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Kim Byung-Kwon, vice-president for strategic marketing for the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency, attends the second annual K-TECH conference in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday morning, Nov. 14, 2013. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

SANTA CLARA -- Thirty-six South Korean tech companies, filled with the ambitions of their new president to encourage the next generation of South Korean dreamers and innovators, traveled here this month hoping to join a growing number of their country's businesses that have found a new home in Silicon Valley.

Since 2008, the number of South Korean companies has doubled in Silicon Valley from about 80 to more than 160 today, according to estimates from the Silicon Valley office of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.

The consumer market of South Korea, with a population of 49 million, is considered saturated and too small to absorb all of the technology and products its companies produce, said Joong Hun Kwon, managing director of KOTRA Silicon Valley.

People listen to the keynote speech by Young Sohn, the president of Samsung Electronics, at the second annual K-TECH conference in Santa Clara, Calif.,
People listen to the keynote speech by Young Sohn, the president of Samsung Electronics, at the second annual K-TECH conference in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday morning, Nov. 14, 2013. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

So, fueled by the successes of global South Korean icons such as Hyundai, LG and Samsung, three dozen small South Korean businesses arrived in Silicon Valley this month hoping to find willing U.S. partners, en route to bigger exposure in the U.S. market.

They were all part of the second annual K-Tech@Silicon Valley conference here, where several of the 1,380 conference attendees cribbed from Frank Sinatra to explain why South Korean businesses see Silicon Valley as a gateway to the U.S. consumer market.

"If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere," said Stephanie Son, the business development manager for KOTRA's Silicon Valley office, located on North First Street in San Jose.

South Korea is a nation eager to show its tech chops on a global stage, said Hoje Jo, 59, who emigrated from Seoul in 1980 to attend college in Buffalo and is now the finance department chairman at Santa Clara University's Leavey School of Business.

South Korean businesses know their domestic market is limited, and on-going tensions and issues dealing with some of their neighbors throughout Asia has put additional constraints on expanding closer to home, he said.

"Even the smaller Korean companies have a lot of good technologies and some really, really good people doing good engineering work,'' said Richard Dasher, director of the US-Asia Technology Management Center at Stanford University. "What they don't have are the resources we have in Silicon Valley, so they are hungry. (For U.S. companies), partnering with them to do business outside of Korea could be a really good business play."

Sid Shim, managing director of business development for MediaZen, stood by himself at his booth at K-Tech@Silicon Valley, hoping to attract American interest in his company that makes automobile speech recognition software.

"We would very much like to meet with a U.S. partner," Shim said. "The Korean market is too small."

Young Sohn, president and chief strategy officer of Samsung Electronics, drew a standing-room crowd as the keynote speaker at the conference. And people afterward excitedly talked about the possibilities stemming from Samsung's expansion plans in Silicon Valley, which include a 1.1 million-square-foot campus going up on North First Street in San Jose near the San Francisco 49ers new Santa Clara stadium; along with separate plans for an 8.5-acre campus in Mountain View for its sister company, Samsung Research America.

Reporters asked Sohn about a patent trial that was still underway in San Jose between Samsung and Apple (AAPL), which later ended with a federal jury awarding Apple $290 million in damages.

Exhibition booths for the second annual K-TECH conference fill a conference room at the Marriott Hotel in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday morning, Nov. 14,
Exhibition booths for the second annual K-TECH conference fill a conference room at the Marriott Hotel in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday morning, Nov. 14, 2013. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

"No comment," Sohn said. "Frankly a guy like me who worries about innovation doesn't think about the past. I think about what's the best way to bring the greatest ideas to help us to grow."

Education and technology have long been valued among South Koreans, but the country's new president, Park Geun-hye, promised in her February inaugural address to increase investment in science and technology and pledged to help small entrepreneurs become successful.

She followed up by making appointments to the Presidential Advisory Council on Science & Technology that she chairs, created the Ministry of Science, ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and Future Planning and has hosted U.S. tech leaders including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

In May, Geun-hye talked tech at the White House with President Barack Obama and this month the two countries released a statement saying they were collaborating on information and communications technology and will work to promote innovation on issues such as cybersecurity.

At the K-Tech@Silicon Valley conference, South Korean businesses and others interested in South Korean technology buzzed around Il-Jun Park, director general of Geun-hye's new Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, as he considered the ambitions of South Korean businesses to expand even further throughout Silicon Valley.

"Silicon Valley is the powerhouse of software and innovation," Park told this newspaper. "If we can succeed in this market, then we can succeed anywhere."

Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.