgrading and introducing new products to the market which they can test in Seoul.

The global market sees Korea as a limited market due to their tough regulations that limit entrepreneurs from doing new business models, mainly in the fields of finance and Blockchain.  Once this changes, multibillion-dollar markets will be up for grabs for VCs in Korea. Korea has a strong talent pool. Big corporations like Samsung, Kakao, LG, and Naver have some of the highest trained engineers. Many Korean startups are looking to find the right Korean VC. Therefore here are Top 10 Korean VC firms of 2019.

Top Korean Venture Capital Firms of 2019

1. Korea Investment Partners

Korean VC firm Korean Investment Partners

The largest Korean VC firm is Korea Investment Partners.  They manage an investment fund worth around $2 billion. The fund was created in 2008 but the firm itself was founded in 1986.  Their investment team is the biggest in Korea. They have over 80 investment managers.

They have invested in YG Entertainment,  Kakao Corp., and Bodyfriend just to name a few. These three companies alone brought in 10x on their investment (16.4 billion Korean won to 169 billion Korean won).

$120 Million Joint Venture Fund

Recently Korea Investment Partners launched a $120 million joint venture fund with Golden Equator Capital, a Singaporean fund management firm.  The venture fund is called the GEC-KIP Technology and Innovation Fund. It will only invest in Series A and Series B startups that are based in South East Asia.  There will be a reserved amount for Korean startups looking to enter the Singaporean market. Furthermore, the investments will range between $2 million to $5 million.

Korea Investment Partners is one of the few Korean venture capital firms that have invested in their first Blockchain project.  TEMCO is a blockchain-based supply chain platform, BI tool, and customer application.  Therefore, this gives hope to other Korean Blockchain startups of securing investments from traditional venture capital firms like KIP.

2. Smilegate Investment

Smilegate Korean Venture Capital Firm

The firm was founded in 1999 under their original name MVP Capital (Meridian Venture Partners).  Smilegate acquired MVP Capital in 2011 and changed the companies name to Smilegate Investment. Their first investment fund was formed in 2000 and since then they have created over 30 investment funds.  They have over 30 investment managers who have in total invested in over 200 projects. Their main investment focus is on Internet and gaming companies. Some of these companies include Devsisters, R2Beat, Seed Nine, and BGF Retail.

$350 Million Asset Under Management

Currently, they have over 20 funds.  In addition, their asset under management is over $350 million.  This could get bigger in 2019 as The National Pension Fund plans to invest up to 30 billion won in individual funds.

Korean venture capital firms are always interested in gaming and Smilegate is one of the leaders in investments in the game industry.  However, in 2014 they opened Orange Farm, a support center for all early-stage startups.  They also have an Orange Fund ($3.3 million) to invest only in companies incubated by Orange Farm.  More than half of the startups in Orange Farm are not related to gaming. Therefore Smilegate is looking to enter new verticals like travel, music, and education.

3. SoftBank Ventures Asia

SoftBank Ventures Asia

SoftBank Ventures Asia formerly known as SoftBank Ventures Korea is an investment company. It was established by Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp in 2000.  Therefore SoftBank Ventures Asia is a foreign holding company that invests mainly in Korean startups but by 2011 expanded into Asia. SoftBank Ventures Asia invested in many sectors such as IT, Biotech, Med-Tech, AI, Robotics and manufacturing.  They have invested in over 200 Korean startups with about half being early stage startups. Their focus is on startups that are looking to enter the global market or have already entered the global market. They have invested in Sunday Toz, the creators of Anipang.  Other notable investments include Knowre, TrueBalance, RSquare, Tokopedia, Mythic, Hyperconnect, Snow China, and Cocone just to name a few.

SoftBank Ventures Asia has operating teams in Seoul, San Francisco, Beijing, Tel Aviv, Singapore, and Shanghai.  Companies invested by SoftBank has access to SoftBank’s community, resources, and network. Their goal for 2019 is to focus on AI technology and its application across different industries.  

