Choson Exchange seeks speakers for North Korea startup festival

A street in Pyongsong, in North Korea

Fed up of Brexit Britain? Ruling out Hong Kong with its protests? Singapore too middle of the road? How about somewhere a little unconventional for your next gig – like North Korea?

A Startup Festival is coming to Pyongsong in North Korea (yes, I’m a little surprised too) in November 16-23, and social enterprise Choson Exchange is looking for applicants to take part in speaking and mentoring roles. I consider myself to be geographically quite astute, especially having lived in Asia for a number of years, but I’d not heard of Pyongsong.

A quick Google search reveals that Pyongsong is an hour north of Pyongyang, with a population of 284,000, making it the size of Derby (and probably just as exciting).

Improbably described as the Silicon Valley of North Korea, or more technically a tech-focused special economic zone, Pyongsong doesn’t appear to have many attractions.

There is the Atomic Energy Research Institute which, at a guess, you probably won’t get to visit unless you’re Dennis Rodman. Pyongsong also offers ‘attractions’ that include a town square, a school and a plastic leather factory.

Choson Exchange has been with entrepreneurs in North Korea for a while, as mentioned previously on this blog (Could you be the Choson one?), so it seems you’re in safe hands.

How to apply

If you have a background in entrepreneurship, marketing, economics or consulting, and wish to contribute to peaceful economic development in North Korea, sign up on the Choson Exchange website (but hurry: the application deadline is 25 August).

As can be expected,  citizens of the US, Japan and South Korea cannot be considered due to restrictions.  If you’re a British citizen, you should probably also read the FCO’s travel advice:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to North Korea (DPRK).

Few British people visit North Korea. Those that do are usually part of an organised tour. If you decide to visit North Korea, follow the advice of your tour group and the local authorities. Failure to do so could put your personal safety at risk.

Offences that would be considered trivial in other countries can incur very severe penalties in North Korea, particularly actions the authorities deem to be disrespectful towards the North Korean leadership or government.

Could you be the Choson one?

Pyongyang skyline

Keen on seeing a part of the world that is a little different from the usual? How about North Korea? Yes, everyone’s favourite foe. Most people get no further than the DMZ, excitedly sharing the “experience” with their Instagram followers.

If you apply today, Choson Exchange can get you in on an official visa this August, meaning a line on your CV like no other. Registered as a non-profit in Singapore (where of course the North Korean leader and Trump recently signed something vague, shook hands and grinned boyishly before the world media), Choson Exchange offers business training to ambitious people in the DPRK – and is looking for experienced professionals to provide it.

The organisation’s next trip is over 18 – 24 August 2018, and  includes site visits in Pyongyang to understand entrepreneurship in the DPRK and a three-day workshop to help local business people succeed. Applications close on 15 June (today), which includes a “donation” of 2,200 USD (about 1,600 pounds), though flights and accommodation are paid for.

As for what Pyongyang is actually like as a place to visit, Choson Exchange have helpfully shared tourist attractions that include a local brewery (wow), the Pyongyang Circus (why not) and Gold Cup Food Processing Plant (I’m in). There’s also the famous Ryungong Hotel that looks a little like the Shard, and I hear the cold noodles are rather nice.

But tourism aside, the key question on most people’s lips is: is North Korea safe? It’s fair to say that country doesn’t enjoy the best of reputations. Choson Exchange have answered this more and on their FAQs page (apparently you can wear blue jeans, so don’t worry about that). On a side note, many countries that have a dreadful reputation aren’t actually that unsafe – you’re probably more likely to be a struck by a falling window pane on the streets of London.

But while it all sounds like a bit of an adventure, it’s wise not to do anything silly – something that many Brits have a habit of doing, whether shagging on a Dubai beach or going on a drunken rampage. Which is why it’s sensible to heed FCO advice on North Korea:

While daily life in the capital city Pyongyang may appear calm, the security situation in North Korea can change with little notice and with no advance warning of possible actions by the North Korean authorities. This poses significant risks to British visitors and residents.

You should follow the political and security situation very closely and stay in touch with your host organisation or tour operator.

That’s a green light to me (go, but don’t do anything stupid). You can apply today on the Choson Exchange website.