Education, Research, and Service: Capturing All Three Key Objectives in Educator Entrepreneurship

2023-12-29 Academic

Elenova, a new diagnostics and treatment medical material company founded by Professor Dokyoung Kim of the College of Medicine, received the Minister of Science and ICT Award at the 2023 University Technology Management Promotion (Joint Support) Uni-Tec Demo Day and the Grand Prize at the 2023 Hanam City Development Corporation Entrepreneurship Competition

“Technology Startup” refers to starting a new company on the strength of an innovative source technology which either creates a whole new market segment that did not exist before or upgrades existing products and services to a markedly improved level. In recent years, increasingly more educators based in universities are leveraging their research achievements in the market through entrepreneurship. Kyung Hee Industrial and Academic Cooperation Foundation actively supports the entrepreneurial aspirations of our faculty members, with around 40 educator-led startup companies currently registered. Professor Kim’s Elenova is one such company.

The Foundation conducts an annual survey on faculty members planning for venture startups to identify and support potential entrepreneurs. As part of this process, the business potential of Professor Kim's proposal was deemed to be remarkably high in terms of technological feasibility and market growth potential through an interview and by reviewing his history of excellence in research, current market landscape, and lack of competing products. After approval for educator entrepreneurship, the Foundation has been assisting Elenova with market trend analysis and more in collaboration with government support programs.

The alliance between Elenova and the Foundation has achieved a string of successes. In late October, the company received the Minister of Science and ICT Award at the 2023 University Technology Management Promotion (Joint Support) Uni-Tec Demo Day, and in early December, Elenova won the Grand Prize at the 2023 Hanam City Development Corporation Entrepreneurship Competition.

New urine-based cervical cancer diagnosis kit removes patient discomfort and accessibility barrier
The goal of Elenova’s technology is “Smart Aging,” addressing various urogenital diseases that can occur with age. These include ovarian cancer, bladder cancer, cervical cancer in women, and prostate cancer, bladder cancer in men. The company focuses on developing various diagnostic technologies that individuals can use on their own to monitor their health. Recently, it developed the “Urine-Based Cervical Cancer Diagnosis Kit,” a world's first invention based on Elenova’s proprietary source technology.'

Professor Kim targeted cervical cancer, a disease where women often feel both physical and psychological discomfort during the diagnosis process, using a method called Pap test or Pap smear. While this diagnostic procedure is considered to be non-invasive, it is still performed on a gynecological examination chair, collecting cells from the cervix and vagina. He explained that this process creates a significant psychological barrier for women, and many patients prefer avoiding the gynecological examination unless it is conducted by female doctors. Professor Kim said, "Accessibility to diagnosis is negatively affected, and the diagnosis rate is low in Korea. While the main target of Pap smear is the HPV virus, which is widely linked to cervical cancer, many cervical cancer patients are HPV-negative."

The diagnostic kit developed by Elenova allows women to perform real-time diagnostics without visiting a hospital or undergoing Pap smear. To maximize patient convenience, Professor Kim focused on biomarkers contained in urine samples and developed a kit that can diagnose cervical cancer based on their reading. By collecting urine in a cup and shaking it in a bottle with reagents, the results can be visually confirmed within a minute. A color change indicates suspicion of cervical cancer.

The new diagnostic kit is currently preparing to undergo the approval process from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety. During the startup preparation phase, Professor Kim explored opinions of major medical device companies and reactions from potential investors. Domestic market interest is highly favorable, and there is also significant demand in overseas markets, especially in regions of cost-prohibitive healthcare or medically-underserved countries. In Russia, for instance, the shortage of qualified gynecologists and medical lab forces many patients to endure long travel distance and excessive wait time. Countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia are considering the introduction of the kit to enhance medical benefits. Despite the latent demand, there has been no such product to capture the market; the absence of competition lends credence to the claim of pioneering a whole new market segment.

Professor Kim emphasized the substantial support he received from the Foundation since the early stages of Elenova. He expressed satisfaction, saying, "They approached me first and made invaluable inputs on relevant support programs. I encourage my colleagues considering entrepreneurship to talk to the Foundation and take advantage of the support system already in place.” The positive atmosphere for entrepreneurship within the University also contributed to the process. Professor Kim personally describes educator entrepreneurship as fulfilling the duties of an educator, which are education, research, and service to the public. Through educator entrepreneurship, educators introduce new technology to the market, train advanced workforce, and provide medical services to the masses. He concluded, "I will strive to lower my anxiousness a bit and ensure that my business commitment does not negatively affect other areas of life."

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