NHN sets up $90M fund to help Korea startups, smaller firms

Operator of South Korea's largest Web portal wants to help ensure the growth of smaller IT companies and venture startups, amid antitrust investigations over its alleged unfair business practices.

NHN will spend US$45 million each to support venture startups as well as the work culture of content developers.

NHN has announced plans to invest 100 billion won (US$90 million) to fund smaller local content providers and establish a better online ecosystem in South Korea. 

The company said this effort would go toward ensuring growth among smaller IT companies and venture startups in the country, The Korea Times reported Monday.

Under the plan, NHN will spend 50 billion won (US$45 million) to support venture startups and the other 50 billion won to support the work culture of content developers. In addition, the company plans to offer educational, marketing, and mentoring programs to promising local ventures and smaller players to help them generate tangible results. 

NHN operates South Korea's leading Web portal, Naver, and recently came under criticism for unfair business practices. The country's antitrust regulator in May launched an investigation into the claims, visiting its headquarters in Bundang and held on-site inspections. The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said the company had "tremendous power" over advertisers and software developers, among others in the market, due to its popularity on desktops.

The company's CEO Kim Sang-hun acknowledged the criticism. "NHN will try to seek ways with the government and interested parties, to ensure fairness and strengthen transparency of managing the portal," Kim told reporters in Seoul on Monday. He added the company will be "aggressive" in helping content developers create more competitive content.

NHN also pledged to draw a clear line between search results and advertisements, block pornographic material and other unfiltered content, and help local content developers expand businesses outside South Korea.

The company's announcement comes after the government last week said it might penalize NHN for alleged unfair business practices, according to a separate report by The Korea Times.