3D Printing and Future Trends from Korea’s Startup Ecosystem

This article was written by Adam O’Neill, Co-Founder at Asia Advisory – Building people to people links across Asia

3D Printing in abundance

One of the most surprising facilities present in almost every incubator we visited was the abundance of 3D printing technology available in the Korean start-ups. Almost every incubator we visited had some type of 3D printing technology available along with a number of example prototypes. From what we were told the Korean government strongly believes in the future of 3D printing technology and believes the range of applications need to be adopted by start-ups. During our site visits, we saw a varying range of prototypes from a replica human hand, sports shoes, mechanical parts such as a motorcycle clutch, and even a section of 3D printed human backbone.

 So here are some of Korea’s Top 10 Design trends for 2019:

  1. A play on the concept: Funcept = Fun + Concept, Showcept = Show + Concept, Roughcept = Rough + Concept which satisfies what has been labelled as the “floating generation” who are gratified by an instant culture and enjoy light and fun messaging.
  2. We’re all invited to the “Cell Market” where Consumers sell their talents. For example, people can easily grow their own online shopping mall. There is also a personal market which is a type of “Pro-bono” platform or an amount of influence which is not paid for. Due to the rapid development of social networking services we have all started to expand our sphere of influencers. Now, these influencers are direct selling to customers via their online platforms.
  3. Going “New-to” Looking for newness from the old. Where trendsetters are looking for a retro replica type of look. For example, Pro-Specs shoes.
  4. Green Survival – Environmentally friendly is not an option but now an essential. From eco-friendly to eco-necessary. Especially with the hot trending issues in Korea now such as Microdust, the use of plastics, and animal rights. Upcycling brands, brands producing products from recycled materials and without animal testing. Premium products such as Frietag which are made from recycled plastics and materials
  5. You are my Proxy Emotion – Emotion advocate please take care of my heart. Observational programs for television/online are in high demand. For example, Hyori’s Bed & Breakfast. The program about a former K-Pop star who has left the industry to lead a simple life operating a bed & breakfast on Jeju Island. There is a sense that people now need an intermediary, someone to help guide them. The services that touch on people’s emotions and the related industries will increase. The “Maybe generation” cannot easily make their own decisions but are turning to their proxy emotional influencers.


  1. Data Intelligence: From AI to DI the paradigm of decision making evolves. (Dacision = Data + Decision) Obtaining personal data and keeping track of personal consumption patterns with data is a hot topic in the marketing industry. For example, Skin analysis for beauty products. Logging info on customers and using it to provide tailored product recommendations.
  2. Rebirth of Space: The Transformation of space. Architecture and renovation. Creating space for experiential marketing. Spaces are now striving to be flexible. The Offline retail industry is facing a crisis. Experience Marketing and flexible content is the new norm. For example, Digital Art Museums housed in spaces of renovated architecture
  3. Emerging “Millennial Family” These are the pickiest customers, more than ever before. The Millennials have never experienced total poverty or significantly bad life events, but they often feel a sense of depravity. They live in a world of Robot vacuums, dishwashers and dryers. They have a strong request for services. They need people to support “me”. Personal Happiness is by far the most important thing. For example, living in a smaller apartment and driving a compact car.
  4. As being myself. “I love myself on my own standards” People are concentrating on themselves. Recovering self-esteem and setting standards for themselves. Ugly Chic; protesting against the beauty industry. The “taking off the corset” moment.
  5. Manners Maketh the consumer. The younger generation is rising up against the social and hierarchical norms of the culture. No more bosses being bossy. They feel a sense of need, protection from emotional labour. The fact that unfair treatment is rising to the surface and is now becoming a publicly discussed issue. For example, the new government-led working restrictions to 52 hours a week. The “smiling mask” syndrome is becoming frowned upon. Other social taboos include no-shows and cancelling at the last minute. These common problems are being eliminated by various means such as restaurants charging customers deposit fees if they don’t turn up.

What’s Next?

If you are considering taking your start-up to Korea I’d strongly recommend getting some time over in the market. Take a week to go and visit the spaces, talk to the locals, talk to other foreign start-up founders, start to build your network. We’re even happy to make some introductions if you like. Please email adam@asiaadvisory.co for more information.

In terms of timing, there will be further Seoul Startup Hub market access programs with dates to be advised. The other milestone worth aiming for is the K-Startup Grand Challenge which opens up applications between May-June with successful participants joining August – November.

Hopefully this article has been helpful. Please take a few moments to have a look at our other articles on the Korean Startup Ecosystem

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