[JERUSALEM] Samsung Electronics opened a branch of its early-stage technology investment program in Tel Aviv to better tap into the innovative engineering for which Israel is known.
Investment in individual companies will typically be about US$1 million with no limit on the number of beneficiaries or the funding amount, Eyal Miller, Samsung Next Tel Aviv's general manager and chief executive officer, said at a news conference.
"Everyone is trying to leapfrog the competition," Kai Bond, general manager and CEO of Samsung Global Innovation Centre in New York, said in an interview. "But for us to continue to innovate three, five, seven years out, we want to play with individuals who are very, very early on, at a concept phase with a vision, as opposed to something that is fully established."
Apple Inc, a top Samsung competitor, acquired India's Tuplejump Software earlier this year to expand its expertise in artificial intelligence. The purchase was Apple's third acquisition this year in an area that has become a key investment field for tech giants as they compete to develop virtual assistants.
Started three years ago, Samsung Global Innovation Centre has invested in more than 40 technologies and acquired 11, including one that powers the Samsung Galaxy mobile phone payment software, Mr Miller said.
The Tel Aviv division joins teams in California, New York and South Korea at a time when Samsung is recalling its iPhone-rivaling Galaxy Note 7 mobile phones, after some batteries overheated or burst into flame.
The Samsung Next Tel Aviv initiative is the latest sign of the South Korean company's increasing interest in Israeli innovation. Samsung Electronics has been investing in and acquiring Israeli companies for the past decade.
"Tel Aviv has more talented engineers per square foot than anywhere in the world," said Mr Bond. The division will invest in areas that include artificial intelligence, cyber security, augmented and virtual reality.
The new programme dovetails with Israel's attempts to widen trade with Asian countries to offset declining exports to the US and Europe. In May, Israel and South Korea announced the opening of free-trade talks to expand commerce between the two countries that stood at US$1.7 billion in 2015.