The establishment of the Gyeongnam investment agency which will be in charge of attracting investment in Gyeongsangnam-do goes smoothly. Among the major appointments that would lead the Gyeongnam investment agency, such as Man-gu Kang, the first, new head of the commission and Yong-Hee Jeon, the head of the domestic attraction team, Mi-ran Kim, who was appointed as the head of the overseas attraction team, is noticeable. This is because she not only actively led the female CEO’s enterprise activity in the region, but also showed off her unrivaled performance as a leader who embraces and leads all the talented people. After participating in the APEC(Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) as a representative of Korea and winning the grand prix award, the highest award, she was selected as the first judge for the Korean representative of the APEC BEST Award among female entrepreneurs in Daegu, and as the Korean representative of the World female leader meeting, G100 which shares information and know-how as a successful female business person. You can feel her sincerity in each step as well as the footsteps of each achievement. From Comma & Exclamation Mark Co. Ltd., which has been established to cheer women of career interruption for their rechallenge, and K-WEL which has been established with female CEOs for vitalization of regional investment circumstances to the head of the overseas attraction team in Gyeongnam investment agency, there are many reasons to expect the story that would be unfolded by her who has shown a wide range of activity area, and inner strength.
(This interview was conducted in March, before being appointed as the head of the Overseas attraction team)
Efforts are being made to understand and scale up the business models of women entrepreneurs in fostering women ventures to make the existing startup ecosystem more innovative. According to ‘StartupVenture Ecosystem Comprehensive Index’ announced by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups, the comprehensive index of start-up and venture ecosystems in 2021 increased by about 3.2 times compared to 2010 and the number of women entrepreneurship companies is about 660,000, accounting for 46.4% of the total, and has been steadily increasing at an average annual rate of 3.1% over the past five years. Even in the recent 3 highs (high exchange rate, high prices, high interest rate), the amount of venture funds (funds) formed is recording the highest performance ever, predicting steady growth. Korea Women Entrepreneurship Lab (hereinafter referred to as K-WEL) Director Kim Mi-ran says that such positive changes can create a greater ripple effect when more people can use the value of investment properly. K-WEL educates women entrepreneurship, encourages new challenges, presents new opportunities based on its global network, and nurtures the women entrepreneurship ecosystem.
‘Entrepreneurship’, the power to constantly challenge and achieve one’s dreams
Director Kim Mi-Ran of K-WEL works as Korea’s first global women entrepreneurship expert. In addition, she shares her experiences by publishing books such as <There Is an Answer to Future Talent Entrepreneurship> and <The Magic of The Library>. Established by 70 women CEOs who share the same will for creating an investment environment in the region, K-WEL is based in Daegu and takes the lead in creating a healthy local startup and investment ecosystem, making entrepreneurship start concentrating on other regions beside the capital. Director Kim has been supporting women who challenge the global market by overcoming the two obstacles of local and women.
“Since my late 20s, I have been running a language school specializing in strategy consulting for special-purpose high school entrance examination, and I have been able to meet many children who have achieved achievements in their teens. One common feature I found while meeting children was self-motivation. The clear motivation the children found on their own was becoming the driving force behind them overcoming numerous obstacles in the process of reaching their goals.”
Having a dream of designing educational contents related to motivation herself, Director Kim deepened her studies by obtaining a doctorate in educational technology following her master’s degree in business administration. The keyword she found in the process was ‘entrepreneurship’. Director Kim, who continued her research while immersed in entrepreneurship, not only took a doctorate course during pregnancy and childbirth, but also founded, around 100 days after giving birth, Comma and Exclamation Mark Co., Ltd., a company specializing in corporate education and consulting. And the experience at the time, which was not easy, became an opportunity for Director Kim to turn her eyes to a new field. Even though she was a highly educated person with a master’s and doctoral degree and a professional career of more than 10 years, she experienced a period of career break due to childcare, and witnessed cases of difficulties in re-employment or entrepreneurship.
“Comma and Exclamation Mark Co., Ltd. was established to become a pivotal point for women with highly educated careers to find what they can do on their own. It is our role to restore the ‘Exclamation Mark’ so that those who stay in the ‘comma’ of life can go beyond rest and take on new challenges.”
Comma and Exclamation Mark Co., Ltd., the origin of K-WEL, provides customized education services in accordance with the respective needs from elementary school students to university students, public institutions, and private companies, under the goal of realizing customer vision. All faculty members have more than 10 years of teaching experience, master’s degree or higher and doctoral level and Director Kim is also working as an adjunct professor at Gyeongbuk National University. Comma and Exclamation Mark Co., Ltd. continues to collaborate with early employment and entrepreneurship consulting, workshops with related organizations such as the Women’s New Job Center, and analysis, design, evaluation, and operation of educational programs and now, the corporation is taking on the role of a private community focusing on strengthening solidarity and motivating women entrepreneurs. In addition, the corporation is taking the lead in actively supporting women entrepreneurs in the region through systematic and colorful women's business support education programs so that they can gain courage and overcome the fear of participating in various competitions or meeting investors.
Women entrepreneurs under the condition of a tilted playing field…The breakthrough is global
The four years that it took for Director Kim Mi-Ran to publish her doctoral dissertation on women entrepreneurship gave her a new direction. While being pregnant, raising children, starting a business, and studying at the same time, she focused on the question, “Why do I want to work again?” Director Kim, who recalled the sense of achievement in her prime, came to the idea that there must be a demand from other woman to overcome the period of career break or to build her own career besides herself. And she began to focus on what factors have helped so many career women overcome difficult times and achieve new achievements. Director Kim explained that she wanted to prove that women can succeed as long as the ecosystem and conditions for starting a business are met.
“I interviewed 700 successful women entrepreneurs while writing my doctoral dissertation. I was able to check the women entrepreneurship naturally. Women entrepreneurs are clearly different from men entrepreneurs. There is a need to think about ways to combine business with the special conditions of pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare. I thought that creating an environment that could produce successful women entrepreneurs could present a turning point for the recent trend of non-marriage and low birth rates. To do so, women entrepreneurs need training to find and maximize the strengths that only women have, such as Market Kurly, Grip, and JiguInCompany.”
Director Kim focused on the uniqueness of Daegu, which is a region that has a unique conservative tendency. Daegu-Gyeongbuk’s venture start-up rate is remarkably low compared to other cities and provinces. She diagnosed that the number of people leaving the region is increasing due to support programs that are not connected to start-up related activities centered on the metropolitan area and the lack of professional manpower. In this situation, the breakthrough she found was ‘global’. K-WEL is creating global private investment opportunities by attracting international conventions and organizations such as WiSE24, APEC, GIF, and G100 to Daegu. In 2019, 25,000 participants, including accelerators and investors from all over the world, as well as 45 teams from companies founded or run by women, coming from 15 countries including the United States, Brazil and Taiwan, participated both online and offline to share their experiences in ‘WiSE24’ co-hosted by Comma and Exclamation Mark Co., Ltd. at the Daegu Center for Creative Economy and Innovation and ‘Wslab,’ a women’s entrepreneurship support organization headquartered in Silicon Valley, USA. Director Kim said that it was an opportunity for many women entrepreneurs to meet more than 100 global investors. Having designed the World League and Women’s League at the Global Innovator Festa (GIF) at EXCO in Daegu last year, she plans to continue her activities as the Business Accelerator Korea Chair of The Club G100, a non-profit organization where CEOs of world-class companies gather and conduct business networking.
Creating an active investment environment that identifies market needs is a precondition for expanding local startups
Director Kim Mi-Ran participated as a representative of Korea at the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Business Efficiency and BEST AWARD held in Papua New Guinea, Africa in 2018 and won the highest award, the Grand Prix Award. On that day, Director Kim shared the employment difficulties of highly educated career women in Korea based on her experiences and introduced a model for women’s employment and entrepreneurship specialized in developed countries based on the successful case of Comma and Exclamation Mark Co., Ltd., which raised women with careers as lecturers in specialized fields and restored them to society. The award at the time drew attention from domestic and international media as well. Director Kim left her impression that it was “an event that confirmed the meaning of the region’s potential beyond personal meaning” in an exclusive interview with the British BBC. She recalled the situation at the time, saying that winning the Grand Prix Award gave her conviction that as a senior entrepreneur, she should expand the area in which local young people can be active. Director Kim also received the commendation from the Minister of Employment and Labor on the 23rd Women Entrepreneurs’ Day in 2019.
“The APEC award experience was a turning point for me. It served as an opportunity to let people know that there is a person doing these activities in the region. The global network based on the relationships established at the time continues to support each other’s international forums. I want to strengthen women entrepreneurship by confirming to more women that they can seize more opportunities if they continue to take on challenges, even if they seem reckless.”
