Startup Interview

  • [Startup Interview] CEO Jungyong Nam of ‘Eta Electronics’, a startup developing the next generation wireless power transfer solution ‘Eta-ON’
  • 창업원
  • 2022-10-30 20:30:41
  • 183

Today we will meet Eta Electronics, a company developing a solution for the next generation wireless power transfer technology. Eta Electronics was founded by 3 KAIST graduate students and is bringing innovation to wireless charging technology.
Let’s meet CEO Jungyong Nam of Eta Electronics!

Can you briefly introduce Eta Electronics and the chief officers (CEO, CTO, and CSO)?

Hello, I am the CEO of Eta Electronics, Jungyong Nam. We are an electrical engineering tech-startup founded in 2019, focusing on the development of the next generation of wireless power transfer technology ‘Eta-ON’.

I received my PhD degree in Neuroscience from the Department of Biological Sciences at KAIST. I enjoyed pure biology, but also wanted to experience IT convergence so I worked in R&D at Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology after graduating.

CTO Taedong Yeo received a PhD degree in the wireless power transfer field from the Department of Electrical Engineering at KAIST, then co-founded Eta Electronics. CSO Jeongmin Hong received his Master’s degree from the Department of Electrical Engineering at KAIST in Embedded Systems. After working and building experience at LG Electronics, he joined Eta Electronics.

Eta Electronics is unique in that the chief officers are all from KAIST. It’s not easy to start a business together after working in different fields, but it’s especially memorable that three KAIST graduates joined forces and are currently leading the company.

How did Eta Electronics decide on this item as its startup product?

At Samsung Electronics, I used to develop health monitoring systems based on wearable devices like smartwatches. When dealing with small electronic devices, you always encounter battery issues. Even when you add a small feature to the device, I was always told that the battery cannot handle it ???? Thus, I naturally gained interest in battery and wireless power transfer technologies.

I found that CTO Taedong Yeo has been researching a Maximum Efficiency Point Tracking (METP)-based wireless power transfer technology. I then joined forces to supplement and commercialize the technology and started Eta Electronics.

The chief officers have been researching in separate fields and came together to start a business. CEO Jungyong Nam took on a new challenge, while CTO Taedong Yeo made the most of his major. It seems like their direct experience in the field and R&D assisted them in starting a new business.

CEO Nam, CTO Yeo, as well as CSO Hong are all graduates of KAIST. How did you form an alumni startup and overcome difficulties during the process?

When I became interested in wireless power transfer technology at Samsung Electronics, a co-worker of mine introduced me to Ph.D. Taedong Yeo. CTO Yeo was a savant in the wireless power transfer field and had a strong passion for startups, so I immediately thought of co-founding Eta Electronics. Then, we persuaded CSO Jeongmin Hong, a friend of CTO Yeo since undergraduate at KAIST, who we thought was the optimal person to develop embedded systems.

This applies to all startups, but starting the business itself is the hardest. It’s not easy to abandon the safe jobs and environment we have at this moment over a risky challenge. The strongest weapon to overcome this barrier and step forwards is meeting reliable colleagues. If I haven’t met CTO Yeo and CSO Hong, I would still be working at Samsung Electronics.

Is there a reason for starting the business in Gyeongsang-do instead of Daejeon?

Currently, our headquarters is in Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do, and R&D center is in Seoul. At the initial stages of Eta Electronics, we needed a strong partnership to compensate for our lack of infrastructure and network. Luckily, the Wireless Power Transfer Technology Center in Gyeongsan reached out. In August 2019, we officially signed an MOU and moved our headquarters to Gyeongsan to utilize the center’s infrastructure. The Wireless Power Transfer Technology Center is a global-level standard certification agency with the latest equipment in the field.

So, that was the reason why Eta Electronics is based in Gyeongsan, not Daejeon! Starting a business in a place with infrastructure is crucial for further development. There might be difficulties in running the headquarters and R&D center simultaneously, but there will also be more synergy.

What is unique about Eta Electronics’ next-generation wireless charging technology from existing technologies?

Various methods of wireless power transfer technologies being researched, but the only technology that is successfully commercialized is the magnetic induction method that is applied to most smartphones. However, it is not a completely wireless because the transmitting and receiving coils must be attached to the device and charger, and a slight misalignment in the coils will not charge the phones.

