“As the sea of AI began to develop, I thought ‘we need to spread the net as wide as possible, because we don’t know which fish will bring us good luck’” says Jung Bae Kim, CEO of AI startup company, Alchera Inc.

“Technical startups have to take as many opportunities as they can get,” he said. Alchera wasn’t just focused on AI. As a result of focusing on both AR and big data businesses, Alchera was able to carry out many projects while safely managing risk through diversification, while also feeding off of the synergies.

Alchera is most known for its face recognition technology which is based on deep learning. Through the technology, hundreds of dots – 106 points to be exact – are printed on the face, and the images entered into the dots can analyze where the face is located and even who the person is. Alchera’s face recognition ability is also highly regarded globally as shown by their NIST Face Recognition Vendor test results.

This technology has been used by millions since it has been applied to the famous beauty and makeup camera app, SNOW Camera. “Our technology attracted attention in global markets because it can put an AR sticker or animoji on people’s faces in 3D, even with a simple 2D camera.” The CEO said that Alchera’s face recognition technology can recognize faces and attach AR stickers even with an older smartphone.

For instance, Apple has implemented face recognition and AR sticker functions only on the iPhone X, as Apple has put a separate 3D camera into its smartphone for the feature. However, Alchera implemented these technologies on all smartphones that came after the Galaxy S3. Alchera’s technology has been applied not only to SNOW Cameras, but also to LG U+’s AR service “Kids Land 2.0” and CGV’s AR kiosk “MyPoster.”

Alchera is also operating in the Big Data business. After complelting the development of AI deep learning, Kim decided to do Big Data business as it is clear that securing and managing big data is essential for AI to work. While this is an internal tool, Alchera also supplies big data and the management software to large companies and schools that need data for their AI models and engines.

“We established a separate corporation in Vietnam in December 2018 for our data management business,” said CEO Kim.

But why did the 39-year old CEO want to start a business in the first place? The reason was AlphaGo, an AI that beat Lee Se-dol. At a time when the Ministry of Science and ICT was actively exploring AI technology, he demonstrated his facial recognition technology in front of the ministry director, an event which helped propel his ambitions.

“Based on AlphaGo, I expected that Korea’s AI market will grow in earnest. I gained confidence in starting a business by studying the bleeding edge of facial analysis throughout my master’s and doctorate programs, and by participating in commercialization work at Samsung.” said CEO Kim.

Opportunities came as talk of his work spread. He received a request for R&D from Young Kyoo Hwang, then a VP who was consulting SNOW on facial recognition. SNOW wanted to develop 3D AR stickers, but they didn’t yet have the ability. Kim and Hwang established Alchera together and developed the technology three months later. It was possible because the two were knowledgeable in facial analysis and computer graphics.

From that time on, Alchera was on a roll. Korea’s technology giant, Naver, invested 1.2 million USD in the AI venture shortly after its launch. It then received investments from InterVest and InterValue in 2017 and attracted funds from Soo Investment and Shinhan Capital in 2019 in a Series B. Alchera was even honored by the Ministry of Science and ICT for their advancement of the fourth industrial revolution and job creation.

Alchera is now looking beyond Korea to foreign markets. Young Kyoo Hwang, CTO of Alchera is receiving support from KIC Silicon Valley and is operating and promoting its products in the U.S.

“Alchera means ‘dreamtime’ in native aboriginal Australian languages,” Kim said, adding “We want to realize our dream of providing great help to mankind through AI.”

Kim Nam Young – nykim@hankyung.com