Now it’s time to take a close look at a small but competitive business making a difference for the Korean economy. In this third installment of our special coverage of new venture firms that made an impression at the latest Hey Startups Festival, we’ll learn about Lumir, a company that’s lighting up the world with a candle. Here’s Lumir’s CEO Park Jae-hwan (박제환).

Lumir is a portmanteau of the words 'lumi', which means the light, and 'mir', which means the world. We are a social venture firm founded in December 2014 with a goal of lighting up the world. We develop and distribute low-cost, heat-generated lamps to resolve the problem of a lack of light in underdeveloped regions. We also make high-end lights. I first experienced the problem of a lack of light while traveling in India. I noticed that many people were using candles or oil lamps, but it was still so dark. I started to develop the product with the thought that perhaps the same things can be used to produce more light.

Lumir CEO Park Jae-hwan realized how serious the problem of a lack of light was during his trip to India, while he was still an engineering student at Chung-Ang University. Many households in developing nations use candles and oil lamps as sources of light, but candlelight is too dim, while lamp oil is not only expensive, but also harmful to respiratory health due to the black carbon. So Park founded Lumir in 2014 with an aim to solve these problems. With a clear goal to “light the world”, the company developed an LED lamp powered by a candle.

When you light a candle and place the product on top, the light comes on automatically in about a minute or two. What makes this possible is the “Seebeck effect.” A temperature difference between two semiconductors produces a voltage, which lights up the LED lamp at the top. Ninety percent of a candle’s energy is wasted as heat. Only 10% is used as light. So what we found is a way to retrieve the wasted 90% as electricity to light the LED lamp. We have a total of 11 local patents, and we also acquired global certifications such as CE, FCC, and LOHAS so that we’d have no problem making sales overseas.

While still at school, Park already had experience developing various products, such as a CCTV using discarded smartphones, and a power supply that can turn on a light when there’s a blackout. As a solution for the developing nations’ lack of light problem, Park thought of the Seebeck effect, which allows the heat emitted by a candle to be converted into electricity, which can light an LED lamp. Working on the theory, Lumir was able to successfully create a candle lamp that emits light which is significantly brighter than a candle just by placing it on top of one.

Currently we have 2 products – Lumir C and Lumir K. Lumir C is a candle lamp that we sell in advanced nations, while Lumir K is sold in developing nations for no profit. It’s an oil lamp that’s much brighter than a conventional oil lamp. It’s also about 60 times brighter than a candle. In advanced nations, Lumir C can be used at outdoor terraces or at campsites because it is cordless. You can also place scented candles inside to use it as a nightlight in the bedroom.

Lumir’s products do not require any external power supply or batteries. They emit light tens of times brighter than a candle while using just a single candle, and they can also be used semi-permanently. Also unlike solar-powered products, Lumir’s products can be used anywhere any time, regardless of the weather. The development stages had not been easy. Candle lamps were rarely commercialized and the company had to learn every technology and each step from scratch. The product parts had to be order-made, bringing up the production cost far higher than expected. Faced with the price problem, Lumir decided to roll out two different products – the candle lamps to be sold in advanced nations for camping and interior decorating, while another model is provided to developing nations at a much lower cost.

I’ve won the top prize at a national technological competition for university students hosted by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, as well as at a startup program organized by KDB Foundation. We entered a total of 12 national and international competitions, and won the top prize at 9 of them. On the world’s largest crowdfunding site, Kickstarter, we received over 160 million won from over a thousand people from 56 countries in just a month. It was far more than we’d imagined. I think it helped that our products were introduced on news networks like CNN or China’s CCTV.

A lamp that can light up an entire room with a candle received much attention from home and abroad. Lumir won various awards and also drew the attention of some 480 media outlets in 40 countries, including the United States’ New York Times, Britain’s Guardian, and China’s CCTV. In 2016, Lumir listed its product on Kickstarter, the world’s largest crowdfunding site, and received a total of 133,565 dollars in funding. The feat continued this year, as Lumir listed the product on Makuake (마쿠아케), Japan’s largest crowdfunding site, and received over 1.5 million yen in funding. But Lumir is not stopping here.

My goal is to solidify Lumir’s brand power as a lighting company and create a clear revenue model, so that we can continue to solve the problem of a lack of light in developing nations without depending on donations or support. Fortunately, we’re about to release a new lighting product named Lumir S. We hope that by continuing to develop new products, we’ll be able to define a profit structure soon. We’re also constantly receiving feedback from our local employees in developing nations in order to improve our products, so hopefully these efforts will lead to good responses.

Lumir exports to 8 countries worldwide currently, and is tackling the problem of a lack of light with a good business model, instead of depending on donations or support. As a partner of Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), Lumir conducted a field test on their product by providing it to the locals of Kalimantan in Indonesia. After receiving mixed reviews from the local residents who tried the products firsthand, Lumir is now working on an improved model to introduce it to the Indonesian market this fall, with hopes to light up the developing nation. Lumir’s goal is to pursue social values while growing a business. The future seems bright for this young venture.