In what has become a staple of the Inside Bitcoins conferences, leading Bitcoin experts will be judging the demos of five companies from South Korea in this year’s Startup Competition. The event takes place at 3 p.m. Korea Standard Time on December 10.
The companies taking part are Bitholla, KoreanBuddy, WageCan, Epsilon Technologies and Coin Trade. The judges are Simon Dixon, Andrew “Flip” Filipowski, Hans Lombardo and Roger Ver.
As a whole, the South Korean bitcoin ecosystem is relatively small when compared to nearby countries such as China and Hong Kong.
“Bitcoin exchange in South Korea is present but is insufficient, bid/ask is very small in quantity yet to deal with large volumes,” said Mike Hwang, CMO of Coin Trade, one of the presenting companies, in an interview with Bitcoin Magazine. “Coin Trade has [a] plan to launch the global Bitcoin exchange platform service from this January 2016,” Hwang explained.
Like many other wallet/exchange providers, Coin Trade is attempting to create an onramp for those who have yet to own bitcoin, plus provide them with the ability to store their bitcoin in a secure wallet and trade it as they desire.
“In South Korea, there are two early movers that dominate the ecosystem, and they are Korbit and Coinplug,” Paul Bugge, co-founder of Bitholla, told Bitcoin Magazine. “Korbit is the most-used exchange, while Coinplug is providing multiple services such as Bitcoin ATMs and selling bitcoin through retail convenience stores. Aside from these two tech companies, the new batch of companies are small pre-seed startups like ourselves.”
Bugge explained that Bitholla is a social networking platform that first launched back in July 2015. “Since that time we have focused more on continued development of the product than pushing for traction,” he explained. “Using Bitholla you can set your own wallet, receiving payment address, make payment requests and send messages. Bitholla is a proximity service so it shows users nearest to you for convenience of paying people around you.”
All bitcoin may need for Korea to adopt it is for it to reach critical mass in other parts of the world.
“Korea is a follower country,” Chris Williams, co-founder of Korean Buddy, told Bitcoin Magazine . “Koreans need to see other countries using bitcoin, or a major company domestically adopt bitcoin or a couple of big celebrity endorsements for the normal person to start using bitcoin.”
He also explained that the ambiguity of regulation in South Korea could be interfering in adoption.
“Is it legal? How is it going to be taxed? Do businesses need a license to accept it?” Williams said, suggesting this uncertainty could be impeding others from trying the technology.
But that hasn’t stopped him from creating a product he believes will help adoption. KoreanBuddy “is a virtual Korean shopping agent service. With this service people will be able to buy anything in Korea with bitcoin. We are a commission-based shopping agent. The shoppers tell us what they want … and we order and ship the items to them.”
He compared his service, which he expects to launch on January 4, to tourist info centers where people go in foreign cities. “We want to be the [tourist info centers] to all foreigners who want to shop online here in Korea. The Korean online shopping info center.”
The market may be small in Korea, but the excitement is intense. Day 1 of Inside Bitcoins had topics that covered bitcoin as an investment, blockchain technology for nontechnical people, and bitcoin trading and analysis. Day 2 of the event, which will include the competition, will have panels on rate of adoption, blockchain loyalty and customers, and a panel on why bitcoin commerce is broken.
Jacob Cohen Donnelly is a consultant and journalist in the bitcoin space. He runs a weekly newsletter about bitcoin called Crypto Brief. Subscribe to receive a hand picked roundup of the best bitcoin and cryptocurrency news, opinions, and analysis every week sent to you on Monday mornings.