|▲ Our interviewee Yu Hyun-seo (DKU Alumni of 15' Class, Accounting major)|
Last December 20, the Startup Support Foundation of Dankook University (DKU) held its 3rd annual Start-Up Demo-day & Club Festival. Since it was first established in 2014, the foundation has actively supported student entrepreneurs with their start-up businesses, and hosted useful lectures and launched information programs designed to help promote new business ventures. During the Demo-day & Festival, the foundation announced the gross proceeds gained by supporting these new enterprises, and each club had a chance to display their products and services and report on their current state of affairs. However, one entrepreneur, a North Korean defector who settled in South Korea, stood out from the rest. The entrepreneur is Yu Hyun-seo, an accounting major graduate from DKU. Through the support she received from the Start-up Support Foundation of DKU, she was able to launch ‘Free Village,’ a company that produces free range eggs for the domestic market. The Dankook Herald (DKH) interviewed Yu Hyun-seo, who has now made her name for herself, as a successful young South Korea entrepreneur.
Q. Please introduce yourself and your company, Free Village.
A. I graduated DKU in 2015, and I am a co-founder of the company Free Village, a poultry business company with a motto for producing well-being food. If you are worried that my business may be suffering because of the recent Avian Influenza Virus (AI) outbreak that was first discovered last November in South Korea, don’t be. My business hasn’t suffered at all from AI, because we produce eggs with the welfare of the animal in mind. The hens freely graze, so they are under less stress and are less likely to contract the deadly virus. Eggs from free grazing hens have a higher quality of nutrition and are much better for our health. This is why we use this free grazing method to produce our products. The Free Village has been in business for 7 months now and we have seen a rise in profit to fifty million won.
Q. What inspired you to start your own business?
A. When I was young, I had a dream of running my own business, but it was not easy to do., so, I did what everyone else does; I spent a year getting licenses, improving my TOEIC scores, going overseas for language courses, all to level up my qualifications and get the best job. I worked at HSBC as an intern and took on some part time jobs at other financial institutions. Later, when I was a senior, I decided the time was right for me to start-up a new business. I quit everything and focused solely on what had to be done to start my company ‘Free Village’. I was inspired by other friends who had recently launched new business and just followed their lead.
Q. What challenges have you had to overcome to get this project going and to make it a success?
A. First, it was sourcing investment funds. We were all students and didn’t have that much money. We gathered all the money we had saved, but it still was not enough. Then we met someone through the Startup Support Foundation of DKU who became our mentor for this project. Fortunately, he invested in our company and this helped us so much.
We have also had to deal with other challenges such as the marketing and networking of our products. As you know, we weren’t born in South Korea, so we don’t have any friends or family to ask for help, apart from the people I met at DKU. It was really hard to advertise our business. It took almost 3 months for us to get the word out there. We even went to some churches to introduce our eggs to families. These days, we are considering using online advertisements as well.
Q. What made you choose the livestock industry as a field of work?
A. First, when I was young, I used to see a lot of livestock like cows, pigs and chickens running around nearby grasslands. Seeing them and interacting with them was very natural for me. And this made me think that someday I would be good at this kind of business. Poultry doesn’t cost that much, so the investment was affordable and eggs are in high demand because people eat them daily, so it was the perfect choice all around for me. The other motivator was knowing there were not many young people in livestock industry, and we wanted to be the first successful young entrepreneurs in the field to hopefully inspire other young people to get interested in this industry too.
Q. How difficult was it for you to settle in South Korea?
A. The hardest part was with the language. When I spoke with my North Korean dialect, people knew I was a defector and it was often stressful dealing with their reactions. As a result, I often avoided meeting people when I first arrived. However, after I entered DKU, I changed my attitude and tried to make friends at the university. These friends helped me better adapt to daily life here by hanging out frequently and studying hard together. Except for the linguistic problem, I did not experience as many difficulties as other North Korean defectors often do.
Q. We heard you appeared in a documentary about the unification of Korea. What made you to focus on the issue of reunification?
A. I noticed that nobody really took this issue seriously, so my colleagues at Free Village and I decided to invest in the cause. We wanted to prepare the Korean Peninsula for a time when it will be re-unified, so we take part in many projects on the topic, including that documentary film. We wanted to share with others, especially with younger generations, the value of reunification.
At the end of the interview, she strongly emphasized that we need to be concerned about the way we raise our livestock. Her effort to take into consideration the health of both people and her chickens is respectable. Her hope in 2017 is to stabilize her business. She has many plans, including expanding the supply chain of Free Village to F&B companies and department stores, targeting China too. Although she didn’t have any start-up funds or distribution networks, she plunged into a field uncommon to youth and made it a success. The DKH hopes she will successfully pursue her dreams of expansion and continue to grow as a young and brave pioneer in the livestock industry.
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