Founder’s Stories – Seoul Global Startup Center Fri, 17 Jan 2020 00:42:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Shuttle carves out niche in Korea’s food delivery industry Mon, 30 Dec 2019 11:25:48 +0000
Industry: Food & Drink
Service: Online food ordering
Founded: March 2016 in Seoul, Korea
Founders: Jason Boutte, CEO; Lauren HyunKyun, Director; Florian Wermelinger, CTO; Zachary Marble, COO; Mark Boesch, CMO; Ben Hough, CFO
Number of Employees: 20+
Company Overview
Shuttle is the leading bilingual food delivery app (English & Korean) partnered with Korea’s best restaurants.
Tel: 02-1661-8482

How It All Started

Jason Boutte, CEO & Co-Founder of Shuttle

With over 100,000 downloads, Shuttle has secured its niche in Korea’s saturated food delivery industry. 

In a tough and discerning Korean market, where even UberEats has tried and failed, Shuttle’s launch and longevity is no trivial feat. 

It just goes to show that a cookie-cutter model won’t fly in Korea if it doesn’t fit their needs.

Jason Boutte understands these needs:  they were originally his problems he wanted to solve when he first moved to Korea.

Born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Jason moved to Seoul in 2007. 

Having completed his MBA and a degree in finance, his work in New Orleans left him uninspired. He left his career in internal auditing to pursue his childhood dream of living in Asia, to him a place as far to the unknown he could get. 

“I’m curious in nature. And it’s exciting to explore the uncomfortable.”

Jason’s first business venture in Korea was in the entertainment industry. He opened up a nightclub called Cakeshop, which is still popular today for its internationally renowned DJs. The success of Cakeshop made it possible for him to branch out to open up other clubs, mainly in the expat-friendly area of Seoul’s Itaewon district.

It was at this time, during the late-night after work hours, that his problem started. He was hungry and found limited delivery options. Jja-jang myun, Korea’s beloved black bean sauce noodles, wasn’t a bad option but he wanted more. 

His solution was to create Ynot-Takeout (now merged as Shuttle) to find the favorite foods of expats delivered right to your door. 

He gained restaurant contacts, bought a motorcycle, and delivered tasty eats to people who had his same problem.

His team and delivery demand grew, and the momentum hasn’t stopped since.

Challenges Overcome

Team Shuttle

“Any business accomplishes more with collaboration.”

Now, with six founding members, they’ve tackled the nuances to make Shuttle an ideal language solution delivery app.

They had to balance delivery drivers with demand, and have now instilled a combined outsourced and company-formed driver delivery system. 

Their team also secured the right balance in their fees to draw back loyal customers and to bring on new hand-picked local eateries.

With increasing demand for Shuttle delivery, their tech had to step up. All revenue gained was invested back into developing technology, which now includes data analysis to better serve customers and predictive analytics to save delivery time when matching drivers. 

By listening to the needs of its customers, and applying it to a series of iterations, Shuttle feels confident in their market fit. 

Looking Ahead

Shuttle is now aiming for hyper growth.

With only 2% of their revenue spent on marketing, Shuttle’s demand has been attributed to its organic growth based on establishing their product-market fit. 

“Many companies take a different approach and try to find funding first, and then use those funds to find a market fit. Obviously, there’s a lot of risks in that.”

Shuttle, though, has approached it from the other side to first learn operations and build the right product and service that fits their Korean expat market needs. 

Shuttle is now ready to scale up by attracting funding, which they plan to invest in fine-tuned technology and large-scale marketing to expand into the Korean market. 

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Kaesa infuses architecture into luxury handbag design Mon, 30 Dec 2019 09:40:18 +0000
Industry: Fashion
Service: E-commerce
Founded: March 2018 in Seoul, Korea
Founder: Amy Chu
Number of Employees: 1-5
Company Overview
Kaesa is a luxury handbag design and manufacturing company focused on aesthetically beautiful and functional products.

How It All Started

Amy Chu, CEO & Founder of Kaesa

How It All Started

Amy Chu’s career as an interior architect was the inspiration for her aesthetic outlook.

“Architecture is about blending design and function. You can’t have one without the other.”

Landing roles in big architecture firms throughout New York City, Amy drafted drawings for construction, worked with contractors on site, and collaborated with designers to create spaces that focused on beautiful design and practical functionality. 

It was then, during her lunch break in Manhattan, that she had the idea to blend these concepts from structural spaces to everyday products. 

