Samsung, the world’s biggest producer of smartphone screens, semiconductors, and mobile phones, is planning to make 100 investments in Indian start-ups over the next three to five years, through its venture capital (VC) arm.
It is scouting in ‘deep technology’ areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing, the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, augmented reality and virtual reality, and data security. And, services technologies, in areas such as health care, insurance, vernacular content, and mobility solutions.
Samsung hopes to integrate many of the start-up innovations in its own portfolio of products. The plan is to invest between $1 million and $5 million (Rs 6.9 crore to Rs 34 crore) in early- to growth-stage firms. “The timing is right because we are seeing a lot of deep tech companies emerging in India — a lot of investments are flowing and exits are happening,” said Aloknath De, corporate vice-president and chief technology officer at the Samsung R&D Institute here.
On Wednesday, the company’s investment arm, Samsung Venture Investment Corporation (SVIC), revealed it had made maiden investments of a combined $8.5 million (Rs 58 crore) across four Indian start-ups. SVIC has invested in a system apps company, OS Labs (also known as Indus OS), speech technology start-up Gnani.ai, IoT solutions provider Silvan Innovation Labs, and an early-stage computer vision entity it did not wish to identify.
“We would take it up to a 100 investments and maybe beyond in a systematic way,” said De.
Shailesh Shah, founder and senior partner at Strta Consulting Services, said Samsung’s VC arm was looking at investing in companies that are focused in areas aligned to the needs of its group firms. “It’s beginning to fund regularly in India (due to) the intense start-up activity in the country and the prowess India is beginning to show in tech products,” said Shah.
For instance, OS Labs has developed a curated app store, Indus App Bazaar, which has a collection of over 400,000 mobile apps in multiple Indian languages. Bengaluru-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. Samsung said speech recognition was now an important part of human to machine interactions, with a rising need for automated speech recognition (ASR) in non-English languages.
Silvan Innovation Labs provides IoT solutions for homes and enterprises, also addressing issues such as security, convenience, and energy management.
Ankur Pahwa, partner at consultants EY India, said corporate venture capitalists were looking to invest in start-ups working on innovative solutions and services that were adjacent to their primary business.
The four investments by SVIC in Indian start-ups are strategic in nature. Samsung had recently partnered OS Labs to launch the new Galaxy Store, powered by Indus App Bazaar, which brings app discovery and download experience to consumers in 12 Indian languages, in addition to English.
Similarly, the investment in Gnani’s ASR engine has the potential to power Samsung’s Bixby vernacular service in the future. With an installed base of 6,000-plus homes and 12 live communities, Silvan’s products and IoT platform will add value to Samsung’s efforts to have all its products IoT-ready by 2020. SVIC is actively investing in future-oriented businesses, based on innovative technologies that are expected to serve as new growth engines. It was established to promote promising companies engaged in such development.
As of March-end, SVIC had a little over $2.2 billion in assets under management. In 2018, Samsung invested $15 billion on research and development (R&D) through its 36 R&D centres globally; it also announced it would invest $22 billion over the next three years in areas such as AI, 5G, automotive electronic components, and biopharma, expected to drive