Category Map of KAIST-BORN TIPS STARTUP is now updated! The updated Category Map was created based on KAIST-BORN TIPS Startup map v 1.4., with 26 new KAIST-born startups entering TIPS during June~November 2018.
The updated version of KAIST-BORN TIPS STARTUP MAP v.1.2 and 2 new maps have been made.
To begin with, Category Map of KAIST-BORN TIPS STARTUP(2017.2H~2018.1H) has been created. It is a map that contains information about categories based on selected businesses from 2017 Fall and 2018 Spring TIPS.
Since 2013, student entrepreneurs at KAIST have received inspiration from their mentor under the E*5 KAIST program. That mentor is Hwaseong Jeon, the CEO of CNT Tech. When Jeon was a student at KAIST in 2000, he gained valuable experience from participating in a similar program to E*5 KAIST. From that time, he realized how important it is for students to get school support on entrepreneurial activities. Today, Jeon is doing his part to encourage young entrepreneurs to follow in his footsteps and help keep their dreams alive.
“Engineers get great satisfaction from a business model out of their own technology and generating profits. That’s why I highly recommend startups. Students can make use of the E*5 KAIST program for systematic support, information services, and networking opportunities.”
- Accelerating Startups Through E*5 KAIST
Jeon, a pioneer in the Online to Offline (O2O) dining platform market, launched CNT Tech in 2003. He poured his heart and soul into the company, which occupied 90% of the market in 2010. This was when he turned his eyes to nurturing young startups that showed promise. He wanted to share his experiences and knowhow with young entrepreneurial talents.
“I became a mentor in 2013 after being invited by the Institute for Startup KAIST. I was part of the second run of E*5 KAIST. Thinking back to 2000, I wanted to give back what I could to the younger students. When you’re starting something new, you have to go through trial and error if there’s no one around to help. This ends as failure sometimes. Mistakes can be avoided by getting advice or learning from those who walked the path before you. That’s the role I hoped to play as a mentor under E*5 KAIST, and it is what I’m doing.”
Becoming a startup accelerator was a turning point in Jeon’s life. Serving as a mentor to young entrepreneurs was his way of giving back to society. Inspired by the E*5 KAIST program he created his own startup accelerator program called Hwaseong Jeon’s Adventure. In addition to helping KAIST students under E*5 KAIST, he mentors and invests in startups within and outside Korea through his own program. Through these activities, Jeon has gained a reputation as a global startup accelerator.
- KAIST to Become Korea’s Startup Hub
The E*5 KAIST program holds great significance in Korea’s startup ecosystem. “KAIST is the only university that has offered an entrepreneurial support program for such a long period. Actually, it’s not easy to get alumni to return and provide mentoring for students. This is one area that KAIST has excelled in. Because the program has been around for such a long time, those who received support naturally return after graduating to help younger generations.”
Jeon believes that KAIST will emerge as a startup hub in Korea if it continues to promote entrepreneurship on campus. “In the United States, Stanford is known for producing startups. In China, you have Tsinghua University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. KAIST has a strong foundation since it has supported startups since the late 1990s. The E*5 KAIST and the Institute for Startup KAIST are its key driving forces.
- Taking Over the O2O Dining Market with Creativity and Technology
Launched by Jeon, CNT Tech is a pioneer of Korea’s O2O dining platform market. Up to 2002, hotlines were an unfamiliar concept. Consumers had to call stores near their homes to get food delivered. It was only in 2003 that hotlines beginning with 1588 were introduced. CNT Tech has greatly improved our lives ever since.
“We introduced online and mobile ordering services. These services were integrated into mobile food delivery applications. More recently, we launched a food delivery service under KakaoTalk. Our services, from hotlines to Kakao food delivery, were achieved over the past 15 years. They are currently available in eight countries in East Asia.”
CNT Tech has dominated 97% of the market. Although the company is not one-of-a-kind in its technology, it has succeeded thanks to its efficient operations and significant lowering of costs.
- Young CEO Eyes Asia and Beyond
Jeon sees the next three years, from 2018 to 2020, as a time to focus on the East Asia market. He has already launched subsidiaries across East Asia, including China, and plans to relocate the headquarters to Hong Kong. For Jeon, success in the East Asia market is an indicator of CNT Tech’s technological impact on the world.
