U.S.-based quantum-computing startup IonQ listed on the New York Stock Exchange last week after merging with a SPAC. The deal, which raised $635 million, made IonQ the first quantum-computing company to go public. It also marked a major step forward for Korean conglomerate Samsung into the era of next-generation computers.
The Maryland-based startup was founded in 2015 by Chris Monroe and Jungsang Kim, both professors at Duke University. Monroe holds degrees in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Colorado at Boulder, while Kim holds a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford.
Samsung Catalyst Fund, a venture capital fund of Samsung Electronics, co-led a $55 million in IonQ with Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Capital in 2019, more than tripling its total funds raised to $77 million at that point. It was a significant investment in a startup from Samsung, which prefers to build its own technology. Samsung Catalyst Fund called IonQ “a leader in quantum computing.”
“As Samsung is a world leader in electronics manufacturing, notably for advanced semiconductors, the investment in IonQ is aimed at building Samsung’s competitive edge in advanced technology and innovation for computing and data processing,” says Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist with research firm IHS Markit.
“By harnessing the physics of the subatomic realm, quantum computers can run simulations, solve problems, and answer questions that even the most powerful classical supercomputers find difficult or impossible to tackle,” Samsung Catalyst Fund said in a statement when it invested in IonQ. “At Samsung, we see a unique opportunity to accelerate this exciting industry by leveraging our strengths in core technology and manufacturing, combined with our market leadership in semiconductors, display, and battery technologies.”
The conglomerate will eventually use its IonQ investment to offer more of its products to outside vendors, such as selling chips to Google, forecasts Nyunsoo Na, an analyst with research firm IDC. Samsung is the largest maker of memory chips in the world. In 2019, the conglomerate announced that it plans to invest a total of $116 billion over the next decade into non-memory chips and contract chip manufacturing.
Samsung’s investment in IonQ follows a trend among big Korean names intent on protecting their core businesses, says Tim Hwang, chairman and CEO of the data and media company FiscalNote.
“In general, all the major conglomerates are getting more comfortable with startup and growth-stage investing in emerging technologies they believe will be disruptive to their core businesses,” Hwang notes. He calls this approach “differentiated from others like their Japanese counterparts.”
Just last month, LG Electronics, the Korean conglomerate best known for its home appliances, acquired Israeli automotive cybersecurity startup Cybellum for $140 million in its push into the hot field of high-tech vehicles.
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