“New Yorkers never bring their lunch, and I was one of them. I saw so many white plastic bags distributed at the checkout counter, and that’s when I had the idea for a reusable foldable lunch bag.”

Amy is an avid supporter of sustainability, and she also had a desire to design with textiles.

“I love seeing beautiful textiles in a three-dimensional form.” 

While working her day job, she took her idea to production and designed 50 different eco-friendly lunch bags on the side. They all sold in a New York minute.

Spurred by the positive feedback, she enrolled in part time business classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology. 

An instructor there encouraged Amy to enter an international handbag competition. She became a top five finalist, and produced her first high-end handbag samples recognized for its best use of swarovski crystals. 

She had to make a hard decision to leave a job she loved to pursue her passion in handbag design and production. She decided she could always find work in architecture, but if she didn’t ride out the momentum of her newfound creativity, it would be a long-term regret. 

She made the move to Korea, and continues to learn her craft. 

Challenges Overcome

“Sourcing high-quality materials at a reasonable price is a major challenge.”

Amy left New York, where creating a handbag sample cost nearly $1000 US, to Asia where she could be closer to a range of manufacturers.

Initially, she sourced genuine leather, but couldn’t find the level of quality that would match her high-end brand. She revisited her brand vision and decided to focus on vegan leather for its sustainability and eco-friendly impact.

She spent many months searching for high-quality vegan leather until she found a reliable and quality source in Seoul. She also connected with a reputable Korean manufacturer, keeping all production local. 

For Amy it was difficult getting started in a country where she barely knew the language and didn’t have a network. 

But slowly, she immersed herself among a network of entrepreneurs, starting with a group of adoptees like herself through the Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link. 

She then built her Kaesa brand and team at the Seoul Global Startup Center. 

“Support for startups in Korea is amazing. I’m constantly learning and growing here with the opportunities provided.”

Looking Ahead

Kaesa is continuing to build its product line around streamlined staples for a Korean and international audience. 

“I don’t want to just create pretty products. I want Kaesa to be a brand that people will use for daily life, where beauty meets function.”

Inspired by designers like Chanel for its classic chic and Balmain for its cool edge, Kaesa’s focus is classic silhouettes with a modern twist.

“I start with the high-end materials, create classic shapes, and modernize with different accents.”

Kaesa’s current product line includes a daily crossbody bag that functions as an organizer. 

All Kaesa handbags and accessories can be purchased online at KAESA.CO.

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Ma Petite Corée brings Korean cute to the French Mon, 30 Dec 2019 09:39:17 +0000
Industry: Product Distribution
Service: E-commerce
Founded: June 2018 in Seoul, Korea
Founder: Arthur Mademba-Sy
Number of Employees: 5-10
Company Overview
Ma Petite Corée opens up global delivery of favorite Korean products to France and throughout Europe.

How It All Started

Arthur Mademba-Sy, CEO & Founder of Ma Petite Coree

You know you’re on to a good thing when the minute it starts, it explodes.

When Arthur Mademba-Sy, a Parisian native, began exporting trending Korean products to France, the demand sparked the French taste for more.

Arthur moved to Daegu, Korea in 2011 as an exchange student while pursuing a master’s degree in digital marketing. 

In Korea, he met his future wife, decided to stay and dabbled in many side projects – from creating I Love Daegu t-shirts, supporting local restaurants with their digital marketing, to establishing an e-commerce site for cozy pajamas. 

He enjoyed the business of e-commerce, and wanted to connect back to his native roots. In 2017, he began exporting trending Korean products to France, starting with cosmetics and cute Korean socks, by marketing through social media channels. 

The demand led to the creation of his e-commerce site, Ma Petite Corée, and grew to a core team with expertise in sales, SNS marketing, and IT. 

Today, Ma Petite Corée sells a range of curated Korean products in the categories of cosmetics, fashion, stationary, K-pop paraphernalia, as well as a monthly surprise subscription box of trending Korean goodies. 

Challenges Overcome

Finding the right Korean products was a challenge, considering that they identified about 40 different companies that could be in direct competition. 

“We’re consistently keeping a pulse on what’s out there, and seeing how we can stay a step ahead.”

As a result, their products not only include mass-market items from larger established Korean companies, but also include independent brands, such as smaller companies focusing on the rising demand for vegan-friendly cosmetics. 

Ma Petite Corée was striving to reach $100,000 US in annual sales for 2019 – and they successfully met that goal by focusing on impeccable delivery service and attentive customer communication. 

