The Georgia Institute of Technology has long enjoyed a friendly relationship with South Korean business and industry. That relationship was furthered strengthened a year ago, when an agency charged with increasing global economic opportunities for Korean companies made the university the location of its U.S. office.
Since that time, the Korea Institute for Advancement of Technology (KIAT) and Georgia Tech have been working hand in hand to create business opportunities for Korean technology firms in Georgia and elsewhere, which in turn could lead to the creation of much-needed jobs for the Georgia and U.S. economies.
KIAT hopes to make Atlanta a bustling center for small- and medium-sized Korean technology companies, a place where they can establish a foothold in the U.S. market, and, through Georgia Tech, receive the research and development, commercialization and logistical support they need to flourish in the states.
Why Georgia Tech?
A division of South Korea’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy, KIAT promotes the R&D of technology in Korea. The agency also seeks to transfer Korean industrial technology overseas and commercialize it in international markets through R&D collaborations between South Korea and other countries. For 2011, KIAT has a $46.6 million budget for such collaborations. KIAT established its U.S. office at Georgia Tech in November 2010. James (Jung-Wook) Kim heads the office.
“My mission is to help KIAT carry out its role of increasing the international competiveness of Korean firms,” Kim says. “KIAT is a cornerstone of Korea’s future as a technology powerhouse, and the U.S. office is here to connect Korean technology with the U.S. market. By embracing Georgia Tech and its research capabilities, we will do just that.”
After considering several universities as the home of its U.S. office, KIAT eventually picked Georgia Tech for three primary reasons, says Carl Rust, director of the Strategic Partners Office, which is part of the school’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2). First, Georgia Tech has a “history of research excellence,” Rust says. Secondly, through EI2 – which helps companies, economic developers and local communities in Georgia improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation – the institute has a “culture of commercialization and entrepreneurship” that appealed to KIAT, Rust adds.
Finally, Georgia Tech is “well connected and integrated” with the state economic development community, Rust notes. The state of Georgia as a whole has a history of friendly relations with the Koreans, which increased Georgia Tech’s appeal as well, Rust added, citing the high concentration of Korean students at Georgia Tech, Kia Motors’ plant in West Point and the number of daily non-stop flights from Seoul to Atlanta.
Working to Break Through
While large Korean companies like Hyundai, Kia Motors and Samsung have enjoyed big success in the United States, KIAT is working to help smaller Korean firms grow by establishing themselves in the United States, Kim explains. To that end, KIAT and Georgia Tech are conducting R&D to help such firms develop and adjust their products for the U.S. market; as an example, Georgia Tech is helping Korean technology firms adapt their semiconductor chips to work with U.S. cell phones, Rust says.
Similarly, KIAT and EI2 are assisting Korean firms as they make decisions about U.S. logistics. Where to fabricate parts, how to set up supply chains and whom to market products and services to are some of the issues that KIAT and EI2 help these companies resolve.
But KIAT’s efforts are not limited to the lab or the spreadsheets. The agency also is in the matchmaking business, looking to introduce Korean firms to potential business partners and markets. For example, at the recent Medtrade show in Atlanta, the agency hosted a series of formal and informal meetings between Korean medical device companies and representatives from U.S. hospitals and research labs.
“If you can get small companies from Korea to come over and meet U.S. companies, that’s a big first step,” Rust says. “That breaks down barriers.”
KIAT also oversees a master’s degree program at Georgia Tech for Koreans in which each student receives a Master of Science degree and a Master of Technology certificate. The students take the graduate classes with just their fellow Koreans to foster a sense of community. Forty Koreans currently are enrolled in the program.
KIAT continues to aggressively seek opportunities for Korean companies to establish and expand their U.S. presence. Kim says its long-term goal is to make Atlanta a “landing spot” for Korean firms, a place where they can begin to build operations in the United States while enjoying the cultural and moral support of a strong Korean community and the R&D and logistical support of Georgia Tech.
“The idea is to make Atlanta a place where Korean companies can come to and things are smooth – where there are people like them and people who accept them,” he says. “The goal is to give them a little bit of Korean community as they begin to operate in the U.S.”
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Writer: Stephen Ursery