Over $1.2 Billion under Management

SoftBank has over $1.2 billion under management.  They have invested in over 250 countries across 10 countries.  If you are an AI startup in Asia that is outside of China there is a good chance you can get an investment from SoftBank Ventures Asia.  Their new $500 AI fund focuses globally disruptive startups with AI technologies and services in the Asia-Pacific, except China. SoftBank Ventures Asia already has a $300 million China Venture Fund in partnership with TPG Growth, a US-based private equity firm.

4. LB Investment

Korean VC LB Investment

South Korean VC firm LB Investment founded in 1996 specializes in buyouts and seed for early-stage, growth stage, cross-border transactions.  They invest mainly in companies operating for 3 to 5 years since the date founded. The focus of their investment is mainly on information technology, electricity hardware, digital device, mobile contents, digital media, education, and entertainment.   They have invested in not only South Korea, China, South East Asia, and the United States. The firm invests between $500,000 to $3 million taking between 10-15% equity.

LB Investment was formerly known as LG Venture Investment.  In 2000 LB Investment separated from LG Group. They have a very diverse portfolio.  Some of their investments include Big Hit Entertainment which is the agency for K-Pop group BTS, Kakao Games, Bodyfriend, and Korean biotech firm Toolgen just to name a few.  

5. IMM Investment

IMM Investment Corp

Korean venture capital firm IMM Investment was founded in 1999.  IMM manages around $3 billion in assets with its 12 venture capital funds and 13 private equity funds.  They have a team of over 35 investment experts that invests over $300 million in over 120 promising venture-backed firms and startups.  Some of their investments include IDUS which is the largest handicraft market in Korea, Coupang which is Korea’s largest social commerce site, and StyleShare which is now the largest fashion social-media site, Woowa Brothers, Bluehole Studio, WeMakePrice, and Celltrion,  just to name a few.

Their focus

For their growth stage investments, they spend 20% on startups, 40% on expansion, and 40% on others.  The industries they focus on include information technology infrastructure focusing on security, e-commerce solutions, biotech, and contents that focus on education, game, and animation.  They also invest in digital hardware focusing on network and communications equipment and semiconductor parts.

IMM Investments larger affiliate IMM Private Equity invests in growth capital opportunities and buyouts, such as Holly’s Coffee and Woori Bank.  

Startups should focus on their business model, market size, and the industries potential in order to get funded by IMM. However the pride themselves on trying to find great entrepreneurs with a great drive.

6. KB Investment

KB Investment Korean VC Firm

KB Investment a VC firm in Korea has found much success in real estate.  Their investments in real estate triple that of their investments in other sectors combined.  KB Investments is a unit of a Korean banking group recently bought a building in Dublin previously used by Facebook for $140 million

KB Investment has an equity capital of close to $4 million and is still continuing to buy commercial properties around the world, focusing first on Europe and Japan.  Recently they teamed up with domestic brokerage companies to buy logistics centers that were previously leased by British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s and BAE Systems for over $250 million.  

KB Investment is not only about real estate.  It has invested $3 million in a US-based bio firm called Neuroptika.  Kook Chan-woo the Executive Director of KB Investment joined the board of Neuroptika to work closely with the startup. 2019 they will look to focus on Southeast Asia, US, and Israel.

7. SV Investment

SV Investment Korea

SV Investment is a South Korean venture capital firm that invested in Big Hit Entertainment. The investment was before BTS became the sensation they are today.  Their initial investment was $3.3 million. Their return on investment was $91 billion. That is a return of over 25x. Through their IPO they also raised $25 million.

SV Investment has a valuation of $160 million.  In 2019 they are looking to expand their investments overseas including the US.  They will launch a $100 million fund with the help of U.S. based VC Kensington Capital Ventures.  The industry they focus on is IT, bio, and health care.

8. KTB Network

KTB Network Korea

KTB Network is a leading Korean VC firm that is also in Silicon Valley and Shanghai.  They lead a $7 million funding round for Indian Startup NoBroker which is an online real estate marketplace.  This was the first time a Korean fund has lead the funding round for an Indian Startup. KTB is one of the oldest VC funds in Korea.  They have $1.2 billion in assets under management. They were founded in 1981 and have done over 270 IPOs.

