[THE INVESTOR] Pangyo Techno Valley, a tech hub modelled after Silicon Valley in the U.S., is emerging as a new national growth engine as South Korea’s conventional manufacturing industries stutter.
The complex located in southern Gyeonggi Province is comprised of more than 1,000 tech start-ups specializing in biotechnology, media content and nanotechnology. Big game companies such as NHN Entertainment, Nexon and NCsoft, as well as security giant AhnLab and mobile messenger behemoth Kakao all have a presence there. And all of them began as small tech start-ups.
Kakao employees ride around the company on kickboards. (Kakao)
Companies in Pangyo shun the hierarchical, heavily top-down management systems typical at conglomerates and small and midsize enterprises run by their owners.
“The corporate culture here is different from A to Z compared to traditional Korean companies,” said a Kakao official, who recently moved from a major construction company.
“At first, I was surprised to see most employees wearing jeans, shorts and sneakers. Even top management executives also wear casual outfits to look younger,” he said, while comparing his former companies requiring their employees to wear suits at all times.
At traditional companies, drinking is not only mandatory, but also it is common to see bosses speaking in a serious tone during meetings, while employees only have to listen without saying a word.
“Compared to my previous company, where employees in turn reports to their bosses, they freely share their ideas here,” the official added.
“Young people here usually decide where to go (instead of their bosses). You can freely leave when you have personal appointments.”
Kakao’s corporate culture is not unusual in Pangyo.
“Because most companies here in this cluster are Internet firms ranging from game, portal to mobile businesses, the atmosphere is younger and freer than other companies or government offices,” said Kim Sang-hyun, a communication team manager of NCsoft, one of the country’s largest game-makers.
This horizontal and free environment has also delivered strong performances.
The annual sales of tech companies in Pangyo reached more than 70 trillion won ($61 billion) last year, accounting for 21 percent of Gyeonggi’s gross regional domestic product valued at 329 trillion won, according to data by the Gyeonggi Institute of Science & Technology Promotion.
The number of employees also stood at more than 72,000, with most of them in their 20s and 30s. More than 9,000 new employees joined tech companies in Pangyo last year.
The government has recently created a start-up campus, investing 42 billion won to provide venues, consulting and competitions to help entrepreneurs realize their dreams.
“We are supporting young start-ups to jump into the global market. We are expecting to see several unlisted companies whose value is more than 1 trillion won in two to three years,” said Kim Jong-kab, head of the state-run K-ICT Born2Global Center.
By Shin Ji-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org)