One of my alerts today brought news of a Forbes article with the headline, "Is Jeju Korea's Answer to Silicon Valley?" The article caught my attention for several reasons. Yesterday I met in Seoul with the former Assistant Mayor and CIO of the city, with whom I'm writing a paper on Korea's "Smart Cities" for next year's Pacific Telecommunications Council conference. More immediately, I'm preparing a panel presentation on the topic of "innovation clusters in the creative economy" for a September international conference here in Daejon. Finally, Korea is a highly urbanized country and the role of cities and urban areas in the growth of the nation's information society has long been a topic of interest.
The Forbes article, while it has a catchy title, doesn't quite fit with realities on the ground in Korea. For one thing, Silicon Valley not only grew up in an urban area, but it is home to many large companies, a host of research organizations and several leading universities with Stanford topping the list. Although Daum has relocated to Jeju, it is unlikely to be followed by a large number of other Korean companies. Seoul is still the preferred location for corporate headquarters and for the nation's top universities. A second reason Jeju is unlikely to become Korea's Silicon Valley is that there are already competing innovation clusters that might lay claim to the title. At the top of the list is the Daedok Innopolis right here in Daejon, the largest of several such clusters being nurtured by the national and local governments. Daejon is home to KAIST, Korea's leading science and technology university, along with several other national and regional universities. Although KAIST is more frequently compared with MIT, it has an historical connection to Stanford University which nurtured Silicon Valley. Daedok is home to hundreds of government and corporate research centers. Furthermore, those not familiar with Korea who might read this should consider that Daejon is only a comfortable one-hour train ride to the center of Seoul via the KTX high speed rail service, making it in some ways an outer suburb of the city.
According to the Forbes article,the proportion of the nation's venture capital that goes to Seoul-based startups has been increasing annually from 64.2% in 2009 to 72.4% in 2012, while Jeju received a paltry 1.6% last year.