At around 7:58AM, I got off the 7th floor of Hyundai Tower and walked through the glass doors of Startup Alliance.
“Would you like to try a cup of Monte de Oro from Guatemala?” A barista asked as she handed me an admittedly earthy but decent-tasting coffee sample in a small paper cup.
Sometimes the best interactions and networking can come from a more low key, no frills approach: simply meeting people over coffee.
Startup Alliance is a co-organization between both the Korean government and various private companies looking to foster growth for startups going global. Located at Teheranro in Gangnam, Startup Alliance hosts an event called Teheranro Coffee Gathering (테헤란로 커피 모임) on Wednesdays. Startup companies can reserve spots in advance to get a chance to present their venture on stage.
While sipping on some gourmet coffee, I joined the few dozen people idly standing around or sitting on the neatly organized school desks in what’s called the “&(And) Space.” School was now in session.
Two companies gave their pitch: Ninja Metrics, a user analytics engine for games, and SoCar, a car-sharing venture that’s also recently been gaining traction in Korea. Both presentations were strictly timed and the audience was given opportunities to ask questions. Despite a couple technical hiccups, I’d say both went rather smoothly.
After the presentations, we were then told to arrange our desks around the room. Each of us took turns for a quick 30 second self introduction; what Koreans call 자기소개 or “jah-gee-so-geh.”
I soon discovered that the participants came from all sorts of backgrounds. Some were humble accountants while others were UX designers, coffee business owners (it IS Coffee Gathering, after all!) and even self-titled entrepreneurial philosophers. About half seemed to come from actual startup companies and the other half ranged from corporate representatives to small business owners.
After the introductions came the actual networking, where people walked up to break the ice and exchanged contact information. Just like networking in America, Coffee Gathering felt organic, albeit with a bit more cultural accommodation. From my previous experiences, startup networking in the States still felt more loose, open, and also usually involved a lot more beer.
I quickly noticed there were those with agendas and those who were just there to fish for contacts. Despite the open space, some participants still looked like they were seeking rigidity in an environment where such is not always the norm. Many individuals just wanted to see for themselves what exactly this budding startup culture was really about.
The coffee sample tasted good, but I’m sticking around for the other pot that was brewing in that room… ventures in a country with big dreams.
Eddie Cho (email@example.com)