Looking Ahead

Ma Petite Corée is continuing to expand their customer base beyond France to other Western Europe regions. Their current e-commerce transactions are conducted in French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, and Portuguese.

While establishing its B2C foundation, Ma Petite Corée is expanding its team to focus on its B2B visibility by partnering with Korean brands through their recently established sister company, Let’s Buy Korea, for European market distribution. 

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Gideb opens reliable treatment to combat Korea’s mental health stigma Fri, 20 Dec 2019 09:33:58 +0000
Industry: Health & Mental Wellness
Service: Technology
Founded: March 2019 in Seoul, Korea
Founders: Tae Kim
Number of Employees: 1-5
Company Overview
Gideb is a platform that connects people in Korea to mental health care options, from reputable health care professionals to online journal therapy, for next level mental illness and addiction support.
Tel: +82 10 9686 5377

How It All Started

Tae Kim, CEO & Founder of Descry

Words synonymous with Korea’s claim to fame: Samsung. BTS. Suicide.

It’s no secret that South Korea, a country praised for its economic reform and international K-culture influence, has at its root a large population suffering crippling mental health.  

South Korea consistently lists in the highest ranks of death by suicide among developed countries in the world in all age-related categories — from teens to the elderly. 

The most recent aggregated world health data from the OECD ranked Korea at the top (24.6 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people) in 2017, followed closely by Lithuania (24.4 out of 100,000). 

That’s about 1000 Korean people taking their own lives each month.

What drives citizens in a nation of vast wealth and social influence to the brinks of despair?

Celebrity suicides, most notably the recent deaths of beloved K-pop idols, Sulli and Goo Hara, have dug up the usual suspects in Korea’s suicide blame game: high stress associated with incessant competition, exhausting work hours, and malicious online attacks.

Tae Kim is concerned not only with the causes of suicide but its prevention.

Born in Korea, Tae at the age of three moved to Los Angeles, a city known for its troubled youth involved in gangs, drugs, and violence. 

Working in accounting as an auditor, he volunteered after work hours in self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Criminal Gangs Anonymous (CGA). 

For several of these therapy groups, Tae became the chairman, which involved facilitating discussions and leading members to coping strategies.  

How did Gideb begin?

I moved to Korea last year from LA, and I was looking to get involved in community service. Before coming to Korea, I was involved in one-on-one mentoring, Big Brother programs, and various self-help groups. But these types of programs were pretty much non existent here. That’s when I came up with the idea to open up self-help options for mental health in Korea. 

How does Gideb create options for mental health care in Korea?

We are strong advocates for in real life therapy. But in Korea, these options aren’t openly available. Gideb is a platform that connects people to reputable therapists and self-help groups throughout the country. We’re also creating an online journal therapy model that will help people work out their issues in between face-to-face therapy sessions. 

Challenges Overcome

What are the challenges in creating a mental health service in Korea, where the stigma for treatment is still high?

We’re focusing on adults in Korea, as there have been many government supports for mental health suffering among youth. Despite this, the stigma remains high. Just recently, the government enacted a law that restricts hospitals from sharing patient information to third parties. Before this, people have been fired from their jobs for having this information released, and it’s hard to change the mindset of people who are scared to openly seek help. 

How does Gideb ensure patient privacy? 

Our team is ensuring our company protects user data and remains compliant to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a new standard set in 2016 for companies in the European Union (EU) to maintain individual data privacy with strict systems and processes. 

It mirrors our own ethical standard. And if this helps more Koreans to come forward to seeking mental health treatment, that would be great. 

What is your business model?

Creating a business model out of therapy is difficult in Korea due to government regulations in commission-based revenue in medical care. Gideb had to go through loopholes to create a sustainable business model, which includes an online therapy journaling service where its special features can be purchased. 

Why such a focus on journaling for therapy?

A lot of our research shows in real life therapy combined with journaling therapy can have the most effective results. 

How are you moving forward with this focus on journaling as therapy? 

We’ve recently partnered with InnovatorsBox (, a US-based company that promotes creativity in the workplace through stress reduction and changing mindsets in the form of writing prompts. If a person is not used to journaling or has a hard time starting writing, we can help. 

Looking Ahead

The initial name for their platform – Descry, meaning in English to “catch or discover,” has now branched out with more localized support, under a new brand name – Gideb, meaning in Korean to “lean on me.”

Descry/Gideb is continuing to partner with other companies such as 3 Seconds of Hope, a suicide prevention organization in Korea.