“Korea has not yet enjoyed worldwide success based on technical software alone. My goal is to spread CNT Tech’s technology to more than 80 countries around the world. If I continue to devote myself to this job, I might be able to see that happen in 40 years. The year 2019 will open new doors for the company and take us beyond Southeast Asia.”
Of course, Jeon will continue to help young entrepreneurs and startups through the E*5 KAIST program and Hwaseong Jeon’s Adventure. He describes his entrepreneurial spirit as a “positive influence.” “My company’s motto is Creating New Transaction Technology, meaning that we develop technology for the greater good. I want to develop technology that benefits people and has a positive influence on society.”
The development of the English learning app “Mimiking” dates to two years ago when CEO Jung Min Oh of HayanMind Inc., a developer of Mimiking, was interning at Microsoft in China. There were a lot of Koreans working there, and he noticed something in common in them: while the Koreans were among the most hardworking employees at work, they all had difficulties in communicating with the local people. He deeply sympathized with the situation as he was also dealing with language barriers when he was learning English. As an engineer, he wanted to present a software solution for his colleagues. That yearning has led to the birth of Mimiking today. Mimicking is a mobile application with which people can train their language skills with an AI coach, and is an excellent way to improve speaking skills.
“Our goal is to bring Mimiking to use in all public schools in Korea. We would like to use our technology and contents to move our country one step forward by making more people fluent in English.”
- Mimiking Opens Up New Opportunity with Unique Contents
There are two ways of learning English: shading and echoing. Both methods are ‘listening to English sentences and repeating them’. One difference between the two is the time difference. In shadowing students are asked to follow sentences almost simultaneously, while in echoing they repeat them after the sentences are finished. Neither method is easy at all for those who are not proficient in speaking English, but these methods are more effective than any other language learning method if students can overcome the initial hurdles. Mimicking supports both shadowing and echoing modes.
“When a baby learns to speak, the mother tells the baby a few words so that he can repeat them back. The baby learns while following his mother’s words. This method is nothing new, but is very important in learning English. Mimiking also adopts the principle of learning a language by repetition.”
The English learning market has already reached saturation. However, Mr. Oh is confident that users will choose Mimiking because of its exceptional technology and contents. “Many people are using TED lectures and news when they study English. But those are not appropriate for English learners to repeat, as the contents are too difficult and fast. At HayanMind, we are making all of our content in-house. Most of our contents are voice recordings of about 2 minutes, spoken by native speakers. We are striving to differentiate Mimiking by creating easy-to-understand and easy-to-repeat contents for everyone.”
One feature that makes Mimiking unique is its ‘audio-based’ lessons. It provides an optimal environment for studying English for users, without textbooks. They just need to open the app to practice English speaking. Only a minimal scope of contents require the users to touch the screen, and HayanMind is planning to further upgrade the app to make it work without any need for user touch. In addition to the intensive training mode (earphone, speakerphone, and phone mode supported), in which users are asked to listen to and follow sentences, there are various other features, including 1-min long story updates created by native speakers on weekdays and an automatic feedback function that tracks voices (automatic rewind function etc.). Reports are also provided to users to show their performance in English speaking training on the app.
- Our Goal is to Free People From Obsession with English
“The ultimate goal of Mimiking is to free people from their unhealthy obsession with English by making more people fluent in the language. I think this goal is very closely related to the future of our country. That is why we want this app to be used in every public school in Korea. It would be even better if Mimiking were used in conjunction with textbooks. I know it might be a far-fetched idea for now because we are only in our initial stage. If full usage of Mimiking can really happen, however, I would like to focus more on the public interest than on the profit of my company. This is the dream and goal of HayanMind. ”
Mimiking was released last year. Despite months of zero-marketing, a significant number of users have downloaded Mimiking, and there are more than 100 active users. Mr. Oh sees this as a very positive signal, because the number of users has increased even though the app is not in a full-fledged form yet (and has not been marketed). If marketing is started in earnest, users are expected to further increase.
