South Korea's reputation for churning out cutting-edge products took a hit when the country's largest corporation, Samsung, had to recall its explosion-prone Galaxy Note 7 in September. But the country's commitment to fostering research and development was enough to make its economy the most innovative in the world, according to a recent ranking by Bloomberg.
Bloomberg's Innovation Index scored countries based on seven different criteria. South Korea secured its No. 1 ranking by coming in first in R&D intensity (the amount of money spent on research and development as a percentage of the country's GDP), manufacturing value-added (also measured as a percentage of the country's total GDP), and patent activity (the number of patents filed by and granted per every 1 million residents, as well as total grants by country as a share of the world total).
The United States, meanwhile, came in at No. 9, falling one spot from last year's list. The U.S. did have the highest score in the category of high-tech density -- the percentage of homegrown public companies that do business in high-tech industries.
While the news might come as welcome publicity for South Korean corporations, the country's startups still have a ways to go before they get their time in the spotlight. At one point, Samsung accounted for 20 percent of South Korea's GDP. The country's largest startup, an Amazon-like e-commerce startup called Coupang, is valued at about $5 billion, which still pales in comparison to the valuation of America's largest unicorns. (Uber, for instance, has been valued at more than $60 billion and Airbnb at $30 billion.) South Korean President Park Geun-hye's administration did pledge to invest $3.7 billion in startup growth over a three-year period starting in 2014. But after her December impeachment, it's unclear what acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn (and the next elected president) will do to spread the wealth among the country's startups.