In 2020, they plan to launch their MVP to test out the journaling, therapist scheduling, and other mental health supports provided by Descry and Gideb.

In the last three months, their social platform has connected over 20 people to mental health providers throughout Seoul.

Last year, Tae Kim lost one of his best friends to suicide, and he wants to share a platform for people to realize: “You are not alone.”

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FastPong refines sports training with AI solutions Fri, 13 Dec 2019 10:08:37 +0000
Industry: Health & Fitness
Service: Technology
Founded: July 2019 in Seoul, Korea
Founders: Amir Kamandi, CEO & Jongha Yu, CTO
Number of Employees: 1-5
Company Overview
FastPong is an interactive table tennis training system that integrates AI and machine learning to drastically improve a player’s game.
Tel: +82 10 2761 9376

How It All Started

Amir Kamandi, CEO & Co-founder of FastPong

It would be hard to find someone more devoted to the sport of ping pong than Amir Kamandi. 

Not only was he trained as a national table tennis player in Iran, Amir also extensively researched training methods to improve his skills in reaction time and accuracy.

FastPong, an interactive training device, was the result of Amir’s research proposal sent to and accepted by Seoul National University.

There, he met Jongha Yu, who was studying in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department. 

Together, they turned theory into practice and created the first interactive table tennis hardware and software solution designed to identify and improve a player’s weakness.

Jongha Yu, CTO & Co-founder of FastPong
… building FastPong’s portable device

So, how does it work?

Amir explains: “In a simple scenario, say you’re on the right side and your weakness is sending the ball to the left. Our device detects that by using sensors and response time. Aggregating the player’s data, FastPong not only identifies problems, but provides training programs aimed to improve a player’s game.”

How does the training program physically work?

“Out device connects to a table tennis machine that serves balls. 8 LED targets are on the table. Our device tracks your performance based on reaction time, decision making, and accuracy. This tracked performance is sent in real time to the FastPong app. Players can continue to measure their performance using the online training program.”

How does this compare to traditional face-to-face coaching?

“Personal coaching can’t be replaced for building a player’s motivation and skills. But in terms of assessing a player’s game, the human eye misses what FastPong’s AI can catch. Ideally, we see FastPong as an additional tool for the coach to guide the player. And for those that play table tennis recreationally, FastPong can be used to measure and improve their individual practice.”

Challenges Overcome

Amir and Jongha created the prototype for FastPong in graduate school, and together took a step further to bring it to market. 

That process involved several iterations of the software to make the tracked performance and training solutions as user-friendly as possible. 

They secured an MOU with the Irananian National Table Tennis Federation. However, they are still solidifying their hold on the Korean table tennis market. 

Given that South Korea is the fourth largest table tennis market in the world, it should have been easy. But table tennis club owners, ranging in the ages of 50 to 60, were resistant to integrating new technology.

“We’ve been working on it. It’s a direct revenue source for them. It’s about establishing trust first. And we have been building our relationships with local table tennis organizations and even sponsoring tournaments together that focus on good causes such as North-South Korean unification.”

After several years of perfecting the hardware and software using feedback from players, and with their growing local support, FastPong has come to the point where they’re ready to showcase and distribute to full scale.

Looking Ahead

Their next move is to market FastPong to the masses. They are currently developing their marketing strategy and preparing their crowdfunding campaign.

FastPong is growing its team to include a technical advisor, a developer, and Korean staff to communicate with the local community. 

Now that FastPong’s technology is solidified, their next logical move is to easily transfer this solution to other sports, such as tennis, once they reach their initial target market.

In a country full of avid table tennis players, FastPong aims to soon make its mark and use FastPong technology to up the game in South Korea and to make FastPong an indispensable training support for players internationally.

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Beauficial expands K-beauty to Africa Thu, 12 Dec 2019 09:37:30 +0000
Industry: Beauty & Health
Service: E-commerce
Founded: July 2019 in Seoul, Korea
Founder: Grace Okafor
Number of Employees: 1-5
Company Overview
Beauficial delivers Korean health and beauty products to countries throughout Africa.

How It All Started

Grace Okafor, CEO & Founder of Beauficial

It all started with a Korean face mask brought as a souvenir from her Korean teacher in Nigeria.

Since then, Grace was hooked on Korean beauty products, but found it impossible to acquire. She tried buying products on Alibaba, but found the quality wasn’t the same.

When she came to Korea to study in the master’s program for international trade and business, she began developing the idea to build a platform to bring K-beauty to Africa. 

