An innovative startup program in Seoul called the Seoul Global Challenge allowed startups from around the world to work with government agencies in Korea to help solve air quality issues on subways. The Seoul Global Challenge is a project in which global innovators, including domestic and foreign companies, universities, and research institutes, develop innovative technologies and ideas to solve the urban problems of Seoul. Therefore companies from around the world got a chance to share their ideas and technologies with the Korean government and businesses. There was a total prize of 690 million won ($620,000).

The Seoul Metropolitan Government understands that the many problems Seoul is facing will need help from across all sectors. Therefore, this innovative startup program in Seoul called the Seoul Global Challenge allowed startups from around the world to work with government agencies in Korea to help solve air quality issues on subways.

Koreans often expect quick solutions and easy access to information daily. Seoul has become an ultra-connected ecosystem that embraces new digital innovations. While the Korean government has the data on the problems facing their citizens, they lack the technology and resources to address these problems. Therefore they reached out to not only startups in Korea but worldwide through this challenge.

Seoul Global Challenge

The Seoul Global Challenge was the platform to improve the quality of life for Seoul’s citizens. The aim of the challenge is to make Seoul a better place to live and free from particulate matter. The purpose of the challenge was to establish a global competitive R&D platform. To do that, the platform needed to be open to innovators in Korea and around the world. In addition, it was a great way to bring technological developments outside Korea into Korea. This was to bring outside perspectives to research, develop, and ultimately solve urban problems in Korea.

Through the Seoul Global Challenge, Korea set an example for other global cities to look towards innovation to solve their issues. Seoul has established a strong foothold in innovative and technology-driven solutions. Therefore, this has paved the way for young, high-growth startups in Korea that have provided a better quality of life for their citizens. This is why Seoul has placed technology entrepreneurship at the center of its economic development strategies. Now the mission is to spread the Seoul Global Challenge to the world. This involves bringing in innovative companies from around the world to help solve issues related to improving the air quality on subways in Korea. The Seoul Global Challenge was broken down into two challenges. One is a technology competition, and the other is an academic paper competition.

Technology Challenge

Technology Challenge

The Technology Challenge was for those with innovative ideas who can move on to the development stage. The innovative ideas were for certain topics. These topics included:

  • Reduction of particulate matter in subways
  • Reduction of wear particle generation (ex., development of wear-resistant materials, immediate removal of wear particles at emission sources, etc.)
  • Improvement of removal efficiency, such as filters
  • Improvement of the measurement technique
  • Integrated management of air quality inside subway stations

Seoul Global Challenge TimelineThe challenge was open to individuals, corporations, universities, research institutes, research associations, business associations, and an industry-academic consortium of domestic or foreign origin that have ideas for new technology for particulate matter reduction (TRL 5 and under).

Seoul Global Challenge FundingThose that got selected for a preliminary evaluation got funding for the development of their prototype. The financing ranged from 10 million won ($9,000) to 200 million won ($180,000). In addition to the funding, those selected got mentorship support and a space for prototype development.

Academic Challenge

Academic Challenge

The Academic Challenge looked to do research and showcased their work on improving the air quality in subways. The academic papers were about the interrelationship between the outside atmosphere and the subway air quality and the reduction of indoor fine dust and viruses on subways. Furthermore, each topic was supported by a Korean government organization.

These three topics were.

Links between indoor and outdoor air quality in subways

The Korean Society for Atmospheric Environment (KOSAE) was founded in 1983 and has over 2,400 members, including individuals, corporations, and universities. It is also one of the major environment-related associations in Korea. KOSAE covers the area of environmental management, climate change, sampling & analysis, dispersion & reaction, indoor air quality, and human health.

Reduction of particulate matter in subways

The Korean Society for Indoor Environment (KOSIE) was established in 2003. Their role is to scientifically assess indoor pollution problems. As well as, produce a more efficient management plan following an in-depth discussion by a group of relevant researchers on the necessity of society. Therefore, the organization plans to serve as an integrated center for comprehensive and continuous research on the identification of phenomena, health impact assessment, and control technology in the indoor environmental area.

Reduction of viruses in subways

The Korean Association for Particle and Aerosol Research (KAPAR) was founded in 1994 and has organized many workshops on particle and aerosol technology. They invite many prominent Korean and foreign scientists to present the most up-to-date review in their fields. In addition, KAPAR has organized many conferences and short courses related to particle and aerosol research.

Academic ChallengeThere were few restrictions to those looking to participate in the Academic Challenge. In addition, were no restrictions to the number of papers submitted and the number of authors per paper. The only restriction was that it must be a new research paper. Therefore, those in the academic paper competition had to fill out the application form on the Seoul Global Challenge website. Then submit it with the paper proposal by the end of November. Seoul did a preliminary screening of the papers in December to select those going through the paper evaluation phase. Furthermore, those that passed the preliminary screening submited their final report.

There was an awards ceremony for technical and academic challenges in December of 2021.

“Innovaive technologies and research will contribute to the solution of problems of particulate matters and air quality, which occupy a large part of urban problems. In the future, we will start Seoul Global Challenges on more diverse urban problems. This Challenge will be something that can solve urban problems of megacities around the world as well as those of Seoul,” said the Director of Innovation Growth Division at Seoul Business Agency, Mr. Seong Min Kim.

Great Opportunity to Work with the Korean Government

Korea is a tough market for many global startups to penetrate. There is a reason why South Korea is one of only three countries (China and Russia) where Google is not the #1 search engine. This is why challenges like the Seoul Global Challenge are a great way to enter the Korean market. In addition, it will be a great opportunity to form strong networks with key players within the Korean government.

The Korean government is always looking for innovative ways to leverage technology and data as they plan for the future. Furthermore, Seoul is a prime example of a city looking to incorporate startup technology. Working with Seoul can provide much-needed validation for global companies to help them scale in South Korea. Therefore startups in the air-quality space should, at the very least, apply to the Seoul Global Challenge. You never know what great things might come out of it.