We plan to develop a more complete and comfortable wireless power transfer technology by applying our own control algorithms, system and coil designs. There are three main directions – simultaneously 3D charging multiple devices by increasing the degree of freedom (increasing the distance of wireless charging), increasing the power that can be transmitted from a few Watts to thousands of kW, and allowing wireless power transfer even when there are obstacles between the coils like water or skin. If we combine these core technologies, there will be more diverse types of electronic devices that we can use cordless.

Currently, there are only a few electronic devices that can charge wirelessly like smartphones. Current wireless technology is incomplete, but Eta Electronics will bring an era where more electronic devices can charge wirelessly without outlets. As CEO Nam mentioned, we look forward to Eta Electronics’ efficient wireless power transfer technology with full power.

What problems exist to commercialize Eta Electronics’ technology, and what are the solutions?

The first problem is the completeness of Technology. The author of ‘Zero to One’, Peter Thiel, stated that new technologies must be 10 times superior to successfully substitute existing technologies. We are also endeavoring to develop a technology that people find helpful and useful.

Secondly, there is an issue of regulations. In wireless power transfer technologies, the EMI/EMC (Electromagnetic Interference / Electromagnetic Compatibility) and EMF (Electromagnetic Field) becomes problematic. For a technology to be commercialized, it must effectively address such issues. Next generation technologies often do not have standards or measurement methods at all, so in our case, we are looking over such issues with experts in the field of wireless power transfer.

The largest obstacle in the growth of domestic startups seems to be regulations. The healthcare field is a target of strong regulations, as well as the wireless power transfer field. We hope Eta Electronics overcome the regulation barriers and provide customers with useful and convenient technologies.

Eta Electronics currently has a B2B business model. Do you have any plans to pursue B2C to directly reach customers?

Although it is different between fields, we should approach B2B and B2C businesses differently. To an engineer-centered team like us, it is extremely difficult to create a product/service that can satisfy customers. For now, we are focusing on what we can do best and prefer to collaborate with B2C-cetnered partner companies. It would be exciting to directly meet customers as ‘Eta’ as our market capability develops in the future.

Focusing on one’s strengths is a smart survival strategy. Please continue to target B2B and approach customers in the future as Eta Electronics grow!

It’s hard to bring profit in the beginning, but Eta Electronics attracted a lot of investment. What is the secret to attracting investment?

It’s difficult to say that we attracted a lot of investment. In the beginning, we lacked business capabilities since we were an engineer-centered team. We lacked a clear business model and our product was not trendy. Our company was probably not very attractive, but investors at the early stages trusted us and saw the young and dynamic energy of our team. I believe they trusted our growth potential in the numerous trial-and-errors.

It seems like tech-based startups attract investment with their potential. Investors of Eta Electronics must have thought highly of the potential in Eta Electronics’ technology.

What does Eta Electronics want to develop next?

We are focusing on the keywords ‘Energy’ and ‘Efficiency’. If you look around, you will find yourself surrounded by many battery-based electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, wireless earphones. We expect a problem of efficiently managing power of such devices in a 3D grid will come in the future. So, our next goal is to create a smart power management system based on wireless power transfer technology.

Efficiency will become crucial with energy attracting attention as a growth engine. A single system that can efficiently manage and store energy of multiple electronic devices instead of chargers for each device will become extremely convenient.

What is Eta Electronics’ ultimate goal and vision?

Surprisingly many research and development organizations miss the essence due to the inefficient procedures and regulations. We believe that innovation can be achieved in a free environment where team members can focus on R&D. Thus, our dream is to create a company where engineers can actively communicate and learn from each other. Our company is not perfect, but we hope students come to our company to grow and enjoy.

Eta Electronics hopes to create a charger-less world using wireless power transfer technology. Joined by R&D experts, Eta Electronics is passionately working and leaping forward as a technology-intensive company. Soon, the next-generation wireless power transfer solution ‘Eta-ON’ will create a wireless charging generation. We hope that in the near future, all electronic devices become charger-free and Eta Electronics develop further with talented researchers in a free environment!

This was CEO Jungyong Nam of Eta Electronics.