Entrepreneurship Synergy in 2022: Arkansas with South Korea

Oct 31, 2022

Arkansas & Korea: Points of Interest in Business

By Yang Luo-Branch, President, Arkansas Association of Asian Businesses (AAAB)

The bridge between Arkansas and Korea continues to be reinforced by the concerted efforts of innovative business leaders within both ecosystems. In recent months, I had the pleasure of connecting with Logan Lee and Louis Diesel, entrepreneurial leaders in South Korea. Hyun-Kyu “Logan” Lee is the vice president of business development at Deeping Source, a video analytics startup based in the Seoul metro area. He made his way to Arkansas to participate in the Fuel Accelerator program. Louis Diesel, an Arkansas native, is the director of Asia at Startup Junkie and works in South Korea. Both Lee and Diesel serve as great reminders of those concerted efforts to strengthen the bridge connecting Arkansas and Asian business ecosystems. And it is gratifying to learn from both perspectives in their own words. 

Here are some highlights about what Arkansas has to offer for building business relationships with the Korean community:

  • Korean-American population in Arkansas: 4,300+ (2019) Source

  •  AAAB’s past Korean-American board member Young Chun, a commercial real estate agent at Michele Phillips & Company in Central Arkansas, Korean-English bilingual service, Email Young

  • Two Korean-owned manufacturing operations in Arkansas: Kiswire Ltd. in Pine Bluff and Shinwon Corp in Bentonville Source

  • Korean-owned small businesses in Arkansas Review and add to list

  • AAAB members that are Korean business resources: 

    • Tom Roberts of Hot Springs, Principal and Founder at Cranberry Leadership International, 11-yrs of expat experience as an executive in South Korea, Japan and other APAC countries Connect

    • Sol Kim of Rogers partner at Taylor Law Firm, specializes in immigration law, family law, criminal defense and personal injury Connect

    • Rev Dr. Naomi Rogers of Little Rock, President of Korean American Federation of Arkansas Learn more

    • Matthew Ward of Fayetteville, half Korean, Consultant at Startup Junkie and director at Fuel Accelerator Connect

    • Susie Reece of Little Rock, consultant at SFA Consulting LLC, offering training and consulting for organizations and individuals Connect 

    • Jason Cha of North Little Rock, owner of Palarm Creek Liquor Store, call 501-851-2631

  • Other notable connections:

    • American Taekwondo Association (ATA) or ATA Martial Arts was founded in 1969 by Grand Master Haeng Ung Lee. Headquartered in Little Rock, it has licensed close to 1,000 ATA locations around the world learn more

    • Filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung, Minari (2020): The film Minari tells the story of a Korean family who moved from California to the rural Ozarks. The movie, based upon the childhood experiences of writer/director Lee Isaac Chung in Arkansas was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Learn more


One Company’s Experience: Korean Startup Deeping Source in Arkansas

By Hyun-Kyu (Logan) Lee, VP of business development at Deeping Source

Hyun-Kyu (Logan) Lee relocated to Bentonville, Arkansas for 12 weeks from August to October, participating in the Fuel Accelerator Program – an enterprise-ready accelerator that matches growth-stage artificial intelligence and machine learning startups with key enterprise partners in order to accelerate the adoption of tangible technology solutions. 

In a word: Wow! 

The pandemic may not be over, but the Fuel Accelerator program takes participants offline and in person for 12 weeks. Add the fact that the program takes place in Bentonville, Arkansas, where some of the world’s largest and most recognizable companies are located, and you have my attention. As a person in charge of our company’s entry into the North American market in 2022, I desperately needed the opportunity for a breakthrough, and this program was it. The joy of being selected to participate was followed by frantic preparation. 

Immediately after the first meeting at the Fuel Accelerator headquarters on August 2, the Fuel team was already prepared to propel us to full speed – the curriculum from GrowthX, curated office hours with over 60 leaders from various industries, priceless advice from so many valuable mentors, and lasting connections introduced by those mentors. 

Looking back on the entire 12-week period, the program was divided into three sections. The first month was focused on making connections. It was the time to find ideal potential customers by introducing our company’s technology and solutions to many mentors and industry-related people. The second period was for developing relationships. The list of people who understand the strength of our solution was defined and the proof of concept (POC) and pilot approaches were discussed with them based on the benefits our solution could provide. The last month was for closing, which was the period of specifying and closing possible POCs and pilots.

During the entire period, Deeping Source achieved two pilot commitments, two ongoing proposals, and numerous separate proposals and reviews that are in progress. 

If I had gone back before those 12 weeks began and chose to spend that time in Korea instead, working to grow a business in the United States, would I have achieved such tangible results? I know I would not have. What the Fuel Accelerator program gave us was meaningful connections and propelling the creation of these real businesses. Most importantly, what I earned in those 12 weeks were connections and relationships. We plan to hire local people and set up a local office that will serve as immediate actions with a long-term goal of developing each other. 

I may have just landed in Seoul, but I have already started discussing returning to Northwest Arkansas. It’s just a matter of time. 


In APAC: Building Bi-Directional Bridges with Arkansas

By Louis Diesel, director of Asia at Startup Junkie

Being a half-Korean and Fayetteville native living in Seoul, I recognized there was a unique opportunity to leverage the exceptional services and special relationships from the Northwest Arkansas ecosystem we could provide to world-class Korean/Asian tech startups. There is a sense of geographic arbitrage when bridging Korea and the NWA hub – home to Walmart, Tyson, JB Hunt, and 1,500+ tech and consumer goods vendors.  

Fayetteville-based Startup Junkie has long been successful in the U.S., but we needed a use case for the larger global market, which began with a great cohort of companies in 2020. We showed enterprise executives in the NWA that there is easy access to a fruitful startup pool in Asia to choose from, and we showed Korean VCs and accelerators that they can trust our organization to be their go-to U.S. market implementor. This effort was the beginning of a strategic undertaking that includes recurring programs like the one we’re running today and future joint funds. We are lucky to have a unique ecosystem in Northwest Arkansas to propel new projects like this expansion into Asia. 

As we continue to improve this initiative, we plan to add significant rigor to the front-end selection process to ensure the best possible match of selected ventures with enterprise needs. Also, to continue to drive efficiency, the program will stay as virtual that doesn’t require travel on the part of the cohort company or enterprises to optimize the use of enterprise leadership time. This program has succeeded for selected ventures, large enterprises, and system integrators. 

We look forward to building on that existing momentum, building bridges between the two parts of the world I love. 

Startup Junkie supports, inspires, and educates entrepreneurs and innovators by providing no-cost, one-on-one consulting; events, workshops, and programs; and access to capital and talent. The Startup Junkie team is building entrepreneurial ecosystems in Northwest Arkansas and beyond through programs like the Fuel Accelerator and the Arkansas Korea Alliance