Why the time is now for UK tech scaleups to enter Korea

Blog published by Intralink, under 5G, Artificial Intelligence / Machine learning, Business Development, Semiconductor Devices

Narai Kim from Intralink's Seoul office deep-dives into why South Korea is currently a key market to target for UK tech companies, following the Korean President's trip to London.

The visit of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to London at the end of 2023 has sparked great interest among UK tech scaleups in the rapidly growing Korean market.

With the support of the government-sponsored UK-APAC Tech Growth Programme, British scaleups are in a strong position to venture into the Korean market. And, if they have the right products, they will find a vibrant business ecosystem full of commercial opportunities.

President Yoon speaks with British ministers at Mansion House, London

Seal of approval

President Yoon and First Lady Kim Keon Hee undertook their state visit at the invitation of HM King Charles III and spent several days meeting top government officials and industry leaders. The UK also hosted 50 senior executives from Korea’s largest tech companies, looking for opportunities to collaborate with the UK’s foremost innovators.

Our CEO, Greg Sutch, was invited to the UK-Korea Business Forum during the visit. “It was an impressive gathering of the best of Korea. The CEOs of all the top Korean chaebol were in the room – representatives of more than half of Korea’s GDP! It was a powerful way to underline the importance of the relationship between the UK and Korea,” said Greg.

Indeed, the UK has much to offer Korea – and vice versa. And the opportunities in Korea are fueled by a tech-savvy population, consistently strong government support and a thriving innovation ecosystem.

Martin Kent, HM Trade Commissioner for Asia Pacific, summed it up this way: “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.”

Kemi Badenoch, Secretary of State for Business and Trade, speaks to Korean chaebol executives

From lab to market

Korea has not been shy about its ambitions to lead the world in a number of 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 is there to provide tools, processes, equipment and expertise.

Every day, I witness Korean conglomerates’ openness to adopt innovative technologies from abroad, including the UK. And, thanks to the presidential visit to London and the Korean government-led publicity around it, this tendency has only accelerated.

The synergies are hard to miss. 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), we’re deeply involved in promoting opportunities for collaboration across five key areas: AI, quantum tech, engineering biology, semiconductors and future telecoms.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the trends and commercial opportunities - accessible today! – that my colleagues and I here in Seoul have identified as key for UK innovators:

Hottest tech areas in Korea

Artificial Intelligence

Trends and Initiatives: 

  • World's first hyper-scale Al for the government 
  • Korea New Deal and huge commitment to DNA industry 
  • HyperClover X - launched by Naver (nearly £800mn invested) 
  • Companies like Naver, SK Telecom, LGE, Kakao breaking into new sectors (e.g. semicon, biohealth and mobility) using AI


  • Government plan to nurture 1,000 Al-companies 
  • Corporate Al take-up rate 50% by 2027 – but solutions needed to keep up the pace 
  • Cyber security, authentication, bio and digital health, patent/legal tech and outsourced Al research 

Quantum technologies

Trends and Initiatives:

  • Aim to become a global hub for the quantum economy by 2035 
  • Investment of £1.8bn by government and private sector to catch up with current leaders by 2035 
  • Aims to develop a qubit-based quantum computer by 2031 


  • Testing and verification facilities for quantum components and equipment 
  • Bridging the photonics (quantum lasers & sensors) research gap 
  • Developing quantum infrastructure for communications 

Engineering biology

Trends and Initiatives:

  • The Bio Economy 2.0 Initiative: Korea's bio economy production to reach £60bn and export value £40bn by 2030 
  • CJ CheilJedang launching Korea's first biofoundry  


  • Antibody and vaccine production 
  • Microbial engineering
  • Degradable packaging
  • Digital breeding 



Trends and Initiatives:

  • 70% global share in memory chips (40% Samsung, 30% SK Hynix) 
  • Multiple int'l partnerships with Google, Qualcomm, Tesla  
  • Korean Chips Act to secure more local design, fabrication and packaging – Samsung alone investing £180bn in the semiconductor cluster over 20 years 
  • Over £500mn investment in Al chips 
  • Samsung now a strategic investor in Arm 


  • Logic chip design services 
  • Compound semiconductors for photonics and advanced sensing 

Future telecoms

Trends and Initiatives:

  • 6G Forum initiated in May 2023 but still looking for “the killer app” 
  • 25.9% of worldwide 5G patents in 2022, second only to China (26.8%) 
  • Non-telecoms companies allowed to build 5G networks 


  • Aiming to launch first 6G service but much cross-border collaboration still needed 
  • Solving energy efficiency, quantum security aspects of 6G 


And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

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.

OK, but how?

Being aware of cross-border opportunities is one thing. Developing them is another.

Yes, Korean businesses want the right UK technologies – which is great news.

And, as a British startup, 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 extremely complex. Not only do you need to engage the right companies, but it has to be the right departments, at the right seniority level, at the right time, and in the right place.

Then there are the language barriers, cultural differences and physical distance – topics which colleagues and I explored in detail during our recent workshop. That’s why we find having someone on the ground to represent and advise you is so crucial.

But there is a simple, accessible solution. The UK-APAC Tech Growth Programme provides subsidised, tailored support for companies on their expansion journeys in Korea and the rest of Asia Pacific. These range from one-on-one consultations, all the way to full-blown, on-the-ground business development initiatives (for which you can apply right away!).

Companies we’ve helped so far in Korea include:

  • CausaLens, a pioneering UK startup in the field of causal AI, for whom we generated a pipeline of qualified leads and secured PoCs with LG AI and Amorepacific Corporation
  • SatVu, a London-based satellite image analytics company, whom we put in front of Korea’s notoriously-secretive aerospace and defence companies, including Hanwha Corporation
  • About:Energy, a British developer of battery simulation software tools, for whom we’re assessing partners amongst Korea’s battery OEMs, EV makers and battery tech R&D institutes

The UK and South Korea are set to enter a new era of collaboration

Don’t sleep on it

To sum up, the 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.

There are also tools that you can pick up and start using today at no or minimum cost – like the support services within the UK-APAC Tech Growth Programme.

If you’ve been on the fence so far, perhaps now’s the time to expand in Korea.


For more information and to apply to join the UK-APAC Tech Growth Programme, visit www.intralinkgroup.com/tgp

You can also contact our programme manager, Tom Miller, at tom.miller@intralinkgroup.com

And if you’re curious about any aspects of the Korean market, feel free to ping Narai Kim at narai.kim@intralinkgroup.com

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