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Vancouver's growing VR/AR tech reputation draws interest from South Korea

Vancouver’s growing reputation as a hub for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology development is now drawing international interest, with a delegation of South Korean firms visiting the city to explore the possibilities for a dee

Vancouver’s growing reputation as a hub for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology development is now drawing international interest, with a delegation of South Korean firms visiting the city to explore the possibilities for a deeper partnership.

The delegation from the Korean province of Gyeonggi, which is gaining a reputation as a Silicon-Valley-like hub in East Asia, began the two-day visit today (May 29) with the aim of finding partners in co-developing VR/AR platforms or distributing Korean-made products and services in the North American market.

The visit comes after B.C. Premier John Horgan visited South Korea in January and signed a three-year trade plan with a focus on the digital media sector. It was during that same visit that DigiBC, the local industry association, entered into a collaborative agreement with the Gyeonggi Content Agency (GCA), a government body that organized the delegation.

DigiBC executive director Brenda Bailey said she was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the visit came after the initial trade outreach in January.

“Often, when provincial trade delegations to a foreign market happen, there would be memorandums of understanding, but it takes some time for there to be action,” Bailey said. “So for us to have in May, after signing in January, already an esteemed delegation here in B.C. is very exciting, and it speaks well to how each country sees the opportunity on VR/AR and is moving very quickly on this interest.”

In addition to showcasing technologies from the seven Korean companies in the delegation in hopes of gaining distribution deals, Gyeonggi province’s delegation is also pushing its Next Reality Partners (NRP) AR/VR startup incubator program, which is seeking international firms that may be looking at developing their products in Korea.

Lee Sangwon, manager at GCA and the Korean delegation leader, said Canada is one of only three markets - the other two being Great Britain and Dubai - that the NRP program has identified in its first step to attract AR/VR development talent to Korea.

“When we approached the Korean companies on getting into business with Canada, most of the companies in Gyeonggi province mentioned Vancouver because of the reputation in VR/AR development,” Lee said. “So the urge to work with Vancouver is not coming from the Korean government, but rather the companies themselves who want this market.”

Korean officials in B.C. have been actively pushing for more trade and investment between the two markets through the concept of “anchoring,” or joining forces to enter a third market where Korea and B.C.’s combined advantage can be leveraged. Gunn Kim, South Korea’s consul general in Vancouver, said he is therefore glad to see Korean industry seeing Vancouver as a potential gateway to North American, while adding that B.C. firms wanting to access markets in Asia should reciprocate through programs like NRP.

“We have cases of success in the past,” Kim said, noting Korean mobile game publisher Netmarble’s acquisition of Kabam’s Vancouver studio in 2016, as well as the growing Samsung Research Institute in the Lower Mainland, which is now serving the entire North American market. “When you go into a market that’s further away, it helps to have an anchor market. Korea can be an anchor market for Canadian companies wanting to access East Asia, just like B.C. can be the anchor for Korean companies looking at North America.” 

In a presentation to the Korean delegation, characterized as a “meet-and-greet” first step to more extensive interactions in the next three years, Microsoft Vancouver director Edoardo De Martin said his company chose Vancouver largely because of the large talent base for 3-D developers here in B.C., as well as its growing ecosystem for tech startups that’s now rivaling others along the North American West Coast. But De Martin also added that the city’s diversity is a strength that’s often overlooked.

“We don’t make software for just Canada or North America, but the entire world,” he said. “When we come here to Vancouver, the workforce reflects the world.”

De Martin added that Microsoft is seizing the opportunity to be part of an “ecosystem on the rise,” calling Vancouver a burgeoning digital “mecca.”

“Some of the products that we make here… include the MSN News team, which is located here in Vancouver. Windows Office 365 - the online version of Windows - is all done in Vancouver. On the Xbox console, Gears of War is a franchise that we’ve had in Vancouver for years; Gears of War 4 was release in 2016, and we are releasing our next big instalment in the next year or so.

“There’s a certain creativity and type of talent that you get both here in Vancouver and all along the West Coast, and I don’t know what it is, but that seems like the blueprint of creativity here,” he noted. “We want to be part of an ecosystem on the way up and not enter too late.”