Now it’s time to take a close look at a small but competitive business making a difference for the Korean economy. “Hey Startups Festival,” an event introducing brand new venture startups, was held in Seoul on June 17-18. During the event, more than 150 startup firms showcased their innovation and competitiveness. For the past three weeks, we met with startups that are expected to lead the future of the Korean economy and for the final installment, we’ll take a look at Wabadada, a company that develops ocean-related leisure facilities. Let’s hear from the company’s CEO, Lee Gwang-pyo.

When people look at the vast ocean, they automatically shout out, “Wa, badada!” which is Korean for “Wow, it’s the ocean!!” We decided on that exact phrase as our company name as we work for the sea. We want to make people who live in fishing villages happier. When I was in 9th grade, our earth sciences teacher once told us that we would be living much happier lives if the amount of money invested in space was invested in to the sea. Those words really struck me and I became interested in the sea from that point. I studied oceanography in college and went to the Navy for mandatory military service. Now I make facilities related to marine leisure, such as the Aranaby, Nurinaby, and Nakanaby ziplines. Our company also creates experience-based programs for fishing villages. For example, we were the first to bring in a transparent canoe for the Jang-ho Fishing Experience Village which became an instant hit. Even now, we are very busy with R&D.

Wabadada’s CEO Lee Gwang-pyo was always interested in the ocean since his school days. He established Wabadada in 2005 with the name coming from the exclamation that people shout out when coming across the ocean. His company has been focused on projects befitting its name. To make fishing villages and seaside villages more vibrant, Wabadada established fishing experience villages and developed related tourism packages. The company is also building an adventure leisure facility focused on marine leisure programs.

There’s something called ziplining which is an extreme leisure activity. Our company used our own technology to localize the activity and installed the facility in Jumumjin (주문진) in 2009. At first we faced many difficulties. For example, the Aranaby zipline facility allows people to zip through the sky 20 meters into the air for 300 to 400 meters. They only depend on one wire to keep them from falling. So, if there is a faulty wire or other problems, it could lead to a dangerous situation. That is why the facility requires complex technology. We currently have 13 utility patents and we also have five patents being prepared for applications. In addition, we also have 30-40 intellectual properties for design and goods.

Zipline tours are becoming popular vacation activities. As they do not require any power, ziplines have been praised as an eco-friendly leisure activity. Wabadada was looking for an activity that could bring thrills while incorporating the natural beauty of the ocean which is why it started to research ziplines. Although it looks simple, connecting two different spots with cable wire and using a pulley to fly between them requires complex technology due to the need for safety devices and specially made structures. With the development of its own technology in mind, the company focused on R&D and earned 13 patents along the way. Starting with Aranaby, an 840-meter zipline set up on Jumunjin Beach in Gangwon-do Province in 2009, Wabadada also created Nurinaby, which is Korea’s only moving aerial descent facility, Nakanaby, which suddenly plunges the rider down from a great height, and the Sky Bridge that allows visitors to walk 13 meters up in the air. The Jumunjin facility alone attracted 25,000 visitors in four years, a remarkable success for the startup. Because of its innovative products and services, Wabadada has won prizes at many competitions in Korea, including the bronze award at the Korea Invention Patent Exhibition. Last year, the company introduced another innovative facility after two years of development.

Our facilities like Aranaby, Nurinaby, and Nakanaby are all great for leisure activities at the beach or fishing villages, but they are not suitable for rainy, snowy, or windy days. So, we thought about what to do in case of inclement weather and whether we can incorporate virtual reality, or perhaps have the facility indoors. That is how we came up with Eyeglider. We looked at real videos and tried on the gear ourselves to make the experience exactly as if ziplining outdoors. The main focus was to make the experience real, such as going faster when the wind blows harder and feeling the cables differently depending on the speed.

Eyeglider is a 4D device that uses virtual reality to give users a thrill no matter where they are. Users wear a head-mounted display and, after putting on their safety belts, they can experience ziplining indoors. The videos, wind effects, equipment, cable wires and flight speed give users a thrilling experience that makes them feel like they are actually ziplining above the ocean. Eyeglider is currently available at Gyeongbokgung Station and Lotte Mall in Seoul, and the leisure activity service is gaining attention abroad.

When we created Eyeglider, we had the goal of exporting it abroad. We’ve been trying very hard to break into the Chinese market. We gave a presentation in Beijing in January and are currently holding meetings about partnerships. We have already sold Eyeglider to foreign countries like Guam and we also attended an exhibition in Dubai two months ago. It was a huge exhibition and the response was very good. We’ll be preparing for another upcoming exhibition in September to establish a sample store and expand our presence in the region.

After successfully exporting to Guam, Wabadada plans on focusing on exports and breaking into the Chinese and Middle Eastern markets this year. Also, the company plans to launch a sand leisure facility and conduct consulting services for small fishing villages, living up to its name and spreading the joy of the ocean to the world over.

Living up to our company’s name, we want to make the ocean and especially fishing villages sustainable and happy. In order to do that, we will continue to develop new products and services to bring younger people to the ocean and seaside villages and run their businesses there so they can earn money and enjoy the ocean at the same time. In the end, what we are striving for is to make our beautiful East Sea, West Sea, and South Sea more sustainable so that people can say “Wa badada!” after 100, or even 1,000 years in the future.