South Korea – a land of opportunity for UK tech?

In this article, Narai Kim, Director of Intralink Korea, highlights the opportunities for tech scaleups in South Korea and how a new government programme can support them.


The visit of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to London in late 2023 highlighted the opportunity for UK tech scaleups in the rapidly growing Korean market. With the right products, they will find a vibrant business ecosystem full of commercial opportunities – and they can get free and subsidised support from the government-sponsored UK-APAC Tech Growth Programme.

Opportunities for UK tech in Korea are fuelled by a tech-savvy population, consistently strong government support and a thriving innovation ecosystem. The country is clear about its ambitions to lead the world in strategically selected high-tech verticals – and its influence can be felt from early-stage research to the roll-out of market-ready products. The great news is that this fits particularly well with the UK’s innovative R&D base.

Where Korean industrial conglomerates build hydrogen plants, UK innovators are there to provide the underlying science and components. Where Korea excels in semiconductor manufacturing and materials science, the UK can provide tools, processes, equipment and expertise.

Every day, I witness Korean conglomerates’ openness to adopt innovative technologies from abroad, including the UK. Working closely on the ground with the British Embassy in Seoul, as well as the UK’s Departments for Business & Trade (BDT) and for Science, Innovation & Technology (DSIT), the synergies are hard to miss and there are particular opportunities for collaboration across five key areas: AI, quantum tech, engineering biology, semiconductors and future telecoms.

Both the UK and the Korean governments are committed to making cross-border collaboration between the two tech powerhouses as easy as possible – with commercialisation the ultimate goal, no matter how new the technology, solution or application.

However, being aware of cross-border opportunities is one thing. Developing them is another. It’s good to think of Korean conglomerates more as partners than customers. Teaming up with them can be a highly strategic move to boost your innovation, open new markets and attract investment.

But collaborating with a Korean business which complements your strengths to develop a technology or roll out a new product can be complex. Not only do you need to engage the right companies, but you have to engage the right departments, at the right seniority level, at the right time, and in the right place.

Plus, there are language barriers, cultural differences and physical distance so, having someone on the ground to represent and advise you is crucial.

So, do take advantage of the support offered by the UK-APAC Tech Growth Programme. It has already helped a number of tech scaleups on their expansion journeys into Korea and the rest of the Asia Pacific region and can offer tailored services ranging from one-on-one consultations, all the way to full-blown, on-the-ground business development initiatives.

Opportunities for UK and Korean businesses to collaborate abound, there’s a push-and-pull between innovators and large corporates, and both governments are eager to facilitate dialogue and growth.

Martin Kent, HM Trade Commissioner for Asia Pacific, said recently: “Trade between the UK and South Korea is already worth more than £16 billion annually. As South Korea’s import market is projected to grow a further 45% by 2035, it will become an increasingly important market for UK businesses.

“To add further impetus to the relationship, we are negotiating an upgraded Free Trade Agreement – including a chapter on digital goods and services – to give UK tech companies even greater access to commercial opportunities in South Korea.”

If you’ve been on the fence so far, perhaps now’s the time to get off and expand into Korea.