Uncharted Waters: An overview of Korea’s HealthTech ecosystem
In Korea, the HealthTech industry is small and led by small startups, innovators, academics, and rouge health care professionals. Needless to say, it is an untapped sector, and it is surprising that primary healthcare providers are yet to explore this ecosystem. The opportunity to revolutionize the industry is right in front of them but remains unnoticed.
The nimble HealthTech ecosystem in Korea has challenges overhead. Navigating the complex territory between technology and traditional health care systems means innovators will have to find the perfect balance between corporations, investors, regulatory bodies, hospitals, doctors, and other decision-making organizations. The broad startup ecosystem in Korea is flourishing – the South Korean government spent billions on grants, tax breaks and subsidized loans for startups since 2013 with its Creative Economy Program. However, there are not many incentives given to innovators who want to pursue the development of new healthcare technology.
Tech startup founders are focused more on sectors with fast turnaround such as gaming which is starting to reach its saturation point, has a limited, local user base and not much opportunity to translate globally.Developers are also oblivious to challenges that the healthcare industry is facing because Korea has arguably, one of the most accessible and affordable health care systems for hospitals and clinics. Such problems have driven other markets like the USA to create solutions such as telemedicine and development of other similar services.
Korea has the most cutting edge technology and resource available, ranging from VR/AR, robotics and hardware, IoT, to artificial intelligence, deep learning, and data analysis. At the recent Mobile Web Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Korean HealthTech startups premiered innovations that are formerly exclusive to the hospital and clinical settings such as a pocket-sized ultrasound by Healcerion; and the Refit Cam by Solmitech, a ‘home health’ laparoscopy camera that syncs to smartphones. Improvements to standard devices like a hearing aid with a touch tactile reaction feature and the use of VR to let blind people see finally. A slew of wearable technologies is also getting attention. Sleek monitoring devices for patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is now in the market. These smart devices can even detect early onset of neurological symptoms.
Products developed for preventive health, and well-being segments such as posture health are present, from IoT-driven innovations that detect spine alignment like Alex Posture to analog garments and appliances that innovate wearable technology developed by posture science company, Posture 360. Not the be left behind, new technologies for clinical use is also emerging, creating more efficient solutions and alternatives to critical processes in a professional hospital setting. O’view measures the ovulation day of patients using only their saliva sample eliminating inconvenient trips to clinics. Stratio Korea created a smart device that analyzes the composition of drugs in real-time using spectroscopy technology.
Some may argue that Korean HealthTech needs to catch up given that the global healthcare sector is projected to invest $410 billion in IoT devices, software, and services in 2022 as the market changes fast. There is an undeniable abundance of inventors and innovation in Korea. Local startups need the motivation to transform the healthcare ecosystem with innovative ideas. Large corporations still have a tremendous opportunity to change and diversify their models from traditional businesses to technology-driven ventures.
It is a matter of time for Korea to speed up its efforts in HealthTech innovation as the potential is tremendous. With the right exposure, big picture thinking and an action-driven focus on global expansion, Korean health technology may be the next big thing in the innovation sector.
William B. Choi is a an award-winning entrepreneur and early stage investor, having founded and led a number of startup and fast growth companies. He is Founder and CEO of Korea-based Posture360. William is also the Galen Growth Asia Country Ambassador for South Korea.