Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Companies in the automotive, telecommunications and pharmaceutical industries are broadening their focus across multiple industries and seeking opportunities for cross-sector collaboration.

Although South Korea’s economy is the fourth-largest in Asia, it depends heavily on the export of chips and petrochemicals. South Korea’s exports have been declining due to continued uncertainty over the global trade climate, and many South Korean conglomerates’ profit growth has slumped this year. These companies have been seeking out options for future growth.

Traditionally, South Korean businesses have focused on a limited numbers of industry sectors. Nowadays, they are trying to navigate new business opportunities in a multitude of sectors including smart factories, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, robotics, unmanned vehicles, drone, nano- and biotechnology and health care, among others. Global collaboration with startups can give them access to new intellectual property; therefore, they are actively looking for opportunities to collaborate with through arrangements including partnerships, equity investment, mergers and acquisitions, licensing, research and development, and joint marketing.

For example, industry trends are putting pressure on traditional car manufacturers. South Korea's biggest motor company, Hyundai, recently signed a memorandum of understanding with a cybersecurity company in Israel. Hyundai invested in an Israeli tech firm to automate reports on car passenger medical data in case of accident. Hyundai stressed that transformation to collaboration with others is a key driver of the company's new growth engines.

South Korea’s largest telecom company, SK Telecom, which has 95 subsidiaries, recently announced that it would expand its partnership through an additional investment over the next three years to pursue opportunities in the biopharmaceutical sector. This company is not only well-known for telecom, but also globally for supplying semiconductors. Since the semiconductor market has been in a downturn, the company decided to focus on new growth prospects in pharmaceutical industry.

Another example, traditional South Korean pharmaceutical company Kwangdong Pharm Co. Ltd., has been focusing on diversifying its business portfolio and has recently established an open innovation team at a separate location from its headquarters. This task force’s goal is to develop unique business opportunities in multiple industry sectors.

Due to high interest and demand from South Korean companies looking for collaboration opportunities, Wisconsin companies might serve as niche partners to collaborate with and/or offer their products to South Korean companies.