At 500 Startups, our team of 100 people manage seed investments in 18 countries and speak over 20 languages. We are a diverse family that is often flying from Silicon Valley to different corners of the world. Right now some of my colleagues are traveling to Bahrain (Manama), UAE (Abu Dhabi & Dubai), Jordan (Amman & Dead Sea) and Egypt (Cairo) for the latest Geeks On A Plane tour. At 500, we love to explore new territories and connect with some of the brightest founders from different cultures, backgrounds, religions, personalities, beliefs systems and abilities.
500 Startups is taking active steps to bring the tech world closer together. We’re only scratching the surface in understanding how the world works and how we’re truly interconnected. Luckily, technology accelerates all of this and allows us to explore cross-border opportunities everyday.
Last February, my colleague and 500 Partner Tim Chae invited me to help with the press launch of #500Kimchi. I met with founders, Korean officials, startup leaders and the incredible team on the ground.
It was wonderful to return after nearly a decade. Long ago, I moved to Seoul to discover my mother’s old stomping grounds. I got to study alongside some of Korea’s brightest at Ewha Womans University. In my second year in Seoul, I became a champion of North Korean Human Rights through my NGO work at NKHR. Through these experiences I learned more about my history, my roots and had a better understanding of the world outside of the United States.
My Heritage and Connection to Seoul (서울)
I am of Korean and Norwegian heritage and often identify myself as “Korwegian”. My ancestors were Vikings, Mongolians, adventurers, nomads, immigrants and entrepreneurs. I am proud of who I am and will reflect more on my Asian American experience (as Tracy Chou of Pinterest does so well in this post).
When growing up, my parents brought me to foreign restaurants, introduced me to foreign films and always encouraged me to learn more about the outside world. I believe that my unique cultural makeup and upbringing has contributed to my cultural curiosity and made me a lover of all things different. There is an excitement of discovering the unknown. I remember when I first arrived in South Korea. Walking through Seoul for the very first time was a completely novel experience (even with my Korean background). The loud crowded streets, new smells, the energy—it was all so foreign to me. The food was inexpensive, healthy and DELICIOUS. The landscape had mountains, a truly wonderful visual discovery for someone who came from the flatlands of Minnesota.
I was immediately introduced to a fast paced and high energy way of living. Moving from a city of 400K inhabitants to a city of 10 million is probably one of the biggest cultural shocks I’ve encountered. The everyday experiences were so radically different. I was speaking a new language, listening to new music, watching new films and finally learning how to cook my mother’s dishes. I was living in a new culture and it was probably one of the most exciting and life-changing moments to date.
Fast forward to today and what Diversity Means to Me (다양성)
A decade later I can now reflect and have a deeper appreciation for the experiences that led me to meet extraordinary people from all different walks of life. I now look at diversity in a completely new light. So much to the point where I founded Geekettes, an organization that encourages women to join the tech industry. Why? Because a richer tapestry of people leads to a richer tapestry of ideas, of problem solving and innovation. People from different corners of the globe can come together and tackle problems in unique ways, and from different perspectives. All that I have described is embodied in the ethos and spirit of 500 Startups. It’s the reason I joined this amazing team, the reason why I had the opportunity to return to Korea and why I’m carving out a new role as Director of Diversity.
This past October, I had the opportunity to meet with leaders from Korea’s next generation of tech companies. I got to participate in a series of startup conferences, meet ups and help curate a Diversity Summit alongside Google Campus Seoul. I wanna give a very big and special shout out to my colleague Kyungmin Kim who busted her ass to make it a fantastic event. Women and men were left inspired and ready to create more diverse working environments within their startups.
Seoul is a Startup Itself (스타트업)
Seoul in many ways is like a startup in itself. It’s chaotic, it’s moving fast and it’s breaking things. The startup ecosystem is blowing up. Founders are inventing incredible things with great passion, teaching each other what they have learned, and inspiring one another with new tech solutions to everyday challenges. The startup community is paving a new way for tech entrepreneurs and each individual I met has an amazing story to share.
Here is a short list of places you should visit and folks you should connect with on your trip to Seoul:
I. Google Campus Seoul
Google Campus Seoul is part of a global network of spaces where big ideas are shaping the future. Together 500 and Google hosted a series of talks, panels and discussion around diversity. Watch this fireside chat with Christine Tsai (500’s Founding Partner) and Sofia Benjumea (Head of Google Campus Madrid):
BONUS: I gave a talk on “10 Reasons Why Need More Women in Tech” and its also translated into Korean HERE.
II. STARTUP:CON 2015 SEOUL
A great tech startup event with live performances, talks and breakout sessions for founders and investors. Special thanks to Stella Heesun Suh and Kocca for involving 500 Startups on this very special day.
III. K-Global Startup Engine 2015
Startup competition where 38 founders in Seoul pitched in front of an international group of VCs. My colleague Haley Kim sat on the judging panel, GO #500Women! Special thanks to the team at Accelerate Korea for the kind invitation and delicious Korean craft beer.
IV. Baedal Minjok
I caught up with Mike Kim (a SF transplant in Seoul). He’s joined a successful Korean food delivery startup called Baedal Minjok. Mike’s an awesome guy who is super passionate about the Seoul startup community and writes great blog posts like this one. I had a wonderful visit and scored some amazing BM swag that celebrates the Korean alphabet!
I’m proud of my Korean ancestors who created a civilization and unique culture despite many years of oppression from the outside. Koreans are brave, resilient and extremely kindhearted. I’m proud of my heritage and this trip has only brought me closer to my roots. I’m proud to watch a burgeoning startup ecosystem grow and to connect with new founders and community members.
Thank you 500 Startups for bringing me back, this trip meant so much to me. Big shout out to Tim Chae, Kyungmin Kim, Haley Kim, Christine Tsai, Dave McClure and the team at Google Campus Seoul.
Dae-han-min-guk (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap)