By Lee Scott
It’s no secret that Mike Yates has big plans for AFEK (the Association of F-Visa Expats in Korea ). Ask him and he’ll tell you, “I hope to make AFEK the number one place for real, tangible help for all members of the expat community [in Korea].” One big step toward that goal is the thriving online community he founded and has built over the last two years. With more than 300 members who actively use the site each month, it is perhaps the most successful online community for long-term expats in Korea.
Another big step was the first annual AFEK business conference which was held Saturday, June 26 in the COEX convention center. Seventy AFEK members met for a chance to network with other expats, attend a variety of short survey-style seminars on topics ranging from Korean tax laws for businesses to the ins-and-outs of hiring native speakers and sponsoring E2 visas for teaching English in a hagwon.
Perhaps most interesting of all was how much the conference cost attendees and AFEK itself: nothing. The event was sponsored by the Seoul Global Business Support Center, an organization created and funded by the Seoul Metropolitan Government with a mission to help revitalize foreign investment and to help foster the establishment of small and medium sized enterprises with foreign owners.
The SGBSC’s primary office is located at COEX. From there, they offer a variety of services to qualified participants including translation services in Korean, Chinese and Japanese, business network support, industry site consulting, licensing and applications support, and (perhaps most unbelievably) even free office space for terms of six months. The last is offered through the SGBSC’s enterprise “Incubation Office Services.”
Yates became aware of the SGBSC several months ago and contacted them about how they might be beneficial to one another. Yates’ own company, which owns AFEK, is licensed in South Korea, and it is small and medium sized enterprises to which the SGBSC is able to offer the most support. The SGBSC would help with the conference, and in return, they would be getting access to an easy-to-tap market filled with the kind of potential they are tasked with harnessing.
So far the relationship has been mutually beneficial. Not only has AFEK benefited directly from services offered by the SGBSC, but the Center and some of its clients have benefited from the knowledge and experience of some AFEK members.
Yates says he hopes to hold the AFEK Business conference once a year, but also wants to create a sister event which would cover social issues such as immigration and family law which would have a broader appeal for people on all visa types in Korea. He was quick to add, “Obviously, these conferences are members only, and places are made available to the more active members first.”
As for the inaugural conference, Yates was enthusiastic and looking ahead: “I think we can safely call the first AFEK Business Conference a success. AFEK members were able to garner useful information from our five presenters, and it didn’t cost them a penny. Hopefully next year, we can reach even more people,” he said.
About the Seoul Global Business Support Center:
The center offers multi-lingual (English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese) support for foreigners seeking to start and do business in Seoul. They extend consulting advice on inquiries related to investment and business as well as conducting and providing market research on specific topics (per the request of clients).
In addition to offering consultation services, the SGBSC is able to provide business networking opportunities for the owners of small and medium sized enterprises in Seoul. They also present referral services for specialist professional consultation needs.
The center fosters a community for SME owners who have started and worked with the SGBSC. They organize and provide a variety of opportunities for education programs and seminars. These can include business seminars covering a specific topic (per request) or could be a site tour (retail, wholesale, manufacturing, etc.) for research purposes. The center also organizes regularly scheduled social events for networking and relationship building.
As mentioned, the SGBSC also provides office space for new enterprises (by application). Their COEX center has office space for up to three SMEs. These are one-person offices (about 6 square meters) with office furniture and access to conference and meeting space. The center provides secretarial and translation services, as well as office equipment (PC, copier, fax, etc.) at no charge to the enterprise. Office leases are for terms of six months and can be extended (after review).
Resident cartoonist and 3WM webmaster Lee Scott occasionally contributes to 3WM.
He is or has been an avid: gamer/reader/writer/designer/cartoonist/developer/hatchet-man/teacher/entrepreneur.