Look before you leap into startups
Entrepreneurs who are just starting out tend to be anxious. They tend to rush into launching their products in the market, so as to generate whatever profit they can in the shortest time possible. Professor Il-Doo Kim of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at KAIST does not fit this stereotype. With helps from the Institute for Startup KAIST, he was well-prepared to enter the startup scene. Contrary to expectations, he decided to push off his plans for another year instead of jumping into business right away. He shares with us the rationale behind this decision.
“Working hard is important, but so is doing well. This is the attitude we should apply to startups.”
Funding for three projects under End Run
Professor Kim has acquired funding from End Run for three projects: an exhaled breath sensor, lithium-air batteries, and secondary cell technology based on waste silicon.
“Lithium-air batteries are high-capacity batteries that can be used to power trams running from Seoul to Busan. However, they require a longer time for commercialization due to the complex technology involved. Exhaled breath sensors help to diagnose various diseases such as lung cancer and diabetes based on breath exhaled by patients. Our sensor technology attracted investors even before we launched the startup. This year, we developed high-quality secondary cells from waste silicon. We have already completed startup preparations for this product, which has no limitations or weaknesses.”
While Professor Kim makes bold moves in his research, he is more cautious when it comes to his startups. He decided to pursue licensing only for exhaled breath sensors, which attracted investors even before the launch of the startup, and postponed the waste silicon cell project to next year.
Don’t rush, and seek advice before starting your business
The waste silicon cell project attracted many investors, and all preparations were complete for the startup launch. When asked why he decided to push off his plans to the next year, Professor Kim replied, “As a researcher, I had some reservations about taking the road less traveled.” While planning his startups, he sought advice and gained insight into entrepreneurship from Professor Byoung Yoon Kim and Steve Ahn of the Institute for Startup KAIST.
“At first, I thought launching a startup would be simple. After getting advice from the two professors, I was able to give it more careful consideration. They provided valuable, practical advice based on their own experience. They introduced me to angel investors, and explained the differences between a research institute company and a personal startup. Above all, they emphasized the importance of meeting as many people as I could.”
Success comes only when you give it your all
Professor Kim thought that success would come naturally if he had good ideas and the right technology. He believed he could do it alone and do it well. But after following the advice of Professor Byoung Yoon Kim and Steve Ahn and meeting up with many people, he realized that there were more factors involved for a successful startup. In particular, he received tremendous help from Professor Yongkeun Park.
“Professor Park, who is a successful entrepreneur, told me that it’s better to launch my own business in the later stage. For instance, if there are three stages, I should prepare up to the second or third stage and acquire the necessary experts before launching the company. Production and development must take place smoothly after the launch, and there will be fewer risks and less unnecessary expenses if I’m better prepared. Otherwise, the business can close down overnight.”
Professor Kim had a friend he could rely on. His friend had earned a Ph.D. from the same laboratory and was now working in a solar cell company. When Professor Kim proposed working together, his friend showed interest in management and accounting. They became a perfect pair for business. While his friend concentrates on management, Professor Kim can focus on research. Even with this partnership, he decided to push off his plans for another year. The two felt they needed more time to identify and analyze their competitors.