South Korea’s development during the last half century has been nothing short of spectacular. The country is known for its home grown, highly visual K-pop, which is popular with millions around the globe. Ranked first by the Bloomberg’s Global Innovation Index in 2014, South Korea is also the home of business empires such as Samsung and LG, whose brands are recognized and popular all over the world. When it comes to technology, the country has a lot more to offer than just these two companies – there is a growing amount of startup activity that is showing more and more potential.
In Korea, many people, both young and old, use the latest smartphones and tablets with NFC and camera technology. Wifi and cellular data is reliable and widely accessible. Common barriers to countries adopting bitcoin – such as market penetration of new technologies and smartphone usage – are lower in Korea, making this a promising place for bitcoin and other digital currencies.
Bitcoin, one of the most innovative technologies of the last decade, has also significantly influenced many young and motivated entrepreneurs with startup companies popping up more and more frequently in the past year. Many investments and fund raising by local and international venture capitalists have given Bitcoin a foothold in South Korea. Last year Coinplug, one the biggest exchange and wallet services in the country, had a funding deal worth US$2.5m USD while its biggest competitor, Korbit netted US$3m in series A funding.
Exchanges such as Coinplug, Korbit, Xcoin, Coinone, and Coinpia are operating and competing with transaction fees that are close or equal to zero. But since these exchange platforms are operating with nearly zero fees, it is hard to use their data from any statistical purposes to illustrate bitcoin adoption in Korea. Nonetheless, this competition has motivated these companies to innovate and offer more and better services to their customers.
For instance, Coinplug made bitcoin more accessible by providing 2-way ATMs and is selling bitcoins at 24,000 7-Eleven convenience stores. On top of that, they recently unveiled their collaboration with Nautilus Hyosung – one of the largest ATM manufacturers in Asia – making bitcoin purchasable at 7000 ATMs across the country.
Apart from the bitcoin startup scene and businesses, Korea also has one of the most active Bitcoin communities in Asia. Its largest meetup group, Seoul Bitcoin, welcomes both locals and expats by hosting meetups twice a week with the purpose of educating those who are new to bitcoin and bringing together existing enthusiasts. Seoul Bitcoin recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, where it announced that it has grown to over 400 members in record time. A recent analysis of bitcoin meetups worldwide revealed that the Seoul based community is one of the fastest growing meetups of 2015.
“I believe the key to our growth lies in allowing everyone in the community to contribute. Bitcoin seems to attract some amazingly intelligent and open minded people, and they all want bitcoin to succeed, so it just makes sense to work together.”
Recently in the heart of Seoul, the Bitcoin Center Korea opened its doors. The Center is a bitcoin information center, a community center for meetups, and a co-working space. They’re open daily to the public and welcome anyone interested in bitcoin. The focus of the Center will be on education, as it aims to provide daily tutorials and workshops on various Bitcoin-related topics.
Bitcoin is not fully regulated in Korea as of this date, but the country appears to be open and ready to embrace this amazing new technology. With the great potential of this high-tech country and its active bitcoin community, we should start seeing Korea and Bitcoin more often in the near future.
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