In the first half of 2018, the company will complete all of the preparatory work and plans to attract investment. This will accelerate the growth of HayanMind, bringing Mr. Oh one step closer to realizing the goal of freeing Korean people from their obsession with English. In the long run, he plans to expand his user base to everyone who wants to learn foreign languages all over the world.
“It would be great if our app could evolve into a model that applies to any language on earth. Because whatever language you are learning, speaking practice is a must. To that end, in the short-term, we are currently working on content that will help our users learn Korean and Chinese.”
- Sincere Support from Start-up KAIST
Mimiking participated in the E*5 KAIST program in the first half of 2017 and Yu-Mi Oh, a co-founder of HayanMind, won the excellence award. In addition, the company has been provided with various support from Start-up KIAST, including workspace and opportunities to participate in networking events related to start-ups and informative seminars.
“I was surprised when I first met with the people at Start-up KAIST. They wanted to help us entrepreneurs with honest sincerity. It’s not easy to feel sincere hearts in relationships these days, but they are different. I was deeply impressed by their heart-felt help and support. ”
He also said that it is a very good opportunity to meet high-profile mentors and panel members who come to Start-up KAIST programs. “I think most students who want to be entrepreneurs are not prepared at all. In that sense, it is a great merit to be able to receive early feedback from those high-profile mentors while the start-ups they want to grow are still in the early stages, with many crude aspects. For me, the comments and feedback from mentors and panel members were of great help in setting the direction for my business. ”
- Engineer Delivering New Values to People
With plans to attract investment in the first half of next year, HayanMind is busy to supplement Mimiking now. “We initially designed the app for those who are at an intermediate level or higher in English, but we’re now adding features for beginners as well so that even those who do not know English at all can listen to our contents and practice vocalization and pronunciation for English. We also want to be a leader in this field by incorporating our contents into AI speakers.”
Mr. Oh’s dream is to remain an engineer forever. To him, entrepreneurship is a stage for achieving that dream. He wants to continue to create new products and deliver new value to people. On the path to achieving that dream, Mimiking will not stop growing in a new direction to become a part of an everyday routine for those who need to study language.
Currently, the fragrance market still employs traditional methods, which include scented candles, diffusers, and air fresheners. Although there are some products that utilize technology, such convergence has been limited to products such as aroma oil added to humidifiers. CEO Ilbong Kwon focuses on the process of creating smart designs and commercializing them. Ultimately, traditional methods and technologies will converge, so that the smart designs can be used, like home appliances that utilize IoT technology. The goal is to provide the opportunity for consumers to enjoy fragrances more intimately, economically, and diversely through engineering technologies.
“In the beginning, there was nothing. There was not enough manpower, funding, or underlying technologies. All I had were my experience, academic studies, and ideas that I came up with during lectures. The Institute for Startup KAIST and K-school helped me very much as I thought about how I could commercialize my ideas.”
- Genuine relaxation with smart fragrance device
Members of modern society are constantly tired and require rest. So, people seek out ways to heal. Among numerous healing methods, CEO Kwon discovered that fragrance had growth potential. Fragrance related industries have constantly experienced growth in the US, Europe, Japan, and China. Fragrance related products have become mainstream over the last few years in Korea as well. CEO Kwon’s experiences using fragrance related products provided the foundation for cultivating invaluable ideas.
“Producing sensual devices that everyone can use economically and with ease through fragrances is the value proposition of Deep Scent. We are creating products according to this value proposition. The smart fragrance device developed by Deep Scent contains 4 fragrance cartridges. The device is unique in that cartridges with different fragrances can be blended together according to the consumer’s emotional state.”
People’s moods constantly change. Facial expressions change depending on the situation and mental state. Does fragrance preference change whenever there is a change in emotional state? Preferences could change. However, traditional methods like scented candles, diffusers, and air fresheners cannot express such changes because a single fragrance is produced until the candle completely melts and the diffuser oil is all used.
“The smart fragrance device will go beyond this limitation of traditional methods. The device contains our technology, from cartridge manufacturing technology to the fragrance recipe and the algorithm connecting the consumer’s mental and emotional states.”
