Korean entrepreneurs to participate in Milwaukee accelerator

MWERC program aims to form international partnerships

David Jaewon Choi from Greenpoint Asset Management, Seung Hun Lee from DGIST, and Kim Sang Kyu from DGIST meet to discuss the Wisconsin accelerator program at a Starbucks in South Korea.

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:08 pm

Ten South Korean entrepreneurs will soon be participating in an accelerator program—and potentially creating new Milwaukee companies and partnerships—at the Midwest Energy Research Consortium in Milwaukee.

David Jaewon Choi from Greenpoint Asset Management, Seung Hun Lee from DGIST, and Kim Sang Kyu from DGIST meet to discuss the program at a Starbucks in South Korea. (PHOTO: Teresa Esser)

With the help of Teresa Esser, MWERC has partnered with Greenpoint Asset Management and Korean university Daegu Gyoungbok Institute of Science and Technology to bring the early stage, high-tech focused Korean entrepreneurs to Milwaukee during its upcoming WERCBench Labs accelerator program. Esser manages private equity strategy at Madison-based Greenpoint and is managing director at angel investment group Silicon Pastures, which is located in MWERC’s Energy Innovation Center. WERCBench targets startup companies in the energy, power and controls sector, and is currently accepting applications for the 10 slots in its third accelerator class, for which the deadline has just been extended to July 16.

The aim of the DGIST-MWERC partnership is to form international business relationships through a rapid-paced, four-week stint of meetings and collaborative work at MWERC’s Energy Innovation Center. Esser said each participant is expected to have 30 to 40 meetings while in Milwaukee.

“I’ve been in the MWERC business accelerator for, this is my third year, and I’ve been seeing the companies go through the WERCBench Labs program,” Esser said. “I’ve been saying to myself, you know I bet we could do something that adds a tremendous amount of value. I bet we could make this even more exciting.”

The Korean entrepreneurs will get initial training at home and then arrive in Milwaukee on October 14, remaining for four weeks of the 12-week WERCBench program.

While not obligated to do so, the hope is the entrepreneurs will do one of five things through their exposure to the Milwaukee business community: Sell products directly to end customers in the Western Hemisphere; find channel distribution partners to sell products for them in the Western Hemisphere; create a go-to-market strategy or join venture between companies in the U.S. and Korea; open a factory in Milwaukee; raise angel or venture capital financing; or find new product sources.

And the Milwaukee startups will benefit, too, she said.


“What if you weren’t just looking for customers in Wisconsin, you weren’t just looking in the Midwest, you were looking for customers globally?” Esser asked. “All these MWERC companies are global anyway, and they’re looking for suppliers who can provide them solutions. How can we get a little Wisconsin company to be a tier 1 supplier to these large MWERC members? They’re going to need partners from the other side of the world.”

By spending time together informally for a month, Esser expects the startups will build authentic relationships with each other at the EIC. She’s now working to set up the meetings for the Korean cohort, starting with local companies and organizations.

“Wisconsin emphasizes trust, reliability and long-term relationships,” Esser said. “I don’t want to send them to a part of the country that does not emphasize trust, reliability and long-term relationships.”

So far, there are 48 applications from Korean startups for the program, and the final participants will be weighted toward energy, power and controls. DGIST is making the final selection of the 10 companies that will participate in the program, likely in July, Esser said.

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