With the help of the Seoul Global Startup Center, she launched Beaufical in November 2019.

Grace immersed herself in the Korean beauty industry and connected with independent cosmetic brands to feature on her e-commerce site, Beauficial.

Targeting her native country of Nigeria, she is showcasing Beauficial as a platform that enhances beauty while being “beneficial to your health, wealth, and environment.”

Given that the current beauty industry in Nigeria focuses on affordable local brands, and expensive American brands, she wants to bring affordable and high-quality Korean cosmetics to the African consumer.

Challenges Overcome

Given that many Korean companies lack information about the African market, Grace had to continuously explain that yes, Africa can maintain logistics in exports and Nigeria in particular is a growing economy with a rising middle-class and ranks 27th in the world in terms of GDP.

Beauficial is continuing to raise awareness of the lucrative and untapped Nigerian beauty market and building connections between Korean and African companies. 

Looking Ahead

With the recent launch of its platform in late 2019, Beaufical plans to hold the first Korean-African Beauty Exhibition in 2020. 

Grace plans to make this an opportunity for business matching, not only for the export of K-beauty to Africa, but an opportunity to build a market to produce high-quality Korean cosmetics targeted specifically for people of color. 

Beauficial is currently seeking Korean team members to join its vision of cross collaboration.

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Omi Tea & Botanicals sips with Korean tea farmers Wed, 11 Dec 2019 05:21:50 +0000
Industry: Specialty Teas
Service: E-commerce
Founded: December 2019 in Seoul, Korea
Founder: Jessica Choi
Number of Employees: 1-5
Company Overview
Omi Tea & Botanicals fosters relationships with farmers across Korea and connects their handcrafted traditional teas to the global community.
Tel: 010-8617-3713

How It All Started

Jessica Choi, Founder of Omi Tea & Botanicals

Maintaining sanity within our busy lives can be a fine balance.

It requires multi-tasking while prioritizing what’s important, savoring the sweet, and reflecting on the sour.

‘Omi’ in Korean refers to the five basic tastes: bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and savory. 

Omi Tea & Botanicals believes a truly fine cup of tea possesses the perfect balance of ‘omi’ and awakens the senses. 

Jessica Choi began taking tea classes in Seoul five years ago, and was surprised to find that sipping tea restored her balance. 

It was her first encounter with fine artisanal tea, and her year-long learning at the specialty tea shop inspired her to seek out more. 

Growing up in Los Angeles, she wasn’t exposed to tea culture, and even when she moved to Seoul for graduate school, she was surrounded by sprouting cafes in the wake of its rising coffee culture. 

To learn more about traditional Korean tea, she went directly to the source – to the tea farms in Jirisan, south of Seoul. 

There she met traditional tea artisans who taught her the craft and each of their unique processes for picking leaves, fermenting, and roasting. 

She continued to connect with tea crafters at Korean tea expos throughout the country, and began to curate specialty tea blends that couldn’t be found in the mass market. 

Jessica began Omi Tea & Botanicals to expose the international and even local tea community to the range of tastes and curative effects of traditional Korean tea.

Challenges Overcome

Currently, Jessica is beginning this venture alone, continuing to learn her craft while working on marketing channels, packaging, and pricing. 

As English is her native language, Omi Tea & Botanicals is starting by focusing on the US market of tea enthusiasts by connecting with lifestyle boutique shops, hosting tea events, and distributing tea directly sourced from Korean farmers to individuals and businesses.

Looking Ahead

Once Omi Tea & Botanicals is officially registered as a company, Jessica hopes to grow her team to bring the fine traditional tea ‘experience’ to Korean locals. 

Below is a sampling of the Omi Tea & Botanical curation:

2019 Deokkeum-cha / Green Tea

Tea in its purest, most immediate form. Plucked and crafted entirely by hand from the second flush of the spring season. Harvested only once a year when leaves have their most intense flavor after winter dormancy. Knowing when and how to control the firing process is of utmost importance in finding the balance of the tea. Leaves are triple roasted in an iron caldron. A fresh, mild, and delicate tea with notes of crunchy rice, green apple, and kelp.  

2019 Balhyo-cha / Fermented Tea

A fermented tea unique to Korea. Every tea artisan has their own special recipe for crafting balhyo-cha. An essential step is covering the leaves in cloth to allow reabsorption of their own aromatics to develop the desired flavor profile. This specific balhyo-cha undergoes a prolonged triple oxidation-fermentation process resulting in an amazingly fragrant distinctive tea. Silky and robust with notes of honeysuckle, butternut squash, and dark chocolate.