The traditional methods cannot be personalized to the preference of the user because these products are mass produced. “I believe this does not provide the user with the opportunity to choose. Being able to make a blended fragrance that fits my inclination is what I consider to be more personalized. We wanted to give consumers genuine rest with unique fragrances.”
- A device bringing together technology, design, and sensuality
Kwon considers design to be the key aspect in the development of this device because this product not only prioritizes functionality but also instills a sensual impression. Scented candles do not exist only as tools to spread a fragrance. Survey results show that the flickering of the candle light in a dark room provides a sense of emotional fullness to the consumer. This result sparked a discussion of the direction for the smart fragrance devices.
“This is the part that we have to contemplate the most for the next 1-2 years and focus our efforts on developing this aspect of the device. Of course, the corresponding technologies will also have to accompany the product. We intend to blend intuitive design and analog sensibility based on HCI(Human Computer Interaction) technology.”
- Institute of Startup KAIST, priming water for startups
When Kwon was working on the commercialization of the smart fragrance device, the Institute of Startup KAIST and the K-school helped out significantly. Kwon received support from the Institute of Startup KAIST and the K-school when he was lacking manpower, funding, and underlying technologies, so that Kwon could move closer to his goal one step after the other.
“To me, the past year felt like climbing a stairway. One step, followed by another. I learned as I went on. I learned about idea materialization in a lecture for creating business models. while I learned how to apply what I learned through understanding of the users of products in a lecture for design thinking. In this way, I developed the prototype using the information and insight I learned through the curriculum, which also motivated me to continue on to the next step. During this process, I was able to meet many people from various fields.”
The Institute of Startup KAIST supported Kwon through 3D printing for product design and initial seed money investment. The wide range of support allowed Kwon to mature as an engineer and entrepreneur.
- The value of how to live, growth of the company, and giving back to society
In the past, Kwon had concentrated on what he would become, but now his focus has shifted on how to live. The decision to begin a startup and give up a working life in a large domestic company, foreign affiliated company, and overseas foreign company was the result of thinking about how to live.
“I believe that beginning a startup independently is more valuable and proactive for how I live my life. It also fits well with the mindset of an entrepreneur. Starting a startup is the act of starting a new business. Like that, a new company is made, along with a new culture. In this process, if profits become fruitful, they will be shared with those who worked alongside me. When the company grows and sales increase, we will pay more tax and create new jobs. Recently, I like the term “company patriotism”. There are things that we can give back to the country, like the things that we received from the country. That is giving back to the country. I think that realizing the value of how to live in this place is fitting.”
Although the workload is 150% of the workload that Kwon experienced when he was employed, Kwon said he feels a greater joy. The smart fragrance device will be released in 2018. Starting with the Korean market, Kwon aims to expand into the markets of the US, Europe, Japan, and China, where the fragrance industry has grown significantly. The smart fragrance device developed by Deep Scent using technologies for people will provide true healing for the body and mind throughout the world.
When Professor Hyung-Soon Park was a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at KAIST, it occurred to him one day: “Will my life be different when I make nice robots or become good at controlling them? I don’t think I’m helping anyone. Why should I continue this study?” These questions prompted him to pursue the field of rehabilitation robotics. Developing various robots to help the physically challenged, Professor Park turned his attention to using a treadmill, a machine traditionally used for physical training, as a more effective tool for walking rehabilitation training. After a long period of research, he finally upgraded the treadmill’s performance.
“Many researchers are interested in ‘being the first.’ So, they make new attempts with novel ideas and publish their papers. However, my research philosophy is to ‘do what can become available right now.’ So, my lab is engaged in R&D efforts for what can be readily usable.”
- New treadmill combining innovation and universality
Traditional walking rehabilitation training involves physical therapists assisting patients. Treadmills for constant walking are also used for walking rehabilitation, but they demonstrate meager effects compared to training in which physical therapists participate in person. This is because, while therapists can accommodate patients by directly checking the condition of each patient, conventional treadmills are not designed to sufficiently reflect patient condition or personal demand.
