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To keep member countries abreast of current trends in government strategies and policies for developing small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) along with the Korea Productivity Center (KPC) organized a multicountry observational study mission (OSM) on SME Development in Seoul, 10–14 September 2018. The study mission also focused on nurturing startups and entrepreneurs whose momentum for innovation has been a major source of sustainable economic growth in member countries.
The economy of the Republic of Korea (ROK) is characterized by the dominance of gigantic industrial conglomerates; nonetheless, since the 1970s, the ROK has also been leveraging the impetus of SMEs through various policy initiatives and assistance programs to support employment and exports in all sectors.
Targeting the innovation capacity of SMEs and startups in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the ROK upgraded its previous SME authority in 2017 and incorporated a number of policy arms, venture funds, and technological innovation hubs under the new Ministry of SMEs and Startups. The restructuring is expected to strengthen the competiveness of SMEs, incubate innovation and entrepreneurship, and improve employment conditions, especially for the youth.
The APO OSM aimed to provide other member economies with an opportunity to observe the ROK’s initiatives and how the strategies were helping SMEs and startups while providing references and benchmarking from the Republic of China and Singapore, which are renowned for their support to SMEs. It was attended by 15 participants from 12 APO member countries.
The five-day OSM was inaugurated by KPC International Cooperation Director Taiho Kang, while APO Secretariat Industry Department Program Officer Ta-Te Yang welcomed the participants. It was conducted by international experts: Kerydh Private Limited Managing Director Kim Peng Foo from Singapore; College of Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Dean Professor Hank Ching-Yao Huang from National Chiao Tung University of the ROC; and two Korean experts, Yoon and Yang Senior Advisor Dong-Sun Kim and Pygmalion Global CEO David Sehyeon Baek.
The study mission demonstrated the current trends in supporting startups and entrepreneurs as a development strategy in addition to traditional assistance to SMEs. It also reviewed the practices and policy programs of the ROC, ROK, and Singapore, where practical support for innovation incubation and acceleration has been a priority strategy for long-term growth.
During the OSM, the delegates visited the ROK’s Small and Medium Business Corporation to observe the country’s comprehensive support offered to SMEs, including various programs for financing, marketing, capacity building, and technical assistance. They also visited government-owned and privately run incubators and accelerators, the Gyeonggi Center for Creative Economy and Innovation and D. CAMP. They had the opportunity to learn how the ROK government supports ICT startups with its K-Startup Grand Challenge project. In addition, the delegates attended seminars of the ASEAN-Korea Startup Week where strategies from several Asian countries for attracting ICT startups were shared.
Promoting the development of SMEs is a core element of the APO’s mandate and one of its strategic directions. The APO has been organizing a variety of activities focusing on SMEs, including bilateral capacity building in Cambodia, the ROK, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Mongolia, and Singapore as well as workshops in IR Iran and Nepal and study missions in the ROC, IR Iran, Japan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.