2019 Maengmundong-cha / Liriope Tuber Tea

A botanical tea made from the tubers attached to the roots of the liriope plant originating from East Asia. Maengmundong is an ingredient used in traditional Korean medicine to treat a sore throat and dry cough. Tubers undergo a short fermentation followed by a double roasting in an iron caldron. A light, sweet, and savory tea with notes of ginseng, kettle corn, and taro. Naturally caffeine-free. 

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ArtAlleys connects consumers to emerging artists in global gallery Tue, 10 Dec 2019 09:35:27 +0000
Industry: Art & Design
Service: E-commerce
Founded: January 2016 in San Francisco, California
Founder: Daniel An
Number of Employees: 20+
Company Overview
Artalleys provides a platform for consumers to buy fine art from rising talents.

How It All Started

Minimalism is in, but a bare wall is just boring. 

Daniel Yonho An, an avid art collector, has been adorning his walls for over 20 years from gallery visits and art festivals. 

He saw a need for those, like him, to easily find cherished pieces that could fill the walls of their home gallery.

Implementing skills developed from his degrees in Master of Fine Arts and PhD in computer science, he set out to create a platform where users could find unique and affordable pieces from talented artists in an online gallery. 

Daniel formed an art curation team in San Francisco and an engineering team in Seoul to create Artalleys, on online art marketplace and platform for buyers and artists. 

What was your vision in creating Artalleys?

I wanted to introduce people to great artists and fine art without breaking the bank. Galleries usually sell their pieces for about $20,000 US. But there’s so much impressive art out there that don’t land in galleries. There are online channels for buying art, but I’ve found that there is a lack of trust when buying through these channels. 

How do you maintain credibility and trust in buying art on Artalleys?

We create profiles for each artist selling on our platform. And we offer a 1-1 chatting system, where the audience can discuss the pieces with the artists directly, similar to how artists showcase their work in traditional galleries. All original art is delivered with the artist’s signature. 

How do you find artists to showcase on Artalleys?

My team does the legwork needed to search out relatively unknown and talented artists by scouring art fairs throughout the world. We select artists and curate artwork ranging in oil paintings, digital art, and limited edition prints.

Challenges Overcome

How has the platform evolved since its first launch?

Artalleys originally integrated craft work from artists throughout remote towns in Asia. However, with our target audience being Americans, we had trouble finding credible artists that could also speak English and interact through online English transactions. We decided to focus on English-speaking artists worldwide and traditional wall art. 

Do you focus mainly on showcasing Asian artists?

Great art is found everywhere, and we’re not limiting Artalleys’ artists to Asia. However, because our office is currently in Seoul, we’ve had the chance to connect with some rising talent in Korea. 

We also recently found an amazing Turkish painter, who had issues with receiving payments from the US. We’re happy that we can find a platform for him to showcase his portfolio and sell his pieces. 

Looking Ahead

Artalleys is continuing to develop their shipping structure, so that the artist doesn’t have to pay the shipping fee. 

They’re also expanding to offline markets by showcasing their curated pieces in art fairs in San Francisco. 

With over 1500 curated pieces currently showcased on Artalleys, they’re looking to expand its selection. However, they don’t want to ‘overwhelm’ the consumer, and are aiming to keep their showcase between 10,000 – 15,000 selections and 5,000 – 7,000 artists. 

“It’s such a joy to stumble upon a great piece of art. Artalleys aims to introduce our audience not only to their next cherished piece, but to the artists’ stories behind its creation.”

Current artists can be viewed and their artwork purchased on

“The First Meeting” (Oil on Canvas) by Jimin Lim
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Strangeland improves technology for over 100 million fanfiction stories Mon, 17 Jun 2019 08:37:31 +0000
Industry: Media & Technology
Service: Collaborative Fan Fiction and Publishing
Founded: July 2018 in Seoul, Korea
Founder: Igori Kim
Number of Employees: 1-5
Company Overview
Strangeland is a fanfiction platform, where users can collaborate in other writers’ stories through story sharepoints – a technological tool developed by Strangeland.
Tel: +82 10 4931 1985

How It All Started

Igori Kim, Founder of Strangeland

Over 6 million stories are contributed on just one popular U.S. fanfiction site by a range of die hard fans of Harry Potter, Selena Gomez, and Naruto.