“However, as a means for rehabilitation training, treadmills themselves have many merits such as safety and accessibility. I began this research in 2011, when Dr. Pam Duncan reported far-reaching research results comparing the rehabilitation effects of skilled physical therapists against treadmills in the United States. The results showed that physical therapists proved far more effective. That’s when I began to explore ways to make existing treadmills much more effective by maximizing their advantages.”
Prof. Park focused on implementing a realistic feeling of walking into treadmill rehabilitation by devising a method of moving the treadmill in response to the walker’s speed.
“First, we developed a controller to make the treadmill respond to the speed of the walker. Based on multiple studies, we decided to focus on the fact that the maximum speed of a foot swung while walking is proportionate to the walking speed. So, we installed cameras around the treadmill to analyze motions. We also developed a sensor to check each foot’s swing speed with the cameras and identify the user’s intent to change the walking speed.”
The innovation and universality embodied in this new treadmill stood out in the next stage. The treadmill developed by Professor Park is 1.5m long, as is the case with general treadmills. This short treadmill is able to swiftly understand the walker’s intent to change speed and readily change the walking speed on the treadmill just as a walker changes walking speed on the ground. Further, the first models of motion analysis cameras were quite expensive, but the currently used models only cost about 200,000 to 300,000 won, thanks to ideas contributed by students participating in the research project. Compared to similar constant-walking treadmills developed in other countries, with lengths of 2-8 meters and costing several million dollars, Professor Park’s treadmill represents remarkably innovative improvements of existing technology.
In addition, this treadmill uses virtual reality to allow for curved walking with the straight rail. “We used a little trick. When you walk while watching the screen installed on the front side of the treadmill, the virtual reality technology produces the display angle depending on which direction you watch. That way, you could feel as if you’re walking along a curved path. Parkinson’s disease patients are prone to falling down while curved walking, and our treadmill offers a perfect environment for their training.”
- KAIST END RUN Seed Project to enable free, goal-oriented research
Professor Park participated in the KAIST END RUN Seed Project to receive support in the process of making his new treadmill into popular models. Seoul National University Bundang Hospital partnered with him to apply the treadmill in its clinical practice, and Professor Park improved the technology based on the actual clinical cases. As a result, this treadmill technology operates only with the servo-motor installed on general treadmills, as well as motion analysis cameras, sensors, and screens to show virtual reality.
“While participating in the KAIST END RUN Seed Project, I realized that this project was consistent with my research philosophy, which is to do what can become readily usable. I enjoyed working with the project as my philosophy was in harmony with the project’s goal of assisting commercialization of promising technologies. Also, this project is self-driven and goal-oriented. It requires minimum paperwork, so researchers can enjoy more autonomy. The final presentation was very efficient as well as it only asks the researchers to demonstrate key points to the evaluators within five minutes.”
- Message for rehabilitation robotic engineers
Professor Park’s treadmill features outstanding technology, but it also carries profound meaning. “I believe this treadmill’s upgraded performance sends a message to engineers working in rehabilitation robotics. Many robotic engineers tend to put robots first when they try to make robots help people. However, I‘m confident that the top priority should be people. If robots are not the best solution to the problem, they should consider giving up expensive robots and finding the best solution. This treadmill combined technologies oriented towards human beings and was made available for all patients. I wish this message could facilitate development of technologies, at least in the field of rehabilitation robotics, to place people first.”
- A single goal to help those who are physically challenged due to brain diseases
This new treadmill demonstrated its effect in recovery of walking symmetry, one of the yardsticks to measure the efficacy of walking rehabilitation training. Also, it obtained particularly favorable results in brainwave tests. Compared to existing treadmill training, Professor Park’s treadmill contributed to remarkably high brainwave activities during walking training. This outcome indicates that training based on each walker’s own pace and volition is of significant importance for recovery of brain functions.
“Currently, our lab is greatly interested in brainwave studies. If we can discover which rehabilitation training is more effective based on those brainwave studies, I believe we will be able to develop training equipment and programs perfect for each user.”
The treadmill upgraded by Professor Park is heading toward the next level. Mr. Park’s lab is working to prove the treadmill’s performance through long-term clinical tests. He has only one goal: to help those who are physically challenged his dream come true and bring a bright future for many patients who want to recover their walking abilities.
