Samsung president poised to ramp up investing in Israel
SAMSUNG PRESIDENT Young Sohn addresses the company’s summit conference in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: EREZ CHARODI/OSIM TZILUM)
“We invest in Israel if we find in Israel, the best entrepreneurs, the best ventures that are out there globally in a certain area.”
The president and chief strategy officer of Samsung likes to kite surf – whenever he is in California, he heads to the ocean and rides the waves.He has one problem though: how can he best record the experience? Young Sohn usually asked his wife to take the video, and she would use her smartphone.But the video wasn’t great quality to be able to capture the fast-moving pace in the distant ocean waves.One way to fix it is to go with the Silicon Valley approach: there’s an app for that. In Israel an app can be the answer, but the answer can also come in the form of an open platform – a way to solve problems with technology that Samsung points to as a key to the future of the tech world, versus the prior closed system approach.Samsung showcased the several ways that the “Startup Nation” is addressing and leading the way in areas like the artificial intelligence, computer vision, health, and security and privacy, at the company’s summit conference a mile and a half from the beaches in Tel Aviv. Sohn spoke to a group of about 600 people, mostly Israeli entrepreneurs, and talked about ramping up investment in Israel. “I think you all know you have a lot of bright people, but how do you get to the market?” Sohn told The Jerusalem Post. “How do you go to the big company? How do you view the bigger platform faster? I think that’s where people like us can be very useful.”Sohn referred to the Israeli market as a country road, and that to accelerate innovation you need to build a metaphoric highway – one which can take the high-powered tech startup country to the global market, quickly and efficiently.Sohn has visited Israel annually for the past three years, and in that time Samsung invested in 18 Israeli companies, which accounts for 29 percent of their growth in companies invested in during that period.“It’s not like we say, ‘We need to do five investments in Israel’,” said the manager of the Samsung Catalyst Fund in Israel, David Goldschmidt.“We invest in Israel if we find in Israel, the best entrepreneurs, the best ventures that are out there globally in a certain area.”Goldschmidt added that a field in which Israel can be particularly successful is in smart machines. He sees the tech market filling the void of an existing automotive industry like that of America’s in Detroit decades ago.“What happened was automotive switched from being the Ford car of a hundred years ago to something that is actually a computer with sensors – that’s where Israel excels,” Goldschmidt said.Presentations lasted for over an hour, highlighting the automotive industry, health, and robotics. Professor Kira Radinsky of Technion–Israel Institute of Technology spoke on data mining and its potential to help predict disease outbreaks, helping to better monitor health.“There’s no secret, Silicon Valley is a pretty big hotspot,” said Shankar Chandran, managing director of the Samsung Catalyst Fund. “The next biggest hotspot of the world is Israel.”The event was key for many entrepreneurs to network with other startups and also with Samsung management.Chandran talked about the value of Israel’s culture of entrepreneurship.“You have folks who are very educated, who start hacking away when they’re quite young, it then gets accelerated when they’re in the army and then they build a network and they come out and start a network, so that’s powerful,” Chandran said.He said he has no worries about a potential tech bubble burst either, in Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv. Instead he noted that some great companies have been found in potential difficult times, like Google and Uber.With a significant portion of their innovation market in Israel, Samsung has continued to invest in the country’s tech world.In terms of potential backlash from the BDS movement, Samsung declined to comment on the geopolitical situation.Sohn has been a big partner with Israel for over a decade, including in his work prior to Samsung with Oak Technology, involved in a tech merger with an Israeli company in 2003.He even got to kite surf in Israel.“I was at the Intercontinental Hotel and I saw wind blowing,” Sohn said. “I called my Israeli CEO whom I’m familiar with and said, ‘Hey, do you have an extra kite? Let’s go kite.’ He came over and we went out to the ocean.”A major difference between California and Israel kite-surfing? In Tel Aviv, warmer but flatter waters. And what else? “Israeli kiters are more aggressive – they come very close to you. You have to get used to that,” Sohn joked, noting the similarity to traits that also make the Israeli entrepreneur so successful in the global market.