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AI Friends

AI Friends private study group(at Space-S location)

Small and medium-sized companies often cannot afford investments in Artificial Intelligence technologies. Through AI Friends project, AI became more accessible, affordable, and familiar for entrepreneurs and citizens. AI festival, training, co-working spaces, and pilot solution consulting is operated through the cooperation of universities, research institutes, industries, government, and citizens over the last four years.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The primary objective of Science Technology Park (INNOPOLIS) AI Friends is to alleviate the barriers to AI-tech adoption for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which constitute of 97.3% of the companies in INNOPOLIS as of 2019. According to the Korea Development Institute’s survey of 500 Korean companies in 2020, the rate of AI solution adoption was only 3.6%, and the majority (91.7%) of companies that adopted AI solutions were large companies. The major barriers to AI solution adoption were a mismatch with corporate needs (35.8%), expensive costs (20.6%), and insufficient in-house human resources with expertise (15.7%).

INNOPOLIS AI Friends addresses these challenges together with AI experts in INNOPOLIS. INNOPOLIS is one of the national hubs of AI research in Korea. As of 2019, more than 15% of national R&D manpower and approximately national 40% Ph.D. holders were working in INNOPOLIS. Moreover, out of 14 AI Graduate Schools registered to the Ministry of Science and ICT, seven schools (HYU-ERICA, POSTECH, UNIST, KAIST, CNU, GIST, PSU) are located within INNOPOLIS. In awareness of such problems and opportunities, AI Friends program was designed to make outstanding AI human resources accessible not only to SMEs but also to the citizen so that everyone can be familiar.

As a government agency, Korea Innovation Foundation acts as the catalyst to facilitate the network between the university, research institutes, and industry. Under the project name "AI friends", a total of four projects were operated to support the AI ecosystem - AI Clinic, AI spark Challenge, AI Start-up Co-working Space, and AI festival.

AI Clinic is a workshop for existing companies to get training and consultation activity for industry members to ask AI experts in research institutes or universities about the ways to adopt AI into the companies' running business. This activity will contribute to the increase in output and reduction in the gap between AI and SMEs by making the technology more accessible. Up to March 2022, a total of five AI training workshops was organized and over 130 people participated from SMEs attended these workshops 29 pilot projects were carried out based on the consultation provided.

Also, there is an event called AI Spark Challenge which is a contest to find solutions through AI to the challenges that are faced by companies. This is open to the general public and the outstanding solution will win the prize. For the first AI Spark Challenge held from December 2020 to January 2021, 1,472 teams or individuals competed on a solar energy forecasting solution. The second competition was held from October to November 2021, and a total of 275 competitors submitted solutions to two problems – forecasting rainfall in dam areas and categorizing and detecting water pipe leaks. This year, another round of AI spark challenge is underway where competitors will seek a solution for livestock object detection using edge devices.

Aside from the competition, INNOPOLIS AI Friends program tries to reduce barriers for SMEs by offering AI Co-working spaces at a location called Space-S at an AI startup incubation center in Daedeok INNOPOLIS. Space-S consists of a makerspace, an open co-working space, and 11 office spaces for early-stage AI companies. Starting from this location, AI research community was developed for a co-working project and Space-S provided an event hall for various gatherings for the AI community.

AI Friends also contributes to supporting the local population to feel familiar with AI. The AI festival was held four times for the public and more than 21,000 people participated in these events. The first offline event in 2019 attracted about 600 participants which include the INNOPOLIS AI companies, research institutes, universities, and local citizens. In 2020, the festival was held online due to Covid-19, and the online live streaming recorded 20,000 views. The 2021 AI Festival was held in a metaverse online platform Gather Town, and more than 550 participants joined the virtual event. This year, we held the fourth AI Festival offline at the National Science Museum of Korea and more than 550 people participated from various innovative bodies.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

What distinguishes INNOPOLIS AI Friends from other existing programs is that it focuses on establishing linkages between public laboratories and private industries at the nascent stage of AI solution development. The existing research support programs are mainly concerned with the post-technology-transfer stage from prototype to mass manufacturing. For emerging technologies such as AI, however, the division between industrial, academic, and research areas is quite rigid, and technology transfer contracts are difficult to arise. In order to fix such a problem, INNOPOLIS AI Friends connects AI technology suppliers such as researchers, and academics, to ordinary citizens and entrepreneurs via open networking events, business incubation centers, and AI solution consulting services. By supporting both hardware and software aspects of AI solution development in one package, INNOPOLIS AI Friends facilitates AI knowledge spillover from the laboratory to the private sector and even to citizens.

What is the current status of your innovation?

