Samsung Venture Investment Corporation (SVIC) is Samsung’s global venture investment arm. It invests in early-stage startups and has over $2.2 billion in assets under management. The company recently announced its India entry through an initial investment $8.5 million in four Indian startups. “These strategic investments are aligned to Samsung’s vision for its wide range of product portfolio,” says Aloknath De, corporate vice-president & CTO, Samsung R&D Institute India – Bangalore. “Through these investments, Samsung aims to empower the startups to scale at a faster pace and contribute more meaningfully,” he tells Sudhir Chowdhary in an interview. Excerpts:
How does the launch of SVIC tie up with Samsung’s India story?
Samsung’s R&D centres in the country have been working with several Indian startups at different levels for many years. In 2015, when we were working on our Tizen OS, over 200 app development companies worked with us on developing specific apps for our smart devices. Later, when we built an integrated IRIS Tab, we offered developers an India Identity SDK using which, over 125 companies built citizen services.
Over the last two to three years, we have had a deeper connect with a few startups. For instance, InMobi has worked on lock screen stories for our phones. Another company Haptik has worked on conversational AI for our My Galaxy App. This has been a different and deeper kind of engagement with startups. Over the last five years, the startup ecosystem has been maturing and the government too has been providing due importance and support. We are now seeing a lot of deep tech companies coming up, hyperlocal services are becoming popular, regional content companies emerging, and investment exits happening. With external ecosystem and internal readiness, we believe it is the right time to bring in this new dimension of investment alongside startup engagement otherwise.
What are the key identified areas of investment for SVIC?
We are focused on long-term product and service innovation that the Indian startup ecosystem has to offer. This is in line with our philosophy of in-house innovation strategically clubbed with Open Innovation. Our strategic investments in startups are thereby a vehicle to realise this mission of Open Innovation.
We will look at areas of strategic importance to Samsung which are both deep-tech and tech-led services. Key areas include technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), Natural Language Processing, Virtual and Augmented Reality (AR/VR), data security, health tech, insurance tech, mobile tech and services that enhance our regional vernacular offerings.
How does Samsung plan to leverage the technologies created by these startups?
We believe the companies we have invested in have the potential to address the future needs of our consumers through innovative and meaningful technologies. The Indian startup ecosystem has matured over the last few years with early stage companies working on top of the line technology and services, especially in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, IoT, cloud and other emerging technology solutions as well as services. Samsung is committed to work with and invest in promising Indian startups.
For example, our partnership with OS Labs has helped us launch a more comprehensive Galaxy Store, using their Indus App Bazaar, bringing app discovery and download experience in 12 local Indian languages in addition to English and offering personalised app recommendations without mandatory sign-in.
Bangalore-based Gnani.ai works in the space of automatic speech recognition and natural language processing in Indic languages for building voice assistants and for speech analytics. Their automatic speech recognition engine has the potential to power Samsung’s Voice Assistant vernacular service in the future. Samsung has announced its vision of having all its products IoT-ready by 2020. With an installed base of over 6,000 homes and 12 live communities, Silvan Innovation Labs’ IoT products and India deployment service will facilitate bringing IoT in India market. This will be a win-win for both, as it will help startups scale their solutions through this deep engagement while we get an opportunity to enrich our offerings to our consumers.
What is the total expected investment amount for the India market?
We plan to make 100 investments in Indian startups in the next five years. The investment amount will vary between $1 million and $5 million in early to growth stage Indian startups. While funding is available in plenty for good startups today, what Samsung brings to the table is additional value to these budding companies. For instance, for early stage companies, we can help them validate their technology or package it better. The other is to see how we can incorporate their solution and provide them value.
What we also see is that many a time, while the startup may be focused on its core solution, there are some other aspects that they may need help with, where we can come in. These could be in areas such as UX design or patent filing. Finally, we can help them scale up and refine their go-to-market strategy.