[HERALD INTERVIEW] South Korean startup AweXomeRay develops next-generation X-ray technology for fresh, healthy air

X-rays have been used for decades, primarily for medical purposes such as examining bone fractures, pneumonia, and breast cancer.

However, the South Korean entrepreneur Gihm Se Hoon uses the high-energy radiation for air purification and sterilization, which has become an important technology in view of concerns about fine dust pollution and naturally floating bacteria and viruses such as the coronavirus.

The founder and CEO of aweXome Ray and his fellow scientists have launched an electrostatic precipitator air purifier. The equipment, which can be installed in enclosed spaces like buildings, factories, submarines, and even in submarines, quickly removes air pollutants without creating ozone, he said. In contrast to conventional air purifiers, the aweXome Ray devices have no filters. It cleans and sterilizes the air at the same time, he says.

Gihm Se Hoon, founder and CEO of AweXome Ray, points to a vent where his company's air purification and sterilization equipment uses next-generation X-ray technology. (D.Camp)

Gihm Se Hoon, founder and CEO of AweXome Ray, points to a vent where his company’s air purification and sterilization equipment uses next-generation X-ray technology. (D.Camp)

Gihm believes that the technology will not only help the company get rid of particulate matter in the air, but also create a healthier and greener environment. And the growing interest in green buildings is a golden opportunity for the company.

A prime example of this is a high-rise building sold by Igis Asset Management at the beginning of the year. The local management company bought the building in Yeouido three years ago for 212 billion won, renovated it for LEED certification, and sold it this year for 336 billion won.

LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a system for evaluating and certifying sustainable buildings.

“Building owners are using green remodeling as a strategy to improve property value. In this case, the value of the building increased significantly as it was certified with LEED Gold, the second highest rating in the system, ”said Gihm in an interview with The Korea Herald. “Although the aweXome Ray air purification was installed on just one floor, the adoption of our innovative technology (owned by you) (the asset management company) has become a talking point because it helped make it an internationally certified green building.”

Kakao Ventures and Seoul Techno Holdings participated in both the first round of funding and the second round of funding, which also included and Base Investment. By combining the first two rounds, the company raised 2.2 billion won. As part of the Series A financing, which closed in June 2020, the company raised 3 billion won from investors and 3 billion won convertible bonds from the state-owned Korea Development Bank.

This year has been a remarkable year for the company’s growth. The company is delivering its air purification and sterilization technology to the headquarters of Korean IT giants Naver and Kakao this summer. AweXome Ray also worked with a vaccine center, hospital and local health center in Hadong, South Gyeongsang Province, to monitor air quality there. The conversion of these public facilities into green buildings was carried out as part of the Green Unicorn project, the CEO said.

AweXome Ray was selected as one of the first Green Unicorn candidates by the Ministry of the Environment in 2020. The Green Unicorn is a government project dedicated to implementing green industry standards and helping promising companies in the early stages.

Image of an example for the building installation (aweXome Ray)

Image of an example for the building installation (aweXome Ray)

“We delivered our products for a so-called test process by installing them on part of the (customer’s) buildings. But from this year we want to cover all parts of a building with which we generate sales not only in Korea, but also in overseas markets, ”said Gihm.

The company has partnered with Posco International, a trading unit of steel giant Posco, to expand its distribution to overseas construction companies. In cooperation with Kotra, the state trade promotion agency, she also made a proposal to a federal railway operator in Switzerland.

The air pollution control device market in Korea is valued at 4 trillion won, with average annual growth of 11.7 percent, he said, citing a report released last year.

“The demand for clean air could increase rapidly not only in Korea but also overseas such as China and Taiwan. We see significant market demand in China, estimated to be at least $ 200 million annually, for products used in the numerous subway stations. “

The former researcher, who specializes in X-ray technology, said he quit a six-figure salary at Samsung Electronics and started three companies, including an education technology company, before eventually founding aweXome Ray.

It was founded as a startup in 2018 and is one of the few hardware companies that has set itself the goal of becoming a unicorn.

“My mission has always been clear – as a hardware company and with technology developed by a college lab, to become a unicorn,” he said.

“I was frustrated to see college lab technology getting (stuck) in the labs with no chance of commercialization. I wish I could set a new example of becoming a hardware unicorn going public, ”he added.

To earn that billion dollar valuation, the company should step up its intellectual property protection efforts, the CEO said.

He spent the first year quietly filing local and foreign patents, and the company secured nine domestic patents, all overseas under the Patent Cooperation Agreement, and five foreign patents in Taiwan and the United States.

By securing the exclusivity of aweXome Ray’s technology, the company has gained a number of opportunities.

Gihm believes his company is aligning with South Korea to reduce its reliance on foreign technology.

And most importantly, the pandemic has given the company an opportunity to prove the role its technology can play in fighting viruses in the air.

“It’s impossible to test whether AweXome Ray’s devices can kill the coronavirus, but we can assume that they could kill the virus because it kills others,” he said. “In South Korea there is only one test that certifies the effectiveness of a product in killing viruses. AweXome Ray showed 96 percent effectiveness in killing viruses. “

When asked about future plans, Gihm said the company plans to introduce seawater sterilization products next year.

“Ultimately, we want to be the leading developer of next-generation X-ray technology that can be applied to almost anything.”