CE Update || The Pyongsong Startup Festival

At Choson Exchange, we are excited when we work with motivated entrepreneurs in North Korea with great ideas they would like to see become startups someday. Our programs all educate and support local entrepreneurs, but it is the coming-together of ideas, pitches and products at our Pyongsong Startup Bootcamp that brings out this excitement and sense of accomplishment.

  image credit: Uri Tours

image credit: Uri Tours


A key trading hub in the DPRK, Pyongsong is also in close proximity to the Unjong High-Tech Development Zone. The confluence of technological research and commercial activity in the city has fostered a strong and fast-growing community of local entrepreneurs, some of whom have attended our past workshops with great enthusiasm.

Every November since 2014, our Startup Bootcamp in Pyongsong brings together business ideas and product prototypes conceived by ambitious local scientists hoping to build the next KyongHeung snacks company, or one of the first e-commerce sites domestically. This year’s edition will see a record 16 workshop leaders running our inaugural Pyongysong Startup Festival, mentoring 70 to 80 North Korean participants who have been through a 6 - month acceleration program earlier in the year. This Festival will be led by experienced Choson Exchange volunteer workshop managers Ian Bennett and Ian Collins.

  image credit: Asia Times

image credit: Asia Times

This year’s transformation of our November workshop into the Pyongsong Startup Festival coincides with our observation that entrepreneurship in the DPRK has since gone beyond traditional notions of opening brick-and-mortar stores to more recent business concepts many of us are already familiar with, such as e-commerce, streaming services and delivery platforms.
Some of our past participants have intrigued us with ingenious ideas, and we are really excited to see what this year’s participants will bring to the festival.

Turning our November workshop into the Pyongsong Startup Festival will place an equal emphasis on peer-to-peer learning and provide opportunities not only for learning, but also create a platform for simultaneous exchanges on a larger scale. It will focus on a two-way exchange, with workshop leaders learning as much about the startup landscape in the country as they are sharing their knowledge. The workshop will be conducted in a conference format, where lectures take place concurrently and participants get to choose which lectures they want to go for. We want our November workshop to be not just a regular learning session, but a platform for our North Korean participants to network with each other and be part of the larger entrepreneurship ecosystem.

The concept for the Pyongsong Startup Festival came from program experiments we have ran since 2014. Our overseas training programmes and study trips conducted in Vietnam, Singapore  and  Malaysia from 2014 to 2015 provided many avenues for DPRK participants to interact with entrepreneurship clusters and key agencies promoting innovation and startups. Initiatives such as the Tech Start PY Programme , a two - week workshop designed to foster an entrepreneurial culture and a supportive environment for startups in North Korea, provided platforms for internal feedback. Insights gained from these past initiatives helped us decide on new formats to test out at this upcoming Festival.

Participants of the upcoming startup festival have attended our 6-month acceleration program held earlier this year. The acceleration programme was established by former participants who had taken part in our 3-month mini MBA programme and incubator internship in Singapore in 2015.

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Past workshop leaders have included senior management of successful venture capital funds, international marketing firms, leading minds in academic research and distinguished public servants. We intend to maintain our track record of connecting stellar mentors to ambitious mentees in our upcoming startup festival, and with a record 16 mentors matched to 70 to 80 participants, we expect to be able to  match between 5 to 6 participants to one mentor — a ratio that ensures an intimate learning experience for our participants.

This year’s roster of workshop leaders has already been confirmed; if you have a background in marketing, finance, management, startups, or related fields and would like to find out more, kindly get in touch with us as we prepare for next year’s edition!