Justin Shin leads KTB Network investments and has over 30 years of venture capital experience.  The firm will be doing an IPO soon and could be listed on the Korea Exchange sometime this year. KTB Network is owned by KTB Investment & Securities.  They are the largest VC in terms of investment volume. KTB is operating a $300 million fund investing in Chinese firms only.

Their latest investment was with Clobotics, a computer vision technology startup.  KTB lead the funding round with participation from Capital Development Investment Fund in China and GGV Capital.  

9. Atinum Investment

Atinum Investment

South Korean VC firm Atinum Investment is the venture capital arm of Atinum Partners which is a private investment company owned by a high profile independent investor, Lee Min-joo.  It has over $450 million in assets under management. Lee Min-joo became famous for losing hundreds of millions on his investment on a shale gas venture in the United States 5 years ago.

However, since then Atinum has invested in Medy-Tox, Gamevil, and $41 million in a Singaporean digital cross-border money transfer startup InstaReM.

Atinum has also invested in Fast Five a South Korean coworking space startup.  Fast Five received funding of $15 million from Atinum Investment. The investment from Atinum will allow Fast Five to open 20 additional coworking spaces in the Gangnam area.  Atinum Investments have also invested over $10 million in Cheongju-based Aero K Airlines.

10. InterVest

Intervest Korea

South Korean VC firm Intervest is focused on BioTech, IT, and Southeast Asia.  They have $580 million assets under management. Their team consists of 11 VCs that focus on early-stage startups that have new and innovative technologies.  Furthermore, InterVest has 6 funds and has invested in Genexine, Balance Hero, Alchera, Brich, Tomocube, Lunit, and Noom.

InterVest is one of a handful of VCs that are actively investing in Blockchain technologies.  They have invested in a Korean Blockchain startup Blocko. Blocko provides a decentralized platform for digital identity and payment services.  Furthermore, they are focusing on BioTech because Korea has the potential to become a great biotech player global. This is because Korea has a great pool of medical data collected by the Korean government.

Outside of BioTech, they are looking into new and innovative technologies like AI, Blockchain, and VR.

Currently, Interest is very active in Southeast Asia and has partnered with VC Kejora Ventures an Indonesian VC.  They will soon start investing in startups in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand through their $60 million fund.

Honorable Mentions – Korean Venture Capital Firms

Kakao Investment/Ventures

Kakao Investment Kakao VenturesKakao Investment or sometimes known as Kakao Ventures was incorporated in 2015.  They are the venture arm of Kakao and their focus is on investing and supporting innovative startups.  These include industries such as mobile commerce, O2O, Fintech, IoT, and BoT. In addition, Kakao Ventures is interested in infrastructural and software technology developing startups.  Startups with high growth potential or early-stage startups looking to go global should seek investment from Kakao Ventures.  

Kakao Ventures Very Interested in Blockchain Technology

In 2018 Kakao Ventures invested in Israeli blockchain startup Orbs.  Orbs is also a partner of Kakao’s blockchain subsidiary Ground X, for developing applications for the network.  

Kakao does a great job of identifying key trendsetters and innovators in the blockchain sector.  They have been making aggressive inroads into the blockchain sector. They invested in Dunamu, which manages the South Korean cryptocurrency exchange platform Upbit.  

In 2018 Kakao Ventures invested around $30 million in 43 startups.  They were mainly in seed rounds and Series A rounds. 

In 2019 Kakao Ventures will focus on AR and blockchain industries.  They recently invested in LetinAR and Spatial in the AR sector and Kodebox and Terra in the Blockchain sector.  Their investment in Terra aims to apply Terra’s blockchain-based payment system to Kakao’s blockchain platform Klaytn.  

To date, Kakao Ventures currently operates 6 investment associations with a combined asset total of $174.7 million (204.6 billion won).  Their portfolio includes more than 140 companies and half of them in the mobile and service sector.  

