HAVE YOU ever run into Yon-la-din, a second-hand book market, to buy your textbooks as cheap as possible? Or do you remember looking for a Facebook post to buy some tattoo stickers for Yonsei University’s annual Yon-ko games? Both of these services are provided by YStartups, a startup established by a group of Yonseians and one of the many student teams assisted by the Yonsei Enterprise Support Foundation (YESF). With a recognition of the students’ passion, innovation, and independence in the startup industry, the YESF is an accelerator for Yonseians’ venture businesses. From the initial stages of solidifying ideas to commercializing them, here is how the YESF provides a concrete base for startups.
The YESF’s visions and goals
First established in 1998 with the goal of nurturing venture companies, the YESF continues its role of promoting Yonseians’ startups. In an interview with The Yonsei Annals, the YESF’s Team Manager, Park So-young, said that the YESF’s goal is to establish a complementary relationship with student startups. It hopes to create a virtuous cycle of promoting a student startup venture into a sustainable business, which in turn, can contribute back to the YESF for its support of other teams. Based on its experience of promoting a wide range of student startups, the YESF expects to set an example as an accelerator of startups for other universities in Korea to follow. As its long-term vision, it plans to develop a sustainable framework for the Korean startup industry and even hopes to extend its reach beyond the borders as a global hub for startups.
The YESF’s projects: how can Yonseians benefit from them?
The YESF provides a diverse range of support to students who are either preparing for or who have already established a startup business. The most basic support it offers is the extension of the students’ leave of absence, allowing future entrepreneurs to focus on their business without the added stress of schoolwork. The YESF also awards scholarships based on a mileage system, in which students can collect “venture points” by taking startup curriculums and participating in diverse activities provided by the YESF. Apart from such logistical support, the YESF also provides Yonseians with a broader range of opportunities through the following programs:
1. Yonsei Startup Challenge
As its name suggests, this program aims to select student teams with an “infinite passion for [their] startup.” Here, the YESF abandons the conventional evaluation standards that are based on the team’s business plans and their feasibility. Instead, it adopts a new approach by focusing on the team’s passion in three categories: the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)’s competence, the teamwork of the group, and the originality of ideas. However, according to Park, the YESF recognized that many teams struggle when putting their ideas into action due to their lack of technical knowledge. Because of this, the YESF collaborates with students from the Department of Computer Science, who serve as technical developers in the startup teams.
2. Startup Camp
The “Startup Camp” is a one-day long program designed to spark interest in startups. According to Park, the YESF’s main focus in this program is to nurture new startup ventures from Yonsei University instead of supporting ones that already exist. The program starts with a test called the Brain Orientation and Suitability Index (BOSI)—a meta-cognitive personality aptitude test. Based on the participants’ BOSI assessments, the YESF gives detailed suggestions on the types of business industries fit for them and the ideal types of teammates. The YESF then assigns the students into teams so that they can develop a business model. At the end of the camp, the team’s success rate is evaluated by the YESF.
However, according to Park, the YESF found limits to building an ideal team solely based on the results of the BOSI assessment. “Our method ensured maximum compatibility among the teammates; yet, we failed to take the participants’ different backgrounds and skills into consideration,” remarked Park. The YESF now plans to develop a more reliable technique for building an optimal team to ensure that the students get the most out of the camp.
3. Student Venture Center
In the “Student Venture Center,” the YESF takes its support beyond the realm of spurring Yonseians’ interests in startups to providing practical support for student startups. The YESF selects 50 startup teams per year based on the three standards mentioned before—CEO, teamwork, and ideas. It provides each team with an office space, which ultimately lessens the economic burdens placed on new businesses. Lee Ju-hyeong (Jr., School of Business), the CEO of YStartups, explained that its projects ran more smoothly thanks to the YESF’s supply of an office space that became its headquarters. “We needed a long-term space to store our supplies of books, stickers, and other goods. We didn’t have to worry about the economic costs anymore, because the YESF was there to support us,” said Lee.
The YESF also hosts regular conferences with the 50 teams in the “Student Venture Center” to present each team’s business status and accomplishments, share feedback, and get insights from successful CEOs invited by the YESF. “By participating in the regular conferences, YStartups could improve through the constructive feedback we received from our fellow startup teams and business experts,” Lee said.
The YESF’s future plans: what can Yonseians expect?
As student startups expand their reach beyond the university, the YESF is recognizing how they often lack legal knowledge and access to appropriate services. To connect the startups with legal representatives, the YESF kicked off 2019 by announcing its partnership with a law firm, Logos. Kim Moo-kyum, a representative lawyer from Logos, commented, “I believe that the breakthrough from Korea’s slowing economic development lies within venture businesses. Logos found the YESF playing a major role in leading that breakthrough and will support its causes with our resources.” The partnership between the YESF and Logos will mainly focus on providing legal education and consultations—both preventive and remedial—to student startup teams.
Likewise, the YESF also plans to use its network with other organizations, such as accounting firms and patent offices, in their support of student venture businesses. “We want to utilize the networks that we have been establishing for the past few years and bridge the students with these parties to receive direct help,” explained Park.
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“I believe it is more natural for us to build our own businesses instead of seeking jobs at large corporations to chase our dreams,” said Lee. As risky and challenging as it may seem, the startup industry is also filled with opportunities and innovation. Given the YESF’s thorough support system from idea examination to business development, taking the challenge and starting up your own business may no longer be such a risk.