Investors are not just concerned about making money. Many have already made all the money they could need and are looking to generate social and environmental value. Korea’s impact investing sector is growing and there are many Korean VC firms and impact investors looking at social ventures that can change the world. Social impact startups drive positive social and environmental impact while at the same time generating potential financial returns. Therefore social impact startups can be in industries such as health, education, affordable housing, clean energy, and etc.

While startups in Korea usually tend to focus on growing quickly and generating profits immediately, social impact startups in Korea don’t purely focus on financial gain. Their main focus lies in acting charitably and having a positive impact. Therefore, a social impact startup, at its most basic level, is an enterprise that works for a social cause but by employing entrepreneurial principles. It can be structured as a for-profit, non-profit or hybrid.

Social Impact Startup Fund in Korea

Korea Development Bank (KDB) and SK Group have partnered to create a $44 million fund (50 million won) to help social impact startups in Korea. This is the largest fund that focuses on startups that address social issues. To qualify as a social startup, startups must align with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals laid out by the UN. The startups will not only get investments but also have access to consulting on business operations. The social impact fund aims to create an ecosystem for startups in Korea aiming to benefit society.

There are many great social impact startups in Korea that are operating in the fields of social innovation, social change, and social entrepreneurship. These startups are devoted to doing a good deed and coming up with new strategies, concepts, and ideas to meet social needs. We have a separate article on Environmental Startups in Korea so please check that out as well.

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 at the Top 10 Social Impact Startups in Korea

1. WOOZOO

Woozoo

Woozoo is a co-housing platform with a mission to provide affordable housing for young adults in Korea. Affordable housing is a big issue in Seoul. Many young Koreans in their 20s and 30s have to settle for tiny rooms at high prices. In addition, the sense of isolation in a big city like Seoul is a huge social problem. Therefore, Woozoo not only offers shared housing but also a sense of community. It is now the biggest and fastest-growing coliving company in South Korea. It was acquired by Zigbang, the biggest real estate app in South Korea.

2. DOT

Social Impact startups in Korea DOTKorean Social impact startup DOT is the creator of Dot Watch, a digital smart braille watch. Over 400 million people around the world can’t read a watch face. Dot Watch uses braille by having their “Dots” rise and fall to spell out braille words four characters at a time. Furthermore, it gives real-time updates from whatever device it is connected to. Therefore users can get social media alerts, texts, and emails instantly.

It can display the time/date, has a timer, a stopwatch, an alarm, and a bit of braille technology. Furthermore, the Dot Watch Braille learning program is a simple, intuitive, and entertaining way to learn and practice Braille letters and words. The Dot Watch which is made of light aluminum weighs 60 grams. It can run on one battery charge for up to 10 days.

To date, Dot has gotten $13 million in investments and has over 120 technology patents.

Winner of the UN World Summit Awards 2020

Dot won the UN World Summit Awards 2020 in Vienna, Austria. The WSA Awards focused on startups that add social value. Over 180 countries participated in the event. Dot won in the category of Inclusion and Empowerment. Dot was the only startup from Asia to be one of the 9 winners and the first Korean startup ever to win the award.

Winner of the TechCrunch’s XTC Global Final

The XTC Global Final is a social innovation startup competition that brought in over 3,700 startups from 92 countries. It is a yearly global competition between startups aimed at solving problems outlined in the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Dot got first place in the preliminaries under the category, Enabling Technology, before going to the finals. They were named the overall winners of the entire competition along with Hillridge Technology from Australia.

“We aim to launch a tablet for education and set up public braille signs which provide up-to-date messages to the blind. We strive to reduce the invisible discrimination against people living with blindness in information accessibility,” said CEO of DOT, Kim Ju-yoon.

3. YOLK (Solar Cow)

Korean Startup YolkKorean startup YOLK is the maker of Solar Cow, a solar-powered charging station that is shaped like a cow. YOLK won the Aid Innovation Challenge at the 2018 AidEx in Brussels for using solar PV in a fun and innovative way. YOLK is targeting under-developed countries to provide free electricity for parents who allow their children to attend school instead of working. The “Solar Cow” is “milked” by the children who can take the detachable portable batteries to their homes for free electricity. Furthermore, each battery can store up to 10 watts of electricity.

The Power Milk batteries as they are called can only be charged at the school. Therefore, by providing free access to electricity, families can save 20% of their monthly income. The Solar Cow project’s goal is to bring 2.5 million children to schools in Africa. In addition, YOLK got a humanitarian fund from P4G and KOICA(Korean aid government) projects to install more Solar Cows in Kenya and Tanzania.

YOLK has been able to get over US$1 million in crowdfunding on its initial Kickstarter campaign. They are continuing to look for scale-up funding for their mass production. In addition, they are expecting to start a new Kickstarter campaign at the end of this year. For email alerts, subscribe to their newsletter on their homepage.

“Donated products last only a few years while education can change their whole lives. We tried to create a good cycle of a system rather than just donating products. That’s how we came up with Solar Cow, to stop child labor and provide education opportunities,” said CEO of YOLK, Sungun Chang.

4. DamoGO

damogo Korean startup

Korean social impact startup DamoGO is looking to make a difference in the food waste problem in Korea. Their goal is to become the leader not just in Korea, but in Asia when it comes to reducing food waste. Their app offers people in Korea to get food from restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores at discounted prices. This is great for businesses in Korea because they will get additional revenue streams and it is great for users because they will be able to great food at a fraction of the cost. All this will lead to the reduction of food waste in Korea.