As of 2022, the AI Friends project is ongoing with various events occurring from time to time. In July in cooperation with 28 bodies which include government, universities, research institutes, and private companies, the fourth AI Festival was held with 550 participants mainly from innovative bodies and citizens. Last year, the fruit of the AI Friends project was harvested. The professionals from industry, academia, and research institutes came together privately and created a study group called AI Friends. This study group was created with the goal of sharing knowledge cross-sectors. Until today, the study group is held regularly at the AI co-working space called Space-S.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

From 2019 to the present, INNOPOLIS AI Friends has operated in cooperation with AI-related experts from universities, public research institutes, non-profit organizations, and private AI consulting firms. Our organization, as an agency under the Ministry of Science and ICT of Korea, plays the role as a bridge of the knowledge from the public and private organizations’ AI expertise to SMEs by finding the demanded professionals from the innovative bodies.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Small and medium-sized companies can benefit from the program by having the opportunity to develop AI systems in their business through consulting. Further, the solution providers such as public research institutes and universities can benefit by proliferating the AI market locally, with the goal of finding potential demanders for public AI technology transfer. Lastly, citizens (including students) are the potential stakeholders. Therefore, some features of the AI festival are targeted at students.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

AI Friends impacted greatly in accelerating the adoption process of the fourth industrial revolution in Daedeok INNOPOLIS by operating four programs. Especially at the company level, the AI Clinic program increased the usage of AI systems by operating an education program for the companies. Over the last two years, 376 people from the local companies in our science and technology park participated in AI courses. And last year, 72 companies participated in AI solution consulting and discovered the possibility of 29 companies applying AI in the company business. Currently, those companies are working on pilot tests with the help of AI experts from the research institutes, and AI specialized consulting firms with our organization's support. A survey was done to improve the program on the participants and discovered that on average the satisfaction was over 90%. The high rate of satisfaction can be understood as the helpfulness of the program for the participants.

Challenges and Failures

At the initial stage, AI Friends faced challenges in gathering local companies for the program. This project is visibly helpful from the social perspective since AI technology can support local companies' output to increase and ultimately can lead to the social welfare of the local citizens. However, AI is an unfamiliar area for companies to recognize the applicability of AI in their business. Although INNOPOLIS companies are mostly technology-oriented, unless certain experts that work in AI-related fields have spinned-off from a research center to create a firm, in the job market there were barriers for local companies to find AI technology experts(KDI Survey on 500 companies). This is the area where our organization intervened. AI Clinic program and AI festivals program supported local companies to perceive various applicability of using AI and the number of companies participating in the AI Friends program gradually increased.

Conditions for Success

In the case of AI Friends, the goal was to spread the usage of AI technology. By achieving this goal, our organization saw that it can contribute to the increase in production and service of the companies. When this project was initially planned in 2018, three problems were recognized and need to be eradicated to achieve the goal. First and second were the low awareness and demand for AI technology. In light of the recognition, AI Festival and AI Clinic were prepared to show and spread the innumerable applicability of AI. The third problem was the high barriers to applying AI to business. Companies faced difficulty in collecting data and finding experts in the AI field. Thankfully, many of the government bodies in Daedeok INNOPOLIS publicized data for the public to use and AI began to be recognized as one of the blue-chip industries for entrepreneurs. The public begins to perceive that introduction of AI into the business can greatly improve the value of the company.


This program(solution) is an ongoing project so it has not yet been applied in other countries yet. If a developing country is hoping to operate the AI Friends program, it is easily replicable under a few conditions:

  • AI Friends was operated at the science and technology park in Korea called INNOPOLIS. There should be a group like the research institutes and universities with high AI capability.
  • There should be a governmental body that is financially capable and willing to bring change to the local society.
  • The governmental body should have a cordial relationship with AI-related organizations like research institutes and universities.
  • There should be companies concentrated in the local area. The higher the concentration of the companies, the impact of the program will be stronger.

Lessons Learned

AI Friends contributed to increasing the competitiveness of the Daedeok INNOPOLIS companies. During the process, there were some lessons learned which might be helpful for those groups who wish to replicate these programs.

  • Unlike governmental organization, which pursues welfare of the society, companies discover business opportunities in places that governmental body sometimes can not foresee. In the case of AI Clinic education, the class also served as an opportunity for the trainees to interact with companies from various fields, and some discussed doing pilot projects together on an item.
  • Operating the series of AI programs gave us the insight that the impact of the AI Clinic is greater when the CEO-level learners participated in the education and consulting.
  • AI Festival has a stronger impact on society when it is focused on citizens' interests than on company's.

Anything Else?

As we progressed in this program, we realized that in order to strengthen a company’s AI capabilities, the program should not be a one-time experience program. Consequently, AI Clinic was reorganized into two-track to enhance its effectiveness. Track 1 was organized for the group that is new to AI and track 2 was for the group that already has knowledge of AI. Track 1 focused on education and mentoring for companies that were trying to find ways to apply AI to their businesses. Track 2 focused on providing AI solutions which may include issues related to collecting data, business modeling, analyzing the model, and dispersing the AI technology.

Project Pitch

Supporting Videos

Year: 2018
Level of Government: National/Federal government


  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed

Innovation provided by:


Date Published:

3 January 2023

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