Flitto: An Arabic language champion

Flitto: An Arabic language champion
Published on 19 October 2023

  • South Korea’s leading language data and professional translation service providers was one of the many startups attending Expand North Star, the world’s biggest startup showcase.

Dubai, UAE – Flitto, one of South Korea’s leading language data and professional translation service providers, has successfully concluded its participation in Expand North Star, the world’s largest gathering of startups and investors. Organised by Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) and hosted by Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy, the event aimed to support the emirate’s transformation into one of the world’s leading digital economies.

Established in September 2012, Flitto operates under the slogan ‘Beyond Language Barriers’ and provides translation services in 25 languages. The platform is used by more than 13 million language enthusiasts across 173 countries.

A visionary in the linguistics industry, Flitto CEO Simon Lee introduced the first crowdsourcing language data business model in South Korea. This innovative approach secured Flitto’s listing on the KOSDAQ in July 2019. Under his guidance, Flitto received an award from the country’s Minister of Science and ICT in 2019. The following year, the Financial Times recognised the company as an ‘Asia-Pacific High-Growth Company.’

Originally launched as a translation platform, Flitto has grown to become the country’s leading provider of language data for AI training and partners with major IT companies both within and outside South Korea. Many of Flitto’s clients are government entities, together with leading AI companies in the United States, South Korea, and Japan.

Born in Kuwait, Simon Lee spent periods of his childhood in countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This global upbringing naturally exposed him to various languages, sparking his strong interest in linguistics.

“Born and raised in the Middle East, I spent 16 years of my youth in Jeddah, Kuwait, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. This fuelled my passion to focus on the Arabic language. Arabic is the fourth most spoken language in the world. However, there is not enough Arabic data to train AI applications like voice recognition, OCR, or chatbots. This is why we are seeking opportunities to work on Arabic data in the UAE,” he explained.

While at university, Simon founded ‘Flyingcane,’ a crowdsourcing translation service that would later evolve into Flitto. He is an alumnus of Daewon Foreign Language High School and holds a degree in business administration from Korea University. Before founding Flitto, Simon spearheaded M&A and venture investments at SK Telecom and SK Planet. He initiated Flitto as an internal venture programme that eventually garnered independent acclaim.

Simon aspires to set up Flitto’s first Middle East presence in the UAE. “We started the business back in 2012, and it was tough because AI was not so popular back then. The UAE is a country where people from different countries, cultures, and languages gather to make their dreams come true. Language barriers shouldn’t be a trouble for them in achieving their goals. Flitto will gather as many language data sets as possible to help AI companies provide services without language barriers.”

He added: “The UAE is the perfect country to start collecting data for AI engines to better understand the Arabic language. We hope to collaborate with the government and companies on advancing our technology and knowledge of language data,” said Simon.

Flitto was one of the many startups attending Expand North Star, a four-day showcase that connected the most sought-after startups with innovators, investors, entrepreneurs, and the founders of global success stories. The event attracted the participation of more than 1,800 startups from over 100 countries, including unicorn companies, together with around 1,000 investors who collectively manage assets worth US$ 1 trillion.