Among the biggest obstacle is United Nations sanctions, explains Felix Abt, a former pharmaceuticals executive in Pyongyang, and author of the memoir A Capitalist in North Korea.
Abt, a Swiss investor who now lives in Vietnam, ran a pharmaceutical company called PyongSu during the late 2000s. The company churned out medicine for the small but growing market of North Koreans who can afford it.
In 2006 and 2009, the United Nations passed its first two rounds of sanctions, putting the future of Abt's business in question. The manager worried he would no longer have access to chemicals needed to process food and pharmaceuticals.
(Read more: In North Korea, will work for Choco Pie)
The reason? Those materials could theoretically be used in chemical weapons, making them so-called "dual-use products" with military and civilian applications. Dual-use products are banned under the current system. North Korea is believed to be one of four remaining nations with a chemical weapons stockpile.
The UN enacted the sanctions to hinder North Korea as it reportedly sought to develop weapons of mass destruction. Governments were acting in response to rocket launches and underground nuclear tests.
But, Abt explains, there's a flipside to anti-nuke efforts: average North Koreans suffer. "Without these banned products," he told GlobalPost, "the quality and safety of these consumer goods are compromised."
While living in Pyongyang, Abt's life insurance plan was revoked, and he says that LinkedIn shut down his profile page after noticing his North Korean address. Other experts run into problems even though their projects aren't covered by sanctions at all.