Kim Kyung-hee is a 25-yearold university student from Mokpo National university. As the CEO of her own business, JJ_Charcoal Lab, she is getting herself known through her high school invention, “Charcoal Pearl.”
Charcoal Pearl is a processed charcoal that looks like a black pearl. However, the charcoal is not powdered or coated but cut carefully to resemble a small pearl that would work as a natural filter. “It’s made from a full lump of charcoal, heated in a kiln, cut and polished until it looks like a pearl,” Kim explained. “The texture of the wood is still there, so it doesn’t split for fall apart when it’s put inside water.”
According to Kim, the first ideas of Charcoal Pearl date back to her elementary school’s invention notebook, where she jotted down ideas to solve the problems she and her parents found in their daily lives. Ewha Voice asked the young inventor about her story on the invention of the Charcoal Pearl.
How did you get interested in charcoal?
My father used to run a small sushi restaurant, and I saw him put charcoal in the store’s aquariums to clean up fish waste. Charcoal did clean the water, but it was all messy, with black specks floating around. Worse, the fish ate the powder. The next day, I searched the internet and found out that sharp charcoal powder could cause gastritis in fish stomachs. I wrote in my note, “I want to make charcoal that doesn’t drop any powder.”
How did your idea take shape?
At first, I was working with silver. It was during my last year at middle school, and I succeeded in making a silver cast for a cup and sent it to a local invention competition. There, I found out that accumulated silver inside our body could do quite a lot of harm. Plus, the cast was way too expensive for people to use. I thought, ‘If I could make a charcoal that wasn’t messy, it would be better than silver.’ I started by coating charcoal powder on plastic, and went through various forms of charcoal, and finally settled on Charcoal Pearl.
Did you face any hardship while launching your business?
I had a really hard time finding a business partner. I was about to give up when someone I knew suggested on going on a TV show. It was a public television program that showcased people’s inventions. Right after it aired, I received an enormous amount of calls from various companies – I was amazed at the power of media. I visited Seoul several times to meet other businesspeople. However, I was 22. Most of them just wanted my technology. Some urged me to show them my patent materials without reason. I thought, “Oh, I should be careful.” So I made my decision to come back to Mokpo and study more about entrepreneurship in a university.
Coming back to her hometown, Kim attended Mokpo National University and started her school club “Charcoal Pearl Lab.” With the help of Creative Economy Town (former Idea Maru of Ministry of Science and ICT), she developed her business by receiving mentoring from the center. Her work started to gain media attention from 2016, and since then she has been launching variations of her Charcoal Pearl such as necklaces(BLEAVE), water bottles, body patches and more. Kim says she hopes to further her interest and work on inventing more health and personal care goods.
“Before I started my business, I worked in a student journalist team. I wanted to launch a business but didn’t know how, so I listened to other entrepreneurs and wrote articles about them,” Kim said. “It’s all too easy for an inventor or a start-up entrepreneur to think ‘I’m the best’ and stop listening to other people. When I received the Minister’s prize during high school, I thought I was going to be successful right away, too. For those people who are taking great challenges, listen more, see more. Learn what you know and what you don’t know, and seek advice or make a team. You should never stop your item to become better!”