Venture Capital firm Walden Catalyst, which is led by Young Sohn -- former President at Samsung -- announced the closing of a $550 million fund. The new fund will focus its capital towards early-stage deep tech startups -- including companies from the world of AI and data -- in Israel, Europe, and the U.S. In addition to the new fund announcement, Walden is already putting the money to work, with a $20 million investment in the new startup of Mobileye’s founder, Amnon Shashua.
“I see a lot of potential in the Israeli market”
Behind the respected VC firm sits Lip-Bu Tan -- President of Walden International, which has had representation in the Startup Nation for nearly 30 years, and Young Sohn -- a former key executive at Samsung, who led the Korean tech giant’s innovation, M&As, and venture capital activities.
Sohn says in a conversation with Geektime that Walden’s previous fund invested in the Israeli market, such as in industry giants Habana Labs and Mellanox. However, the big advantage of the current fund "is the merger between two strong management groups that have worked very well together on joint investments in the past, as a result of a long-standing professional relationship between me and Lip Bo Tan, founder of the Walden Group."
As someone who used to head Samsung's electronics division and sits on the boards of companies like ARM, what are you looking for when it comes to investing in Israeli startups? Does the fund have plans for long-term investment in Israel?
“Essentially, we are looking for deep tech companies in their early stages. Sometimes we even set up companies, but we do participate in all the funding rounds of our portfolio companies, including very late ones.
Specifically, regarding Israel, we do not have an allocation of a certain amount we want to invest here. There is one pool of money and every deal, whether from Israel or anywhere else, has to compete with an American or European investment opportunity. We invest in good companies, not in territories. However, historically, we invest between a quarter to a third of the assets under management, in Israeli companies and that is a very significant amount.”
Sohn shares that the plan is for the fund’s capital to be invested gradually over the period of the fund's declared investment (4-5 years), “but we believe that the investment rate will be much faster. We have already made 6 investments between the initial closure of the fund in the spring, and the final closure now, and two significant out of the six are in Israeli startups. I see a lot of potential in the Israeli market, and we intend to work intensively here to bring the most interesting companies into our portfolio.” He notes that both he and Lip have extensive experience in the semiconductor, data, and AI spaces, but they remain open to the full spectrum of deep tech companies. The fund’s Israeli branch will be led by Roni Hefetz.
The new startup from Mobileye’s founder lands first investment
Along with the official announcement of the new investment fund, Walden Catalyst also announced a $20 million funding round in Mobileye founder Amnon Shashua’s AI21 Labs. The Israeli startup has developed the Wordtune add-on (published here first) and more recently announced achieving the world’s largest language model -- Jurassic-1 (currently available in beta-mode) which was designed to compete with the GPT-3 from the house of OpenAI. The new round for Shashua’s company, which he founded with Ori Goshen and Prof. Yoav Shoham, was completed at a $400 million valuation. This was the second investment in an Israeli company from Speedata, a new fund that emerged from stealth a month ago.
Prof. Amnon Shashua responded to the funding announcement from the newly minted VC fund: “Young Sohn joining the board of directors following Walden Catalyst’s investment will significantly contribute to the accelerated growth of the company.”