DamoGO is one of the fastest-rising startups in Korea. They have already partnered with over 65 stores and have mobilized several charities, organizations, and homeless shelters. DamoGO raised $130,000 in late 2018 in its pre-seed funding stage and an undisclosed amount in early 2020.

“We are a social impact startup to reduce waste, and the half-price discounts are a secondary but great benefit. There’s nothing not to love about being able to save 50% on perfectly good food and helping to reduce waste,” said Co-Founder of DamoGO, Lin Hwang.

5. Donggubat

Donggubat is a premium soap company that primarily employs people with mental disabilities. To date, they have not lost a single worker. They produce over 120,000 handmade soaps a month. The startup started with a goal to offer a place for people with developmental disabilities to work. The employees at Donggubat have full-time employment status and are covered by four key national insurance programs. Donggubat makes premium organic soaps, shampoos, and conditioners to a range of hotels in South Korea. Some of these hotels include the Grand Walkerhill Seoul, Playce Camp Jeju, and Hotel Cappuccino. Furthermore, they are also exported to the United States, Japan, China, and Thailand.

6. Lineable

korean startupKorean IoT startup Lineable creates smart solutions that help families protect and prevent potential problems. They use the most advanced technologies such as Bluetooth, GPS, and LPWAN to create the most effective and price-competitive gadgets for the market. Lineable specializes in connected wearables to keep families connected to their loved ones at all times by a push of a button. Their most popular product is Lineable One. It is a smart wearable band that locates your child (aged 3-7) in case of an emergency. In addition to the child’s location, it can monitor the child’s health status and activity history through the Lineable App. Therefore, in case of an emergency, the parents and the caretakers can use Lineable App to track the child’s location in real-time. 

Lineable V for COVID-19 Containment

Lineable launched Lineable V which tracks those that are under self-quarantine. The interval of the location updates can be sped up when necessary. It has a long battery life and has enhanced sensors that can monitor body temperature, heart rate, oxygen saturation levels, geolocation, and any abnormalities in the wearer’s regular activity pattern. In addition, it can detect when the device is worn and when it is removed. In case of removal or if the device leaves the pre-determined quarantine zone, the monitoring system will get alerted

Lineable gets $2 Million Investment from Semtech

Lineable got a $2 million investment from Semtech. They will partner up and work together to do business with all wireless operators across the world. In addition, Lineable has also partnered with IoTeX to connect over a million Lineable smart devices to the IoTeX Blockchain.

“Lineable’s mission of creating a crowdsourced safety network for families has finally found a perfect complement in IoTeX’s Blockchain Technology,” said CEO of Lineable, Tyler Moon.

7. Eone

Social Impact Startup EoneKorean social impact startup Eone is the creator of Bradley Timepieces which are timepieces designed for people with low visibility. Their design allows for anyone to see the time through touch. It allows you to keep track of the time during meetings, interviews, dates, and dark theaters. They were able to raise over $600,000 on Kickstarter from over 3.800 sponsors.

“Users, whether visually impaired or sighted, fell in love with the fashionable design and innovative function of the timepiece first, then learning the motivation behind it later only boosted their interest,” said Founder of Eone, Hyungsoo Kim.

8. HireChance

Korean Social Impact startup HireChance

Korean social impact startup HireChance sells delicious, impactful coffee to help refugees in Korea build their future careers. HireChance sources sustainable, ethical, and delicious single-origin coffee from refugee-producing regions. Furthermore, they help bring it to the market through online & offline B2B and B2C channels with fairer than Fair Trade support for their coffee farmers. In addition, the startup invests 25% of its sales to provide refugees with access to online education courses through their partners in order to provide a clear path to their career development. Therefore this is a win-win scenario for refugees, employers, and society at large.

“These days, there are a lot of jobs that can give refugees a basic income to survive but not necessarily a chance to build their career. I’m trying to focus on figuring out what can help asylum seekers get jobs that will sustain their future careers,” said HireChance CEO Craig LaTouche.

9. DAZAYO

dazayoDAZAYO offers a home-sharing service by remodeling empty houses in rural villages to offer them lodging facilities. Due to government regulations, DAZAYO can have a maximum of 50 houses up for rent in 5 regions across Korea, including tourist area Jeju. They use houses that have been empty for more than a year and are less than 230 square meters in size. They return a percentage of their profits to the community. Therefore, this is a very innovative business model that raised over 200 million won through the crowdfunding platform Wadiz.

10. Gugugaga

Gugugaga

Gugugaga is an eco-friendly clothing brand for babies. Their products are made from 100% sustainable materials from Korea. They do not use any chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Therefore, their fabrics are hypoallergenic and 100% organic. They offer a parenting box that comes with free shipping. In addition, there are 6 types of parenting boxes that range from smart configurations to premium configurations. Even their packaging is eco-friendly!

HONORABLE MENTIONS

CRAFTLINK

Social Impact Startups in Korea CraftLinkKorean Social Impact startup CRAFTLINK helps single mothers in Korea, as well as South America, produce and develop handicrafts. Currently, there is not enough support for single mothers in Korea. Therefore CRAFTLINK created the CraftLink Korea Collection which allows mothers to work at home for flexibility. CRAFTLINK provides the training and will supply the materials and be in charge of the cost, design, and branding to minimize the burden on single mothers. Moreover, CRAFTLINK is a social venture that connects the world and makes a difference through handicrafts.