Sparklabs Ventures

Sparklabs Ventures Korean VentureSparklabs Ventures the venture arm of SparkLabs Group.  Their goal is to lead the revolution of the Korean startup ecosystem by helping Korean startups go global.  Their Sparklabs Demo days are famous in Korea and they do a great job of showcasing some of the best up and coming Korean startups.  They have a vast global network that plays a large role in helping Korean entrepreneurs expand globally.  

SparkLabs Ventures Ignition Fund

The SparkLabs Ventures Ignition Fund is a $50 million fund that was launched in 2016 to focus on Korean and Southeast Asian startups.  While their main focus is on Korean startups, they have invested in Southeast Asian startups in the past. Back in 2017, they invested in a Vietnamese e-commerce firm called Tiki. 

SparkLabs Ventures to Focus on AI Technology in 2019

Recently Sparklabs Ventures led a $3.4 million Series A round in Allganize, an Oakland based startup that provides deep-learning-based Natural-Language Understanding (NLU) and conversational AI for the enterprise.  AI investments in Korea have grown 5x from last year.  

Samsung Venture Investment Corporation

Samsung Venture InvestmentSamsung Venture Investment is the venture arm of Samsung Electronics.  The firm was founded in 1999 and since then have been investing in new future technology.  They manage investment and investment-related activities for Samsung affiliate companies. Their main focus tends to be with investments in semiconductors, displays, telecommunications, and consumer electronics.  

Samsung Ventures was created to promote promising startups that are engaged in new growth technologies.  They hope to create a new innovative environment. One of their more famous investments was in Blocko, a Korean blockchain company which raised $8.9 million in their latest Series B funding round.

More Recently the firm made its first investment into a Southeast Asian HR startup called Swingvy.  It was a series A round which Samsung lead and was able to raise $7 million.

Fast Investment

Fast Investment KoreaFast Investment is the investment arm of Fast Track Asia, one of the top accelerators in Korea.  The VC firm was founded on 2013 to focus on angel investments. Their focus is on mobile security, messaging solutions, workplace communication, new media services, and data analytics.  Some of their investments in Korean startups include SEWorks, Sendbird, Jandi, Outstanding, and Zoyi.  

Fast Investment continues to form new funds in order to invest in more Korean startups.  They invest mainly in early-stage startups.  

Ascendo Ventures

Ascendo VenturesAscendo Ventures is a Korean early-stage VC fund that focuses on Korea’s tech and market innovation strengths in sectors such as IoT, AI, Machine Learning, Fintech, Blockchain, New Media, entertainment, beauty, and Data Intelligence.  They have a strong network rough partnerships with R&D hub and tech institutions in Korea. Their investment plan is to target early-stage startups and obtain deals at each stage of investment.  

Ascendo supports their invested startups by connecting them to its global network of strategic advisors and partners.  Therefore their cross-border business development activities really help accelerate Korean startups looking to go global.  Therefore they target Korean startups that bring a kind of “unfair advantage” into already strong industries in Korea. For example innovative technologies that can help the K-Beauty or K-Pop industry.  

In 2018 Ascendo had three funds, together worth around $75 million.  They not only focus solely on Korean startups but Southeast Asian startups as well.  They are especially interested in Vietnam and Indonesia.  

Bass Investment

Bass InvestmentBass Investment is an investment firm in Korea that aims to support early-stage startups, participating in seed, pre-A, Series A, and Series B rounds.  The founders of Bass were the core leaders or founders at Kakao and TMON. They offer investment as early as seed and help with future rounds.  In addition, they help with operational support for their portfolio companies such as making partnerships with larger Korean companies. They have a fund of over $26 million. 

Neoplux Investment Company

Neoplux Investment CompanyNeoplux Investment Company was launched by Doosan Group which is one of the top 10 conglomerates in Korea.  Like many Korean venture capital firms, they have two departments. The venture investment department and the private equity investment department.  Their venture investment department focuses on early-stage venture capital investments and later-stage control investments opportunities such as IT convergence, disruptive technologies, and alternative energy just to name a few.  

Their VC platform focuses on supporting not just Korean startups but any company can offer innovative solutions and have superior growth potential.  Neoplux VC provides management advice and helps with customizing the right operating system for each stage of their growth.