Traveling back and forth between Korea and North America, I have seen several cultural differences between the two and these differences also seem to appear in the regions’ respective Maker cultures, too. One of the features that I have found is that Maker movements seem to spread more slowly in Korea than in Western countries. In South Korea, with a very dense population, most people can hardly secure open space, such as a garage, for making and storing their projects and tools and often have to create work space out of nothing.
In addition, having grown up in Korea, my peers and I experienced a very tight Korean educational system that insists on uniformity of academic achievements and goals for higher scores to get into better universities. This subjected us to intense competition between students, which we found tough and made us unhappy. This, too, seems to contribute to the lag of spreading a grassroots making culture. Despite these possible weaknesses, the dense population in the country can be advantageous sometimes, in that the government creates collective areas where people can benefit by receiving many related services at once, in one place. I recently visited a local Korean version of a ‘hackerspace’ in the city of Changwon, and, hopefully, you’ll be able to understand and envision what I mean.
At the beginning of 2013, about $55 million USD was budgeted by the Korean government to build a 17-story building to house a center for research and creativity that businesses and academic institutions could utilize in the Changwon area. With a mission to reinvigorate R&D innovation and to advance high-tech investment in the Gyeongsangnam-do Province of South Korea, the Gyeongnam Changwon Science & Technology Promotion Agency was opened. For those not familiar with Korean geography, Gyeongsangnam-do Province takes up approximately one eighth of the whole of South Korea.
On the second floor of this building, the Gyeongnam Center for Creative Economy & Innovation is located. The center encompasses a café library, with books on a wide variety of topics, including 3D printing, modeling, and startups. It also has several conference rooms with the newest equipment for presentations, a consulting zone comprised of professional, legal, and financial consultants, an incubator zone where actual startups can come and set up their offices, and lastly, a makerspace with lots of 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines, and various other tools.
These services are available to all members of the general public, but some require a reservation. The center also runs lots of programs for visitors such as free classes on law, creating startups, and even a class on startup tips where you can enjoy free chicken. On occasion, the center hooks up with large corporations and takes visitors to these companies for field trips.
As a 3D printer user, I was excited to see what 3D printers they had at the makerspace. I saw around 10 different FDM desktop printers; some from OpenCreators, some from Daegun Tech, and some generic open source printers made by other users. I was especially excited to learn that, while a big chunk of the second floor is currently being used as space for startup companies, would-be startups, Makers, and 3D printer users, a separate center specifically for 3D printing is to be constructed down on the first floor later this year.
Currently there are bi-weekly meetings for 3D printing users on Wednesdays, and, while there, I was able to meet Park Kihun, the host of the meetings and the CEO of a startup that resides in the center. He started his venture, Robotoryum in May of 2014 and entered the center two months ago. His specialty is electronic engineering and robotic automatic control, but along the way, he got acquainted with 3D modeling and crafting.
His business concept is to make a robot using 3D printing and Arduino. But he has not been able to fully concentrate on his project because he has been swamped with 3D modeling and printing requests… as there are not many experts around the area. Most customers and clients ask him to print samples or prototypes in plastic so that they can take part in various exhibitions. For now, he cannot help postponing his original plans, but makes money by providing printing services. He has started to hire and train some employees to help his business grow. Despite his busy schedule, he still lectures at nearby universities about 3D printing and holds meetings for 3D printer users. He has also been taking care of the local makerspace. Thanks to his advice and guidance, I was able to see more of the area.
Hopefully, with centers (and people) like I found in the southeast corner of Korea, these assets will help to stir the spirits of those few Korean makers here and will inspire others, and possibly bring some more creative grassroot change to Korean culture.