A Word from Last Year's Winners
Co-hosted by UN ESCAP, WFUNA, UNDP, and Seoul Metropolitan Government, the 2017 Citypreneurs startup competition drew applications from 146 different startups hailing from 46 countries to help solve urban problems in Seoul under the themes of health tech, education tech, and transportation/environment tech.
After several rounds of pitching and a 3.5-week incubator program, 3 of our 30 finalists claimed the top spots in the competition thanks to their competitive and groundbreaking business models, and have gone on to achieve additional milestones in their startup journeys.
Taking the Grand Prize was DoBrain, a company driven to help educate children with learning difficulties from underserved communities. Their app contains a constantly updated stream of educational activities designed to enhance cognitive development through interaction. The digital delivery method of cognitive training is much more affordable than current alternatives for children with cognitive development challenges. DoBrain was awarded 10 million Korean won prizemoney and received 20 million Korean won in seed funding with an additional 500,000 USD research grant from the Korean government. DoBrain was approached by multiple outlets for private investment leading up to the Citypreneurs Demo Day last December.
Winning the First Prizes were EIDware and LIBERTY. Both were awarded 7 million Korean won prize money. They also showcased their businesses at various conferences such as the BIXPO Smart Cities Conference and the D3 Impact Night Gobal Impact Investment Forum. As a direct result of winning Citypreneurs, EIDware and LIBERTY secured partnerships with clients such as Samsung Electronics, Kepco (Korea Electric Power Corporation), and local city governments.
EIDware develops voice recognition software tailored for non-mainstream users such as the disabled, children, and the elderly. Their app, soundmind, is designed to help pre-dementia patients with daily tasks. Users complete brain training exercises to maintain a sound state of mind. Progress is carefully monitored by the app and used to create a personalized curriculum to suit a particular user’s needs. Citypreneurs branding was particularly effective in helping EIDware get contracts with various telecommunications companies.
LIBERTY designs innovative wind turbines with the dual mission of generating green energy while decreasing urban air pollution. The turbines are attached vertically to buildings to use natural updrafts and recycled air to generate renewable energy. Compared to traditional wind turbines, this product is not only more efficient and cheaper to produce, it also works silently and can attach to a variety of buildings. The startup team is currently working on developing prototypes of wind turbines with Kepco that can function in different local contexts. An interview with LIBERTY was featured on Arirang TV and the company also won the Excellence Award in the Youth Startup Contest hosted by Korea Western Power.
We caught up with representatives of the three companies this month and interviewed them to see how winning last year’s Citypreneurs competition helped the development of their businesses. Representing Dobrain was CEO Yejin Choi. Representing EIDware is CEO Daejin Shin. Finally, representing LIBERTY is CEO Jenis Lee. The three interviews are edited and compiled into one transcript below for your convenience.
What’s the story behind your startup? What goal did you hope to achieve?
DoBrain: While working as a volunteer, I met many children with cognitive development disorders such as North Korean defectors who had hidden in China for three years before settling in South Korea. When we took these children to receive treatment at hospitals, all the treatment programs felt too expensive, outdated, and uncomfortable for them. From that point on, I pledged to make my own program, not for profit, but for the betterment of children worldwide in similar situations. Our business will help create the future by intervening in children’s underdevelopment from a very early age. We believe inequalities in opportunities for treatment and education at such an early age exacerbates income inequality and impacts well-being later in life. Through our story-telling approach, DoBrain is destined to be the most effective treatment for cognitively delayed children in the short-run, and one of the most powerful promoters of equality in the long-run.
EIDware: EIDware essentially got its start from a group of voice recognition software developers. To stand out from the field of voice recognition software, we decided to focus on serving age groups outside of the typical target of 18-40. From there, the app soundmind was developed to aid the elderly suffering from cognitive developmental disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. EIDware is beneficial to pre-dementia patients and other older adults because it replaces typical pencil-and paper-based treatments with voice recognition programs on a smart device. It also has a more flexible platform, allowing content to be modified to suit global cultural needs. In order to reach global markets, EIDware is preparing its core programs for various world regions and dialects.
LIBERTY: Before starting my own business, I thought long about what I should really set out to accomplish, and what came to me was to improve the quality of human life. LIBERTY had the potential to develop a wind turbine designed specifically for cities that solves both environmental and energy problems. We can promote our business with pride because we supply sustainable energy sources. In the near future, energy and electricity can become a type of environmental currency that people can buy and sell. LIBERTY's goal is to become a global energy platform used by each and every building to self-generate its own energy. For now, Asia is a good testing ground for our product since tall skyscrapers are prevalent in its cities.
Which social problems were you trying to solve by creating your company? Why do you think the method you developed is helpful for solving that problem?