Whether you’re into literature, celebrities, or anime you’ll find yourself a home and an audience in the fanfiction stratosphere.

Igori Kim reads fanfiction on Russian literature, and seeks out skilled writers who can create plot twists and delve into characters of his favorite novels, mimicking the styles of Nabokov and Tolstoy.

Q: What brought you to Seoul?

Igori: I was born in Khabarovsk, Russia and when I finished university [studied applied mathematics and computer science], I worked as a freelance front end developer. My friends and I were working on projects from cafes, and we wanted to move somewhere. We were thinking between Moscow and Seoul. We chose Seoul because it’s closer to home.

Q: Were those the friends you started Strangeland with?

Igori: Yup. We all read fanfiction from Russia, and we came across a technological problem we wanted to solve.

Q: (Ooh. Intrigued.)  What was the problem?

Igori: Basically the functionality of current fanfiction sites is old and very poor. Fanfiction stories look like a tree. You can take a character and start writing a story. Another writer can join you and start writing the new story. And the whole story looks like a tree with different narratives and twists and turns. 

But there was no functionality for these kinds of actions. Right now, it’s not possible to join existing stories. 

We decided to create this tool for the writers. After one month we created the first version. It was really buggy, but it worked.

Q: How does it work?

Igori: When you start writing you can ask others to join you. We call these “forks” in the story. Writers can create save points, which are important moments in your story like before the characters get married or commit a crime. Writers can create as many sharepoints (forks or save points) for others to join in their story.

Challenges Overcome

Q: What were some challenges in creating “forks” in stories for writers to collaborate?

Igori: It was a good technical challenge for us. Technically it’s hard to create forks and save points. It was a really interesting challenge. We’re continuing to fix many elements in this tool as we test it out.  

Q: What kind of feedback have you been getting from the fanfiction community?

Igori: So far, we’re still in the testing stage. But we know that many writing fans of other fanfiction writers want a process that doesn’t involve copying the story first and continuing on their own from there. They want an easier and more visual process. We also found out that the dream of many fanfiction writers is to get published. So we’re also working on that.

Q: How do you go about publishing your fanfiction writers’ work?

Igori: We’re working on providing their stories as e-books and paper copies. I don’t like electronic books. I believe in printed books. Many others feel the same, but it’s huge process getting it published. 

We’re working through some problems with copyright. And finding high-quality printing. 

We plan to be a platform where users can write and get their final polished product. We’re also giving writers another source of revenue. Fans who love their writing have an option of buying their e-book or printed book. 

Looking Ahead

Q: Do you write fanfiction? What’s its appeal?

Igori: I tried, but I prefer reading it. People don’t want their favorite stories to end. Harry Potter finished, but they want to know more. Another reason for its popularity is that the fanfiction community has no censor. It’s like freedom. You can write what you want. At some point it turns into fiction and not fanfiction. There are a lot of bad stories out there, but sometimes they’re good. I like finding these writers.

Q: What languages will the Strangeland platform provide?

Igori: Right now, we’re focusing on English and Russian because that’s our background. It’s a huge market with over 100 million English and 56 million Russian fanfiction stories. 

Q: When is Strangeland planning to launch?

Igori: We’re sorting through the technical bugs in creating story forks now, and also searching out really good writers to start a foundation for our platform. We’re also nearly finished in sourcing out good machines for our self publication process. At this rate, we hope to launch the second version of the site by the end of summer.

Q: How will Strangeland stand out among the other fanfiction sites?

Igori: We want to build a community of strong writers who can share ideas to inspire each other’s stories, and to validate their writing through publishing. We’re building this with technological functionality, which the other sites don’t yet provide. 

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Ant Commodity Exchange remodels agricultural trade Thu, 13 Jun 2019 20:42:35 +0000
Industry: Technology
Service: Commodity Trading
Founded: March 2018 in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Founder(s): Gayani Sanjeewani, Ananda Piyankara and Nisal Ananda
Number of Employees: 5-10
Company Overview
Ant Commodity Exchange is a B2B platform that connects buyers of agricultural commodities directly with its producers. This online platform brings transparency, efficiency, and technology to a centuries-old market that still relies heavily on traders and brokers. Currently, Ant Commodity farmers are selling Ceylon cinnamon and tea, moringa, and cassava at its local price. This year, the Ant Commodity platform is working on expanding to corn, wheat, soybeans and coffee commodities.
Tel: +82 10 4297 1983
Nisal Ananda and Gayani Sanjeewani, Co-founders of Ant Commodity

How it All Started

When a family business is passed down to the next generation, expectations usually run high for the business to be preserved and expanded. 

