South Korean children are raised to follow the rules and be successful. They study sometimes up to sixteen hours a day, and the pressure to attend college is higher than in almost any other country. University spots are highly competitive, and the wrath of Korean mothers is often motivation enough to work hard and get it. Traditionally, Korean students interested in business would covet the highly stable and prestigious careers at companies like Samsung, Hyundai or LG. In recent years, however, a new interest in internet start-ups has caught hold in the relatively new country, and may break the expectations for young people’s careers. Many young people in Korea hold Mark Zuckerberg among their heroes, and aspire to be the next start-up billionaire.
The government is taking notice of this shift, and President Park Geun-Hye met with Zuckerberg this week to talk about entrepreneurship, something the conservative culture had previously been shy of, mainly to a deep social pressure against failure. Embracing failure is key to successful entrepreneurs, and the new courage among the new generation may be a boon to the economy. Already the president has promised more support for entrepreneurs, making it easier to invest and committing to backing new companies. In the past, failed businesses have been accountable to creditors without insurance or assistance, putting anyone starting a business at very high risk, unlike in the United States, where it is relatively easy to recover from bankruptcy.
This year, the Korean government under the leadership of its first female president, has committed almost $3 billion in funds to support new businesses and indebted entrepreneurs in order to foster a more vibrant start up culture. President Park calls it part of her creative economy policy, hoping to diversify the country’s GDP, 80% of which currently comes from a handful of manufacturing conglomerates.