Dr. Jeong Hak Kim, a lifelong researcher and the founder and CEO of PHILOS, talks about the bittersweet experience of forging his own route when there were no roads to choose. He briefly recounts his long path to becoming the first person to commercialize hollow fiber UF membranes in South Korea, despite several setbacks, rejections, failures, as well as a lack of guidance and back support.
Dr. Kim, who was then an ambitious researcher, recalls his days as a young researcher at SK Chemical in the 1980s, when he was passionately committed to the development and commercialization of UF membrane for the first time in Korea. He begins by outlining his difficulties in obtaining hollow fiber nozzles for his research, as there were few vendors available at the time. He recalls that 30-40 years ago, there was only one vendor selling hollow fiber Nozzle in Japan, and he was confident that he would be able to purchase the nozzle easily because he had visited Japan and spoke the language, but when he arrived in Japan, he was disappointed to learn that they were unwilling to sell it to him in order to maintain the secrecy. So, despite his persistent attempts to purchase the nozzles from the Japanese manufacturer, even at a price double the actual cost, he remembers being rejected and ignored by the manufacturer on many occasions. He considers this event to be one of the most difficult yet beneficial stepping stones in his career since it pushed him to think and act outside of his comfort zone, allowing him to discover that nothing was truly impossible if you put your heart and soul into it.
He says, because he was so driven to commercialize the UF membrane in Korea before anyone, he had no intentions to drop the research even if it meant additional working hours, sleepless nights, no back support, limited knowledge and lack of available resources. He knew that it was not going to be easy to develop the hollow fiber membranes let alone the nozzles and the systems by himself from the scratch, but he was so focused and dedicated to achieve it.
"I am extremely delighted to have taken that challenge 30 years ago, as a result of it, I am able to proudly identify myself as the founder and CEO of the PHILOS today, which seemed like a mere dream to me back in the 1980s," he adds smiling while cradling his small non-living babies.
He also offered to show one of the rare photos of the first hollow fiber tubes he fabricated in the 1990s using his DIY syringe nozzles. He smiles as he explains that the tube was similar in diameter to a ball pen and was one of the earliest failed but close-to-completed products, so he had saved it. Then he shows us photos of various hollow fiber membranes, nozzles, and membrane modules that he and his PHILOS team have created along the road. Nonetheless, he is now satisfied that he has accomplished his goal of being the first person in Korea to commercialize hollow fiber membranes.
He concludes by stating that the journey towards the creation and commercialization of Hollow fiber membranes for the first time in Korea, despite several challenges and limitations, was not easy, but it added a colorful flavor to his life and made his professional experience very gratifying. He goes on to state that he is convinced that one day PHILOS' products, such as membranes, nozzles, and manufacturing systems along with other future development, will be recognized and appreciated by a large number of consumers in the near future, since he is confident in the high-quality products and service PHILOS provides at a reasonable price.