Interview with Professor Yongkeun Park of the Department of Physics at KAIST

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Holographic microscopy technology enables 3D imaging

First commercialization in just six months since startup launch

“The solution lies in new things. The purpose of my research is to contribute to the treatment of diseases using advanced medical technology.”

Interdisciplinary studies require at least twice the effort of general research. Some scholars engage in interdisciplinary pursuits because they are drawn to the challenge. One such researcher is Professor YongKeun Park of the Department of Physics at KAIST. He integrates biomedicine and optics to contribute to advancements in humanity. Professor Park, who has joined the startup scene, shares with us the factors that led to his success.

Development and commercialization of 3D microscopy

As a world-renowned scholar in the field of biomedical optics, Professor Park seeks to develop advanced medical technology to serve as a future growth engine of the country. By adopting a physics-based approach to diseases and applying scientific techniques to diagnosis and treatment, he has finally emerged as a successful entrepreneur. He established TomoCube, Inc. in September last year, and announced the development of holographic microscopy technology capable of 3D imaging early this year.

“This product can be thought of as the laser version of X-ray CT. It enables real-time 3D imaging without the dyeing of cells or tissues. Previously, imaging was only possible after dyeing cells with fluorescent substances, and it was difficult to observe live cells. Immunocytes or stem cells could not be observed. The new product allows 3D imaging and cell observations without fluorescent dyes.”

Professor Park’s 3D holographic microscopy has come under the spotlight in the field of biology. After sales began in Korea, the technology was exported to the United States and the United Kingdom.

Using the ISK as a compass

TomoCube, Inc. is on a smooth ride despite this being its maiden voyage. Professor Park says that the support of the Institute for Startup KAIST (ISK) and teamwork were the keys to his success. The startup scene was unfamiliar ground for Professor Park, and it was Professor Byoung Yoon Kim who served as his mentor and guiding light.

“I often found myself struggling to choose between different options. Professor Kim helped me to make the right decision each time based on his experience and wisdom. Sometimes, what appears to be an immediate loss may turn out to be beneficial in the long run.”

Professor Park has developed world-class technology, but this is no guarantee that everything will be smooth sailing. Investment and management are major variables for startups. To overcome these challenges, it is necessary to get help from reliable organizations and experienced professionals. Professor Park acquired funding from Bluepoint Partners, an accelerator that invests in advanced technology. With the support of ISK, the professor formed an advisory panel consisting of leading experts. One tip from Professor Park is that those who are experienced are more willing to help out.

Successful results derived from successful processes

TomoCube, Inc. succeeded in commercialization in just six months after its launch. Compared to most other startups, this is astonishing growth. The key to success was the company’s extensive preparations prior to establishment. A CEO with exit experience was introduced by ISK. Soon, a team of experts was built, including foreigners. New products were prepared before the launch of the startup, which allowed the company to go immediately into production. Professor Park takes great pride in his team because he believes that satisfactory results can only be derived from smart processes. In the words of Genghis Khan, “A dream we dream alone is just a dream. But when we dream together, it becomes reality.”

A brighter future with technology startups

Professor Park faces new challenges each day despite having made extensive preparations. Commercialization usually brings about unexpected problems, and these can be solved more efficiently based on networking and experience. Getting into startups is daunting, but there is no denying that technology startups open the door to a brighter future for the nation.

“With technology changing by the day, even large corporations have unpredictable futures. The number of technology startups must increase, and outstanding talent should be recruited. In ten years, the market value generated by technology startups will amount to at least 100 trillion. In the future, technology startups will gain the reputation and status that large corporations enjoy today.”

Professor Park believes that researchers play key roles in driving new developments, but their efforts must be backed by larger organizations.

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