It all started in a typical classroom of a Gangnam hagwon. The gathering was meant to be a networking event, but to the handful of people still, there it was pretty clear that the energy in the room was dying. Their attempt to connect with one another while promoting themselves
was a dud.
The organizer, the original founder of Business Network Korea, had higher hopes but needed help. He looked to Justin McLeod and Liam Lusk, the two men from World Markets, a London-based marketing startup that had been the primary backer of the fledgling event at the time. “Take this over,” he said. “You guys could really do it justice.” 
And they did. 
Since taking over BNK in July 2013, the two men have turned a group of five guys in a hagwon classroom into a crowd of 70 to 80 current and prospective business people engaging in a bimonthly gathering of speed-networking and panel Q&As taking place in conference rooms and pubs. In the past year, active membership has reached a regular 100+ professionals, with its total number of members hitting nearly 800. 
McLeod and Lusk wanted Business Network Korea to be different from other networking events; they didn’t want it to be midweek or expensive. For them, it had to be accessible and, most importantly, something that people could actually benefit from. 
“A lot of the networking events in town charge you about 50,000 or 60,000 won to go through the door, and you don’t get anything given to you,” says McLeod. “You just basically stand with some executives, rub shoulders, have a glass of wine and a stale shrimp biscuit, and then you leave. You might have 10 business cards by the end of the night but you’re never going to do business with these guys.” 
BNK, on the other hand, makes sure you get to connect with people and really learn something.  Running two half-hour rounds of speed-networking and presenting either a guest speaker or a panel, the event currently charges 30,000 won at the door and 25,000 by prepay, which mostly just covers the venue cost. 
In speed-networking, participants sit face-to-face for two minutes and each has one minute for an elevator pitch and to exchange business cards. McLeod and Lusk guarantee that you leave with 30 business cards from people you actually get to engage with. 
Guest speakers at BNK have included Kenny Park, co-founder of the popular Vatos Urban Tacos restaurant in Itaewon. McLeod says these guest speakers and panels have let participants ask questions such as how the entrepreneur transitioned from teaching English to doing business, or how to register a business in Korea. The organizers love it when people tell them they’ve had all their questions answered. 
After the event, there is also what Koreans call i-cha, a second round at BNK’s sponsor Tiwi Lounge in Itaewon for more networking over drinks. “BNK has been a valuable resource for meeting like-minded entrepreneurs and working professionals in Korea,” says Joseph  Gerocs, a senior consultant at Forte Communication. “In a short time, you get to make valuable connections and hear from a lot of interesting people.” 
“We’re more focused on our philosophy of Koreans meeting non-Koreans for business,” says McLeod. “We want real people who are either struggling to go from teaching to business or are students looking for work. They are not executives; they are people who are in the normal salary jobs who want to change or try an investment or try to be an entrepreneur.” 
While BNK was originally intended to be a vehicle to promote World Markets and Lusk’s company Artam Consultancy, the networking event has grown into its own, becoming more of a passion project. 
“This is a for-love thing for us. We don’t make money out of this. We get exposure,” says McLeod. “People know who we are and we get connected. That’s how we get paid for this one. We just get to build our brand in Korea.” 
Since then, the two men have merged their two Seoul-based businesses into World Markets Korea, the main sponsor of the event. They are hoping to strike a deal with the Seoul Metropolitan Government to expand into a free-admission monthly event, as well as improve opportunities to connect with non-English speaking Koreans and Korean small and medium-sized enterprises. 
“Koreans meeting non-Koreans for business is at the center of our philosophy and matches with the Seoul government’s goals of promoting globalization,” says McLeod. “Right now, the demographics of the events are 50-50 Korean-foreigner, and 50-50 male-female, but they’re all English speakers. That’s the issue for us right now. Getting Korean-based Koreans, people who haven’t been overseas and haven’t learned English, to communicate with us is going to
be a big challenge.” 
“In addition to the translation services,” adds Lusk, “if we manage to get our events there, we will be meeting them with what the mayor of Seoul is trying to do, which is to try and combine not only entrepreneurs in Korea and help them start their businesses, but also connecting them to Korean SMEs as well. I feel that if we get connected with the SMG, that would help boost our plan of getting more Koreans involved.” Regardless of whether the proposal to the Seoul government goes through, BNK plans to become a monthly event starting next year and alternating between VIP and open sessions. They hope to continue facilitating more business opportunities in an increasingly diversifying Korea. 
“Being a foreigner and working for a Korean company with long working hours, my opportunity to broaden my network here is quite limited,” says Ardini Ridhatillah, an analyst and relationship manager at Kookmin Bank. “BNK has not only given me opportunities to build bridges with other professionals from other industries but also opened my door to connect with the entrepreneur community in Korea.” 
The next BNK event is on Nov. 15 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Platoon in Gangnam.
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