How to Start a Business

10 Steps to start a business and scale it : Case of underdogs (Entrepreneurship Education Company)

Asia Tomorrow Original
May 2, 2024

The trend of starting new businesses is increasing

According to one statistic, the number of small business startups in the U.S. has been rapidly rising, from 2.8 million in 2015 to 3.5 million in 2019, and to 5.5 million in 2023. 

In the EU, the number of SMEs increased from 19.5 million in 2008 to 21 million in 2015, and to 24.4 million in 2023. In Asia, the number of SMEs established increased significantly from 328 million in 2021 to 333 million in 2023, within two years.

(Source : Commerce Institute)

There are several reasons why more people are venturing into entrepreneurship:

Technological Advancements

New technologies have lowered the barriers to entrepreneurship, enabling individuals to start and run a business more easily than ever before.

Economic Necessity

In the aftermath of the pandemic and inflation, some people are motivated by economic necessity to start their own businesses, and entrepreneurship offers an accessible path to self-employment.

Shift Toward Individualism and Independence

As more people leave traditional workplaces to start ventures, there is a significant shift in the business world towards valuing individualism and independence.

Government Support

Governments around the world are increasingly recognizing the importance of SMEs and implementing policies and programs to support their development, further promoting growth in this sector.

(Source : OECD)

Consequently, the number of government agencies, platforms, and companies supporting entrepreneurs is also increasing. That’s because SMEs have become essential partners for national economies (e.g., job creation), platform economies, and the business growth of large enterprises.

(Refer to :  Entrepreneurship - Shopify Academy)

(Refer to :  Salesforce Business Builders Program

In this context, entrepreneurship education is gaining importance, as it can enhance productivity in business and help entrepreneurs establish themselves as business leaders. 

However, entrepreneurship education is still a field that has not been fully covered in formal education curricula. As a result, platforms, large corporations, and government support agencies that aim to provide business education to entrepreneurs to expand business impact are now considering effective solutions for delivering such education.

사진 설명이 없습니다.
(Source : underdogs)

underdogs is a South Korean startup that has grown its entrepreneurship education as a major service since 2015. By nurturing coaches who have experience starting businesses, underdogs have been planning and operating educational programs, events to provide practical entrepreneurship education. 

With high-intensity entrepreneurship education akin to real-world experiences, they have focused on ensuring that entrepreneurship education genuinely helps early-stage and aspiring entrepreneurs.

(Refer to : Here's how a South Korean startup made $38 million from entrepreneurial education business

Aligned with the trend of increasing demand for entrepreneurship education, underdogs' business has expanded to government agencies, corporations, and even international markets. 

In 2023, they achieved over 13 billion KRW in sales through their entrepreneurship education services and have been pioneering the entrepreneurship education market in Japan in 2024. In just nine years, they've grown from a startup providing free entrepreneurship education services to a company generating 10 billion KRW in annual revenue.

Let's break down the journey of how this education startup started and expanded its business into 10 stages.

(Source : underdogs)

10 Steps to start a business and scale as an education company

1. Identifying the Problem

Kim Jeongheon, the CEO of underdogs' holding company, New Black, worked at a consulting firm before joining an early-stage startup. He later joined a social venture team, where he discovered the following pros and cons of working at a startup:

  • Pros: Self-directedness, where one can set and pursue goals independently.
  • Cons: Due to the lack of systems, people face challenges in managing tasks and communication.

2.Defining the Problem

To overcome the above-mentioned shortcomings of startups, CEO Kim defined 'team building' as a crucial factor. Startups can't survive without teamwork, especially when exposed to various trials and conflicts while going from zero to one.

On the other hand, finding founding members for an early-stage startup is not easy, as it's challenging to judge whether a candidate is suitable for a startup based solely on their resume.

(Early days of underdogs education program in 2015, Credit : underdogs)

3. Conceiving a Solution

To find early-stage startup members, CEO Kim designed and offered a free entrepreneurship education program in 2015. The program lasted six weeks, covering 300 hours and providing room and board while teaching entrepreneurship and practical startup skills.

Through entrepreneurship education, underdogs tried to see if it could find talent capable of enduring rigorous coaching from those who had actually started businesses themselves.

After conducting this entrepreneurship education program, Underdogs achieved the following results:

  • Number of participants who started a business after the program: over 2,000
  • Startup retention rate: 63%
  • Investment attraction rate: 34%
  • Job creation rate: 50%

4.Forming the Initial Team

Ten graduates who completed the underdogs education program joined as initial team members. Jo Sangrae, the recent CEO of underdogs, also joined as an early member then.