According to ‘Startup Trends 2020’ announced by the National Statistical Office, 741,888 companies, or 50% of the 1,484,667 companies founded in 2020, were located in Seoul and Gyeong-gi. 201 accelerators, or 63.3% of the 318 accelerators nationwide, are concentrated in Seoul and Gyeong-gi regions, and the gap between Seoul and the other regions is widening. Director Kim Mi-Ran pointed out that there are many competent women CEOs in the region who can start a business with good enough content and there is still an undervalued part in terms of investment ratio, and it is difficult to get a proper meeting opportunity. There is also a low level of awareness about women entrepreneurship. Director Kim said that it is important for the region to take the lead and create an environment and opportunities for women in the region to actively engage in economic activities or entrepreneurial activities and enter the global market. K-WEL shared a commitment to help grow Gyeongsang-do into a sound start-up and investment ecosystem base camp like the Banks Foundation for Young Entrepreneurs ‘D-camp’.
Entrepreneurship to stand up again without succumbing to failure, ‘women’ who will stand at the center of the global economy
Director Kim Mi-Ran, who is busy working as a woman entrepreneur, professor, mentor, accelerator, wife and mother, says that the biggest driving force is her family. Among them, being a ‘mother’ was the strength that brought her difficulties at times and at the same time allowed her to constantly stand up again without getting frustrated in the face of many difficulties. In addition, watching the birth of another woman entrepreneur with her own little help allowed her to feel a sense of accomplishment. In fact, it is a picture of creating a spin-off company by encouraging employees belonging to Comma and Exclamation Mark Co., Ltd. to start a business.
“It is a great pleasure and reward for me to be active in this region and contribute to creating a startup ecosystem. Seeing local entrepreneurs winning awards is overwhelming in itself, but I am grateful and rewarded because it can become another driving force and give birth to numerous women entrepreneurs.”
Recently, the Ministry of SMEs and Startups announced that the venture fund recorded the highest performance by surpassing 10 trillion won for the first time. Support for the growth of women-owned businesses and strengthening their competitiveness is also on the rise. Director Kim welcomed the situation where investment in venture companies is spreading from to other regions and women, but she made it clear that the Ministry of SMEs and Startups needs to be prepared to face these changes. It explains that the women entrepreneurship ecosystem can be more active when founders take an interest in them and think about it in solidarity with an active attitude.
Hezki Arieli, president of Global Excellence in Israel, who is Kim’s mentor, says he calls her ‘Jinji(red hair)’. “I have heard a lot about Israel’s ‘Chutzpah’ story, a powerhouse of talent development and startups. It seems to be the same concept as ‘spirit’ in Korea, but it actually means shameless or bold. The national identity of learning from failure, constantly asking questions, and using the world stage as a market from the start is a point worthy of emulation.”
Director Kim added that she was able to build the foundation for talented and successful people equipped with boldness, regardless of victory and defeat, and that she was able to sublimate the many learnings and realizations she gained from a philosopher in Israel, the home of Chutzpah, into entrepreneurship through an in-depth talk with President Hezki Arieli, an authority on creative education.
“Entrepreneurship can be said to be the power that can make someone to challenge what he/she has planned, willingly. To achieve what you set out to do, you need will and motivation, challenge and perseverance, the strength to persevere with all your passion without giving up, and the courage to try again without succumbing to failure. The process of constantly finding this kind of mind within oneself is a necessary spirit not only for entrepreneurs but also for all people living in this era.”
An economist recently named 2023 the ‘era of austerity.’ It is a prospect that the economic blow added to the long COVID-19 pandemic may cause an era of austerity in which people will have to endure this situation beyond poverty. Director Kim Mi-Ran emphasized that the importance of education on entrepreneurship, which is the power to overcome the era of austerity, is on the rise.
It was with the conviction that it would be possible to create entrepreneurs who would not give in to difficult economic conditions and forge their own path we give them courage to start without hesitation and instill the power into them to move toward the future by the creation of a proper Korean startup ecosystem. K-WEL, a group of players with their own motives and experiences of successful startups, is willing to share their experiences and encourage new challenges. I expect more women to realize their own dreams and stand tall in the center of the world economy with K-WEL.
Team leader Mi-ran Kim, who is currently working as the head of the overseas attraction team at Gyeongnam Investment Agency under the Gyeongam Investment and Economy Promotion Agency (President Seong-yoon Kang) plans to continue efforts to attract foreign investment and growth of companies based on the experiences through the worldwide human network. Not sparing active support and encouragement so that entrepreneurs can expand their horizons toward the global field of action, as a role model for female entrepreneurs and a reliable support partner, her step for expanding investment attraction in Gyeongsangnam-do is expected more.