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Teens: Korea’s Newest Entrepreneurs

Posted December. 12, 2005 08:20,   


The “1318 Generation” is the hot topic in the political, economic and social sectors these days. This generation is at the heart of changes among those in their teens, 20s and 30s, who are often referred as the M (mobile) generation, N (network) generation, P (participation) generation, and I (self-centered) generation.

The 1318 generation is called the “post-Olympic generation” because they were born after 1988 when the Seoul Olympics was held. They are open-minded, proactive, and adventurous. In addition, they are also called the C generation by sociologists since communication in cyberspace using computerized devices such as the Internet and mobile phones is part of their daily lives and they have distinctive characteristics.

Kim Yoo-ri (17), a third year student of Seoul Girls’ High School who took the university entrance examination few weeks ago, has already become an “owner.” She is the co-founder of “S gift shop” which is well-known in the Internet shopping industry.

She shared information with her friends on bead craft, cross-stitching, and paper folding for fun. In the process of the sharing, her talent spread online by word of mouth, leading to sales of millions of won last year alone.

She wishes to become an architect. She said, “What’s great about my success of the online business is that I became confident that I can achieve success in ‘real’ society.”

With the popularity of Internet shopping malls rising, an increasing number of middle and high school students are starting their own businesses online. They are called “free venture” or “teen soho” businesses. On the strength of their unique ideas and sensitivity, their customer base is expanding to include not only teens but also those in their 20s and 30s. It is estimated that teenagers account for about 30 percent of individual business owners online.

Chung Hye-rim (17), a third year student at Paiwha Girls’ High School, is very busy these days, since there is a soaring demand for her “love book” that she makes for Christmas, the year-end, and the beginning of the year.

The love book is a kind of picture notebook. When unfolded, the love card shows poems, golden sayings, and pictures on one side, and a blank space on the other side. Since the card requires sincere efforts of senders, it is popular as a gift for a birthday or anniversary.

The popularity of the card comes, in part, from its cute design and unique colors. One book of 150 to 200 pages retails at about 30,000 won. It takes at least 24 hours and as much as one week to make one book. She already sold all the products that she can possibly make by the year-end.

She said, “My business started when I sold a love book that was supposed to be given to an ex-boyfriend three years ago. I want to build on my talent that I didn’t know I had by majoring in industrial design and operating a related business.”

With students’ increasing interest in business start-up, some vocational schools are preparing programs that help students start a business. There are business related organizations that hold start-up conventions or provide experience-oriented education.

Six vocational schools, including Dongbu Girls’ Commercial High School, received education on business start-ups from “Auction,” a leading online business company. Some students organize clubs for start-ups and raise money. A club called “On” of Seoul Digitech High School recently succeeded in developing an online game and is attracting investors.

The Small and Medium sized Business Agency (SMBA) held last month its “Youth Experience Program for Managing Business” that gave some 100 high school students in Seoul the chance to do business in a flea market. During the five-day occasion, most of the 18 teams except for one or two ran a surplus of more than 300,000 to 400,000 won. The team with the best performance generated almost 700,000 won in profits.

Goh Se-yeong (26), a manager of Ivitt Lab that co-hosted the program, said, “Students’ ideas and talents were far greater than expected. With shortened retirement ages and the widespread perception that there is no longer life-long employment, people began to put economic strength before scholastic ability. Indeed, many teenagers are interested in real economic activities.”

Jae-Young Kim jaykim@donga.com