Before joining, CEO Jo had founded a social venture called 'WaterFarm.' WaterFarm offered water-saving solutions, experimenting with IoT showerheads and water usage comparison services.

After closing this company, CEO Jo regretted how much he didn't know in the early days of his startup. He then joined underdogs as an early member, believing that his entrepreneurship experience could help enhance the entrepreneurship education program.

(Jeongheon Kim, and Sangrae Cho, Credit : Business Post)

5. Customer Composition

underdogs' stakeholders include students who are aspiring or early-stage entrepreneurs, coaches with entrepreneurship experience, and institutions or companies supporting entrepreneurship education. 

The program has established a structure where the entrepreneurial ecosystem network is connected through education.

  • Students: Aspiring entrepreneurs or early-stage entrepreneurs
  • Educators: People who have started businesses
  • B2B, B2G Partners: Institutions supporting entrepreneurship education

6.User Expansion

As the underdogs' education program gained popularity, companies and institutions interested in entrepreneurship education programs began to approach them. The following types of business partners have increased:

  • Companies interested in expanding new business through venture investment
    • PropTech
  • Companies operating platforms requiring many SMEs and entrepreneurs
    • Franchise companies
    • E-commerce platforms
    • Distribution/Supply chain companies
  • Companies encouraging entrepreneurship education for ESG purposes
    • Support for female entrepreneurs
    • Support for local brand founders
  • Companies seeking education for in-house venture activation and employee development

7.Revenue Structure

The proportion of B2B revenue in underdogs' entrepreneurship education has increased. 

As a partner, underdogs provides planning, operation, performance management, and event hosting of entrepreneurship education to private and public institutions. This can be the charming point for B2B, B2G partners.

Recently, underdogs has also been increasing its B2C entrepreneurship education programs. It offers coaching and seminar-based curricula as educational products for individual customers.

(‘Localize Gunsan,' a project conducted in partnership with SK E&S as part of an ESG initiative, focused on educating young entrepreneurs in Gunsan. Credit : underdogs)

8. Reflecting Market Trends

underdogs is expanding into the corporate training market to show that entrepreneurship education can also enhance job and practical skills.

Upskilling and reskilling are currently the key focus areas in corporate training, as the uncertainties in the market and business environments make employee retraining inevitable. With advancements in IT such as artificial intelligence automating tasks, incorporating these advancements into business operations necessitates corporate training.

  • Upskilling: Enhancing employees' skills for advanced roles.
  • Reskilling: Training employees for different roles.

This education startup has already linked entrepreneurship education to in-house ventures. Now, it aims to explore the market potential of entrepreneurship education in the corporate training sector.

9.Long-term Business Strategy

Entrepreneurship education and practical coaching, combined with a well-developed curriculum, add scalability. In this context, the 'original textbook' is essential to provide one-on-one coaching while maintaining a high quality of education.

underdogs has spent a decade developing its educational content and embedding it into entrepreneurship coaching. They create original IP to train coaches who deliver consistent entrepreneurship education. Having in-house educational content also positively impacts B2B and B2C partner marketing efforts.

10.Future Plans?

underdogs has expanded its entrepreneurship education services to global markets, particularly Japan.

Japan has recently emphasized starting a business and venture investment. In 2023, the government announced a 'Five-Year Startup Development Plan,' aiming to invest 10 trillion yen in startups by 2027, creating 100,000 startups and 100 unicorn companies. Interest in startups is at an all-time high, even in the private sector.

(Refer to : Time to Change? Director of the most vibrant startup community in Japan reveals signs of Japanese venture trends

This education startup is developing educational programs and services tailored to global markets based on a decade of entrepreneurship education data and content. It will be interesting to see if entrepreneurship education can successfully expand worldwide, including in Japan.

*Want to improve your business plan?
Contact for startup diagnostic tools and workshops! (Link)

(Credit : underdogs)

Written by Jinny (underdogs)


*Read the case studies of Asian startup founders' starting point and business/growth strategy in detail.

Indonesian startup became the first unicorn in Aquaculture : How it started, expanded to the platform business

Thailand startup with a fresh food delivery app : How it started and got US $23.5 million Series B funding

10 Steps to start a business and scale it : Case of NOVI Health (Personalized Healthcare Service) 

This Japanese unicorn startup want to make everyday payday : Here's how ADVASA aligned with trends in Japan


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