The Korean electronics giant will use its new Silicon Valley operations, early stage investment fund, and its $1 billion Samsung Ventures America Fund to boost its presence in the U.S.
"Much of our innovation in the past was done in Korea, because that's where the company began. That's where a lot of the engineers are," Young Sohn, chief strategy officer of device solutions at Samsung Electronics, told reporters during a press conference about the new initiatives. "Samsung has more than half of our employees worldwide."
To jumpstart the $100 million Samsung Catalyst Fund, the company is holding a competition, SamsungCreate Challenge, later this year. The program will encourage artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and other innovators to leverage Samsung's technology. It will award $10 million in seed investments to winners and will also include incubation and support from Samsung's Innovation and Technology fellows and partners with Samsung R&D technologists.
The company plans to provide more details at a later date.
Samsung today also discussed its new Samsung Strategy and Innovation Center in Menlo Park. The business also has offices in Korea and Israel and is led by Sohn. He declined to detail the size of the innovation center.Samsung, while based in South Korea, also has large operations in New Jersey and Texas. However, its presence in Silicon Valley, the traditional heart of U.S. technology, has been relatively small. The company has been taking steps to expand its California-based operations, including by building a new research and development center in Mountain View, Calif. And executives told CNET recently that Samsung has been hiring many people in the area.
Many tech giants operate investment arms to build companies developing technology in their interest areas. Intel's VC arm is one of the biggest startup investment funds in the world, and Google, Qualcomm, and Microsoft are some other companies that operate sizable funds. Samsung founded Samsung Venture Investment Corp. in late 1999, and it has increased the amount in the America-based fund frequently, Sohn said. That has meant more investment in Silicon Valley recently.
Sohn said that by focusing on academics and smaller-scale ideas the company's venture efforts are different from those at Intel, Qualcomm, and Microsoft. He added that the company's business style, which includes being "very patient," might attract entrepreneurs.In recent times, the hottest companies for venture funding have tended to be in social networking, health care, or mobile instead of hardware-related fields. According to research firm CB Insights, which provides quarterly data on VC investments, only 4 percent of the deals made in the fourth quarter were in the computer hardware and services sector. Fifteen percent were in mobile, while the bulk -- 41 percent -- were in Internet companies.
"A number of venture companies are running away from basic science that takes awhile to incubate and develop," Sohn said.
As for the size, Sohn said that the $100 million venture fund is just a starting point that the company has committed to. "Obviously the money can go up if we have other ideas," he told reporters.
The new investments discussed today, as well as the company's R&D center, will help Samsung become more rooted in Silicon Valley. It also should help drive innovation in areas related to Samsung's own business targets.
"There's a hunger for supporting entrepreneurs and academics, [things that] could be the next Google or other things that we can help be a part of that," Sohn said. "We are part of Silicon Valley."
Updated at 2:10 p.m. PT with additional details and comments from press event.