Recently, I had the opportunity to visit South Korea and meet with tech transfer leaders and emerging companies looking to expand to the US market…not to mention stumbling upon a city hall concert by Korean rapper PSY for 80,000 of his frenzied fans. More on that later. Prior to my visit, Larta Institute led a weeklong training program in LA for 43 delegates from Korean R&D centers and IP/commercialization leaders. Their west coast tour also included a San Diego component led by Global Connect and UCSD’s von Liebig Center.

Like other countries with an impressive research base, Korea has sought to both maximize the value of its patent pool and actively pursue methods to support startups and internationalization of its most promising ventures. Several of the teams advanced ideas to develop local incubators or mentorship programs similar to the ones they observed in Southern California. In Korea, most incubators are government-supported in some way and once a fixed process is set up within an incubator, it is difficult to bolt-on new resources like a mentor component. Even if this is overcome, it remains a challenge to nurture and develop a cadre of local mentors with the right motivations and background that can drive an enterprise forward. It can be done, but it takes time. The discussion came around to a model of a local node that incorporates distributed networks of experts from around the world, injecting those inputs wherever they may be located. This model enables an innovator to meaningfully connect with a mentor outside the region to help them gauge customer needs and tap channel partnerships across the globe, and craft a commercial market entry strategy.

This is something we have been pursuing with passion at Larta Institute. Developing a mentor team and industry partners to support innovators on a virtual and personal basis. What the Korean teams were describing was what we call a Network-Centric model. It does not happen overnight and requires a long-term view to set the necessary conditions and trusted networks in place, but we have seen merit to this approach, both in our US practice for agencies like NIH and NSF and for global partners in Malaysia. The long-term view is important, which brings us all back to lessons from Gangnam style. Standing there in the midst of the crowd getting ready for the “horse dance”, several folks said that PSY had been a fixture on the local scene for over a decade, way before his sudden fame, mostly known as the “bizarre singer”—setting the conditions in place, with a long-term view, for his later stratospheric rise courtesy of YouTube.