The size of South Korea may only be around 100,000 square kilometers (that’s only 20% the size of California), but its efforts to integrate blockchain into the country is substantial. The second half of 2018 alone saw 4 different regions in the nation declaring intentions to become “blockchain hubs.” Some of these projects also include the involvement of ICON DApps, namely weBloc and Blue Whale Foundation. Due to both blockchain and hub currently being buzzwords, it’s hard to know exactly what these cities will be like, but let’s take a look at what we do know.
Back in August, the governor of Jeju Island formally requested to the central government that they designate the island as a “special zone for blockchain and cryptocurrency.” As Amy Dang and others have covered, ICOs are currently banned in Korea.
“Blockchain can cut costs, provide stable transactions and essentially has the potential to become a game changer that could alter the ecosystem of the internet platform industry,” Governor Won Hee-ryong said of the technology.
weBloc, an ICON DApp, was one of the first to react to the news and established a corporation in the popular holiday destination by October. The decision to open an office there was based on the positive discussions that the company had had with the government officials there.
We caught up with them to see how they were doing on the island.
“At the moment, weBloc Asia is trying to develop services based in Jeju and having lots of conversation with the Jeju government in terms of collaboration including attracting investment. […] The team is trying to launch a local-based advertising service within the first quarter of next year,” said Wusic We, the CSO of weBloc.
The team is also in talks with “many blockchain companies including Airbloc and Carry Protocol to come up with Jeju-based businesses.”
To other teams considering establishing an office in the island, weBloc only has favorable views for the future.
“The Jeju government is running the Jeju Blockchain Sandbox Project […] to support blockchain companies to do business in Jeju and to nurture the industry and plans to develop a Sandbox Model for blockchain projects. As the ‘Law for Sandbox on Financial Regulation’ was passed in the National Assembly, we have high hopes on a positive result.”
Another partnership between an ICON DApp and a local government to promote blockchain is the one with Blue Whale Foundation and the Incheon Free Economic Zone Authority (IFEZ). The two groups just signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to support future research and development collaborations for Songdo International Business District as a blockchain hub city.
Originally established as a “smart city,” Songdo has been in the news frequently in recent years for its inability to live up to its $40 billion promise. Blue Whale Foundation’s plan is to “initiate sandbox regulations and establish a research-based community for blockchain and blockchain-related startups, incubators, and shared offices at Songdo International Business District.” This is not IFEZ’s first foray into blockchain; it included a section dedicated to the technology under the Key Attraction Sectors in its Free Economic Zone Plan earlier this year. We’ll have to wait and see if this new collaboration will change anything in a city most often described as a “ghost town.”
The government of Gyeongbuk province launched a “Blockchain Special Committee” (link in Korean*) last month with the goal of creating a blockchain hub. The province, also known as North Gyeongsang, kicked off its initiative by sending a team to crypto-haven Zug, Switzerland for the purpose of benchmarking. They have invited 40 industry experts to consult on the new project. Some of those include foreign blockchain connoisseurs such as controversial Bitcoin Foundation Director Brock Pierce and Alliance for Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare Co-founder Annastasiah Mhaka as well as domestic figures like POSTECH Blockchain Research Center Chief Seongho Han, who will co-chair the committee along with Gyeongbuk vice governor Woo Hyun Jeon.
The eastern province’s latest proposal furthered its existing journey into blockchain. The province also announced that it would issue its own local cryptocurrency called Gyeongbuk Coin back in August. The coin aims to replace their current gift card system for merchants, called ‘Hometown Love Gift Cards.’ The process of launching the cryptocurrency is still in development, and there have been no major updates since the initial announcement.
You didn’t think we would compile a list of blockchain hotspots in Korea without mentioning Seoul, did you? Seoul mayor Won-soon Park stated plans to make the city into a mega hub for the industry when he was in Zug this past October. The metropolitan government unveiled its five-year plan to promote blockchain that includes the creation of business complexes and startup funds. The city will devote 60.3 billion won ($54M) by 2021 to building two business complexes in the city to house 200 blockchain-related companies. Within those complexes, the government plans to have training centers that will cultivate 730 experts in the field over the next five years. The city also plans to create a public-private blockchain startup investment fund of 100 billion won ($90M), of which the city will supply 13.6 billion won ($12M).
The country of South Korea as a whole has been a blockchain adoption trailblazer. The national government ruled to increase the federal budget for blockchain development to $35 million next year, a three-fold increase from this year. Though financial investment is an important factor, we know that proper execution is absolutely critical for mass adoption. For that component, we can only wait and to see what will happen.