As humankind now expects an extended lifespan of 100 years, living well has become more important than living longer. In this sense, the new technology will play a crucial role for the quality of life of human beings.
“Most researchers hope their research and technology will benefit society. With the same goal in mind, I took a new path for starting up a business. I will help fellow researchers to universally use the high-speed laser IVM technology.”
- Core platform for bio-image technology
The most widely known technologies to obtain bio-images include X-ray, MRI, and CT. They are designed to observe the structure of organs and tissues, instead of examining individual cells separately. Biopsy involves taking out some of the tissues and observing them with a microscope. Although it can separate individual cells, it cannot offer data about living cells within the human body. This means we cannot obtain dymanic information regarding how different cells interact with the surrounding environment and how they are related to physiological functions.
“We often compare this with a soccer game. A soccer game generally stretches into about two hours. In this process, a biopsy only obtains the result of the game; it cannot show how the players moved or which player contributed to the result. However, the high-speed laser IVM is totally different, as it can access every detail of the match. It can examine the interactions of many cells, which cannot be captured by the existing technologies. By turning the data into images in real time, the technology helps us learn how various human diseases are generated inside the human body and how they develop and transform. This means the new technology can offer a new opportunity for research into human diseases and development of effective treatment and medicine. This technology will accelerate the process of developing treatment and medicine and significantly enhance reliability and accuracy.”
Professor Kim predicts that the uses and value of this technology will explosively increase in the coming years. In this respect, he founded IVIM Technology, Inc. as a means to stably distribute the technology and related equipment. Mr. Kim intends to design and distribute the equipment to facilitate its use among researchers and medical professionals.
- High-tech research equipment being upgraded to state-of-the-art medical devices
This recent technology and equipment is new to the world, but the idea of trying to look inside the living human body is nothing new. However, the existing technology is not sufficient to implement the idea, because the existing optical microscopy was not developed for imaging the human body. To embody the idea with the existing technology, it is necessary for individual users to deploy various element technologies required for bio-imaging into the basic optical microscopy. In particular, the users require a labeling technique and an image processing technique to mark specific cells within the human body. This poses a significant burden to the users due to the high level of difficulty of individual technologies.
On the other hand, the IVM technology addressed the challenges faced by the existing ideas and technologies based on its outstanding technological competitiveness. “What makes IVM unique is that it was custom-built by my team’s independent initiative, and so it was made into a flexible system optimized for bio-imaging.”
Professor Kim is currently developing his third prototype, and this model is scheduled to be released in March 2018. He is trying to embody the model into an all-in-one packaging system. Once the product is successfully released, it would become an entirely new bio-microscopy system.
“IVIM Technology has two medium-term goals. Step one is to develop state-of-the-art research equipment and step two is to use the equipment as a medical device to diagnose diseases. I founded the company when step one reached a mature level based on the R&D efforts made over the past seven years. Step two was initiated three years ago, and I’m hopeful that it will be completed in a few years. This technology is helpful in diagnosing capillary microcirculation and will therefore help respond to emergency situations such as cardiac infarction.
- Startup KAIST’s support for new challenge
Professor Kim began working with Startup KAIST in early 2016. Although it went smoothly with the inception of his idea and research on the high-speed laser IVM, sufficient for commercialization, it was still too much of a burden for a single researcher to proceed with commercialization. In response, Professor Kim participated in KAIST END RUN Seed Project to obtain support from Startup KAIST.
“I made the first prototype in early 2016 with support from Startup KAIST, and this became the biggest help for my startup. This made me set a direction for business startup. I also obtained support from the institution this year. Seoul National University Bundang Hospital and I together verified the idea as to whether the new technology can be used for diagnosis. Frankly, such support is often a one-off event, but the Seed Project END RUN offers multiple support for different levels of commercialization, providing a foundation for gradual advances.”
- Dreaming to become a first mover in the biohealth industry
Progress in medical technology has extended human life expectancy significantly. However, simply living longer is not that important; what is more notable is living a healthy, long life. In this regard, development of high-speed laser IVM technology is expected to have a significant influence on humankind’s quality of life. The traditional biomedicine industry has focused on developing simple composite medicine. In the future, however, biomedicine based on new concepts will be actively developed, such as immunity medicine, cell medicine, genetic medicine, and antibody medicine acting compositively at the level of cells, the microscopic elements of the human body.
