‘Blockchain is where I belong’

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‘Blockchain is where I belong’


Dr. Kim Byung-gun, a leading plastic surgeon and the CEO and founder of ICO Platform discusses the structure of his company’s analysis model on May 4 at BK Medical Group’s building in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul. ICO Platform is a blockchain company Kim launched last year and a crowdfunding platform that matches its corporate clients screened and selected based on the company’s analysis algorithm with potential investors. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Bitcoin frenzy may have waned in Korea, but last year’s excitement was enough to get a number of people interested in the potential of blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrency.

Dr. Kim Byung-gun, a leading plastic surgeon and venture capitalist who made his fortune investing in tech and bio start-ups, has caught the blockchain fever.

Kim treats patients from all over the world as the founder and director of BK Plastic Surgery Hospital. He’s also one of the largest shareholders of Hugel, a medical company and botulinum toxin maker listed on the Kosdaq, worth about 2.9 trillion won ($2.7 billion) in market cap.

Kim recently added another title to his business card - CEO and founder of ICO Platform, a blockchain company he started in Singapore last year. ICO Platform provides in-depth analysis on blockchain projects that offer initial coin offerings (ICO), a capital raising process for blockchain start-ups that offer their own coins to investors.

The company operates as a crowdfunding platform that matches its corporate clients with potential investors.

The corporate clients listed on the platform are screened and selected based on ICO Platform's analysis algorithm which Kim explained as based on "hybrid due diligence" process that combines deep learning of artificial intelligence and assessment made by human investment experts.

“I first came across blockchain while reading a book about it in 2008 when I first moved to Singapore,” Kim told the Korea JoongAng Daily in a meeting room at his hospital in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul, on May 4.

Kim saw tremendous potential in blockchain technology, a decentralized distributed ledger system that boasts security and transparency, and realized it could give entrepreneurs a chance to narrow the gap between the rich and poor by providing promising investment opportunities even to the general public.

But as he delved deeper, Kim saw a critical issue in the ecosystem - scammers exploiting the growing interest in the technology and swindling money out of investors.

“After reading books about the technology, I attended meet-ups of different blockchain projects in Singapore and realized that it is very difficult, essentially impossible, for individual investors to tell the difference between scams and promising project models,” Kim added. “People need a tool to verify the validity of each project they intend to invest in, but unfortunately, it’s difficult to find such a tool.”

After months of deliberation, Kim decided to launch a project himself, aiming to solve the pitfall he saw and eventually help the general public differentiate Ponzi schemes from legitimate projects. He also hopes to provide a platform that connects investors and entrepreneurs.

Kim met with the Korea JoongAng Daily to discuss how a renowned plastic surgeon became a major blockchain player. Following are edited excerpts.

Q. You have so many different titles. What defines you best?

. I have practiced medicine for 30 years, so in terms of time, being a plastic surgeon defines me the best. But looking at the future, the blockchain community is where I belong and intend to commit myself the most.

You are known for your success in investment, such as your investment into Hugel. What’s your secret?

I look at the financial statements of the companies I invest in, but when it comes to analysis of such information, I am no better than anyone else. What I see is people. I must know that the people who run the companies I consider investing in are trustworthy. I knew that the founders of Hugel were experts in their fields and trustworthy enough to entrust my money with.

Why did you decide to start a blockchain company?

The biggest benefits of blockchain technology as I saw it are transparency, fairness and efficiency. Once it is out there, it’s impossible to forge information, because it is shared among participants. It’s a model where participants of an ecosystem equally share profit; meaning business owners do not take a bigger share of the pie than other shareholders as in the current system. I was lucky enough to earn my fortune and success, and I thought blockchain was the ideal medium for me to share that with other people.

Can you tell us a little bit about your blockchain project?

We started this project so that we can filter out scams from the blockchain community. We will accomplish this through what we call “hybrid due diligence,” combining the strengths of artificial intelligence and human experts.

We will issue iCrowd Coins as a means of transaction within the ecosystem we create. Investors can trade the tokens for other coins issued by start-ups using our services. Investors can participate in the pre-sale of projects listed on our platform, which means they can reap a higher return than regular investors. Another important element of our platform is cryptofund, which is an indirect investment product that allows diversified investment.

Our team includes Jason Kim, who’s been involved in the blockchain industry for some time now, assuming a number of posts including chief financial officer of a number of companies. Kim Myung-rock, one of the leading experts in deep learning, is also a member of our team. Stanley Lee, a former banker who worked in leading firms in New York and Los Angeles, is our due diligence and valuation expert.

Would I invest in the project? This is the question we ask ourselves.

The Korean government banned ICOs, which raises concerns among market watchers of promising projects leaving the country. What is your opinion?

I think it was an appropriate move. Based on my experience, I think nearly 50 percent, or perhaps more, of the blockchain projects preparing for ICOs are scams. I think it is right for the government to regulate until we are able to sort out the scams. However, a complete and lasting ban would force promising projects out of the country, essentially a leakage of wealth. Resource-wise, there is little to Korea except the people. While everyone in the world knows what cryptocurrency and blockchain is now, there are many skeptics outside of Korea. Koreans are early adopters and the cryptocurrency fever here last year shows that people become very enthusiastic about new opportunities. The Korean government wants to help start-ups in the country and ICOs could be instrumental in that initiative, as long as there are measures toscreen out scams.

What’s the ultimate vision of blockchain technology as you see it?

It’s to create a community that focuses on the mutual benefit of owners and investors, employers and employees. I also believe it is entrepreneurs that can change this world for the better. But unfortunately, there are many good ideas that fail to bear fruit because they cannot get funding. Luckily, ICOs present a solution.

BY CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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