Three siblings from Galle, Sri Lanka never intended to take over their father’s cinnamon and tea farm. But when they did, they ended up taking on local agriculture and bringing it to the next level. 

Gayani, and her brothers, Piyankara and Nisal, credit the creation of their company, Ant Commodity Exchange, to their first independent ventures.

Gayani Sanjeewani taught urban planning courses at a local university while founding a company that produced and exported natural rubber.

Ananda Piyankara traded natural rubber, cinnamon and tea, and won entrepreneurial awards at the New York Stock Exchange, Harvard Business School, and Kauffman Foundation for his impact.

And Nisal Ananda, the youngest of their six siblings traded commodities ranging from medicinal herbs to agricultural manufacturing tools. 

Like true entrepreneurs, Gayani, Piyankara, and Nisal saw value in their surroundings and created opportunities with it. 

And these experiences brought them back to their family farm. They saw how much intermediaries profited just by acting as the middlemen, and how that mid step in the trading process contributed to inefficiency and a lack of transparency. 

“We calculated the average profit distribution of the Sri Lankan tea industry last year and the numbers we got were shocking. Of all the profits made, 2% to 9% went to tea farmers, 18% went to tea factories and 73% went to traders and brokers.”

Gayani, Piyankara, and Nisal founded Ant Commodity Exchange to empower the farmers, including their father, to keep more of the profits they produced. 

The first mission of Ant Commodity Exchange was to create a farmer’s collective. Then, they bought processing machines and connected famers within the collective to one community processing center. Finally, they created the online platform for buyers to directly purchase from its producers. 

“The majority of commodity producers in developing countries are small scale farmers who own less than five acres. The important thing is that the farmers themselves operate the farmer groups and processing centers. When the commodities reach the processing centers, that’s when the Ant Commodity platform kicks in to sell to overseas buyers.”

Ant Commodity started with the produce they grew up knowing best, Ceylon cinnamon, which is indigenous to Sri Lanka. 

“Because we streamline and remove the intermediaries from the entire process, the prices Ant Commodity offers to the international market are one of the lowest in the industry.” 

Challenges Overcome

A lot of travel is required running an agricultural business based in Korea while its products originate from Sri Lanka, Malawi, and U.S.A.

Gayani moved to Seoul five years ago to continue her studies in urban planning. Along the way, she married a Korean local, and now calls Korea home. 

Her brother, Nisal, came to Seoul two years ago to support the expansion of Ant Commodity to the Korean market, which required careful adherence to local bylaws and an understanding of the Korean consumer.

“We found producers in Malawi and added moringa to our agricultural product line. Koreans seem to prefer moringa capsules instead of powder. We’re working on adapting to this, but the capsule version has to pass through government regulations first.”

Ant Commodity Exchange is also selling its farmers’ products on Korean platforms such as Coupang. 

“Shifting to Korean preferences, we also had to change the packaging on most of our items. I guess packaging and aesthetics is important here. Once we did this, our sales increased dramatically.”

Looking Ahead

As well as expanding their reach to Korea, Ant Commodity is also expanding its produce and implementing a new fund-investment strategy.

Farmers from Sri Lanka and Malawi are currently selling ground Ceylon cinnamon, Ceylon tea, cassava, and moringa – all which have been hailed as superfoods for its detoxifying elements.

Responding to China’s recent import ban on U.S. wheat, Ant Commodity Exchange is connecting with its network of wheat farmers in Indiana. 

Ant Commodity Exchange has established a commodity fund to raise $200,000 in working capital this year.

“The benefit for contributors is that the fund money will only be utilized to finance against confirmed orders. It’s also a great opportunity to invest in commodities such as Ceylon cinnamon, which is not provided to institutional investors now.”

“And in the long run we would like to see investments coming to our fund from our commodity buyers. This way the buyers will be part of the entire supply chain and will get a good financial return doing that.”

One of their investors is a commodity buyer of Ceylon cinnamon. He travelled to the Sri Lankan farms to better understand his investment and the people at the other end of the trade chain.

Too often, the process of trade and export is compartmentalized, where the original producers are cut off and undercut at the beginning of the process.

Ant Commodity Exchange aims to humanize this process by fixing the antiquated commodity trading industry, starting with one commodity at a time.

Ceylon cinnamon in the Ant Commodity processing center in Galle, Sri Lanka
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