“My goal is to allow all researchers of human diseases and developers of medicine to use the new technology for the well-being of humanity. I hope biology and basic medicine labs will use this equipment as a ready means to observe intravital cells. Based on this gradual growth, I will endeavor to make the company a global business.”
The emergence of this innovative technology will lead a huge transformation in the biohealth industry. And in that process, IVIM Technology aims to position itself as a first mover that inspires innovation and a spirit of challenge.
A staunch supporter of startups, equipped with experience and trial-and-error
“The nature of investment is the asymmetry of information. It is neither coaching nor entrepreneurship or simply adding a spoon to a table prepared by others. We invest in value, not in ways that others acknowledge.”
Today, growth is improbable without creativity and innovation. Sustainable entrepreneurship is a prerequisite, but it is not easy to strike a balance between technology and business, which are key elements of growth. As an entrepreneurial ecosystem that could sway the national economic growth rate is attracting much attention lately, Yong Gwan Lee, CEO of Blue Point Partners, who identifies, nurtures, and invests in a promising startup, thereby accelerating their success and growth will tell us about the secrets behind and answers to successful entrepreneurship.
A Startup Management Company, Blue Point Partners
Blue Point Partners is a company similar to an entertainment management agency. The main purpose here is to unearth start-ups with potentials and help them establish a full-fledged business after providing it proper training and solutions, just like an entertainment company discovering and training promising singers and entertainers.
Established in July 2014, and invested in 30-plus deep-tech start-ups
A Doctor of Physics from KAIST, Lee established Plasmart in 2000, and developed a plasma generating and measuring control system. At that time, he was one of the most sought-after entrepreneurs in a number of domestic and overseas businesses.
Lee sold Plasmart in July 2012 to MKS, a US company that had been making incessant requests for many years, and established Blue Point Partners in July 2014 with the returns from the sale. His motive behind the establishment of a venture capital company was that he did not want the late-comers to waste time and repeat the trials and errors that he had made. Blue Point Partners, composed of 14 partners who have successfully founded start-ups and experienced diverse business practices, has for the last two and a half years nurtured and attracted investment in more than 30 deep-tech startups, ranging from bio and medical sensors, virtual and augmented reality, robots and drones, and advanced materials. Approximately 60% of recipients are entrepreneur teams in the Daejeon area and about 10 to 20% are in Gyeonggi-do and Seoul; the rest are scattered in many other regions nationwide. The high proportion of Daejeon is because the region is advantageous in terms of resources, with national labs, government-funded research institutes, and many other internationally competitive businesses all gathered in the area.
Younger team with open-mind is the best
Lee, who has been steadily discovering entrepreneurial teams, has determined the characteristics of teams that show a constant growth curve and are favored by the VCs: Openness and team-ship. A team with an open mind and strong team-ship pays heed to advice from others, and focuses on making up for any shortcomings they have.
“A team that seemed clever and had high expectations at first sometimes stopped growing at some point because they were not open and united enough. They did not make efforts to make up for things they lacked. However, one desperate team was excellent in openness and teamwork, and they continued to grow every week and month, waking up their inner tiger. Naturally, many talented people continued to join the team. When you maintain the authenticity of the technology while carefully listening to feedback, you can continue to grow as a business and develop new solutions.”
In light of these aspects, while some seniors are excellent in skill and experience, younger teams are far superior to their seniors in terms of openness.
Preparing startups in the rapidly-changing industry
He said one company had secured 5 billion won in investment from three VCs, but the project was killed off due to internal trouble in its team. Because the industry is not as predictable or stable as before, the importance of the team cannot be stressed enough. Therefore, a team must be capable of following rapid industrial changes. Blue Point Partners continues to monitor industry trends while upgrading and strengthening its capability as a locomotive for startups.
“We invested in about 20 companies in the last year and this year. Next year’s target is 35 businesses, and the target of the year after next is 50. Training 50 startups a year for entrepreneurship is our mission now.”