Facebook for mothers — and other North Korean business ideas

A minty health-drink for stress relief. A kind of Facebook for North Korean mothers with parenting tips on the local intranet. A wondrous machine that, the inventors claim, will turn animal manure from farms into cheap electricity, charcoal, and gasoline. These are just a few of the business ideas pitched by teams of North Korean geeks to a group of entrepreneurs who recently travelled to the DPRK with Choson Exchange. Over four days, locals used the Business Model Canvas to develop and refine product ideas that may work in the Korean context. They analyzed customer segments, maximized value propositions, argued over revenue streams — and then presented their canvas to the rest of the class, and the foreign entrepreneurs who had joined as mentors.

While the challenges to get a business idea off the ground in North Korea are huge, mentors made clear that winning over customers is difficult in any market: “If you’re telling me this drink relaxes me better than a bottle of Korean soju, you better prove it!”, warned one volunteer who consults businesses around the world on growth strategies. Others played tough too: “The animations on your slides are amazing, but it’s been ten minutes and I still have no clue what your product is. It’s called an elevator pitch because it’s short. By now, your potential investor would be long gone!"

“If you’re telling me this drink relaxes me better
than a bottle of Korean soju, you better prove it!”

Nonetheless, the results were impressive, and our first attempt at using the Business Model Canvas to guide local teams trough developing a startup idea was a huge success. Will the bio-waste power/charcoal/gasoline generator fly with local funders? We’ll see. But the mouth-wash flavored stress-relief drink will keep the entrepreneurs at ease as they explore the possibilities.

If you you'd like to join us for a trip and share your expertise with the local business community, take a look at the schedule for 2017 on our website and get in touch for further details. We hope to see you next year!