Samsung plans to conquer Silicon Valley

February 5, 2013: 10:51 AM ET

The Korean giant is serious about making a splash on Apple's home turf.

121002041935-samsung-galaxy-gallery-horizontalFORTUNE -- Last December, a piece in the MIT Technology Review revealed that Young Sohn, Samsung Electronics' new Silicon Valley-based chief strategy officer, uses Apple products at home. The article, titled "Why Samsung's Man in Silicon Valley Uses Apple Devices," made waves in the press and garnered a lot of unwanted attention for the surging Korean electronics manufacturer.

The kerfuffle also illustrates one of Samsung's core concerns: how it can make itself a force in the heart of Apple country. In other words, if a top Samsung executive is hooked to the "sticky" nature of Apple products, how are ordinary consumers supposed to break free?

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For starters, Sohn is no longer an Apple (AAPL) user. At a press event in Menlo Park, Calif. early this week, he said he is now using Samsung products exclusively, at work and at home. You have to hand it to him for having a sense of humor--the newish Samsung exec opened the event by showing off his Samsung phone, proving he is now a convert. Sohn also announced a new $100 million venture fund that will focus on investing in components and subsystems. The Samsung Catalyst Fund will focus on early-stage companies, while its existing $1 billion Samsung Ventures America Fund is aimed at later-stage rounds of investment.

It's clear Samsung is serious about expanding its footprint in Silicon Valley. In December the Korean company announced it is building a 1.1-million-square-foot R&D center in San Jose and an incubator in Palo Alto. This week it also unveiled a "Strategy and Innovation Center" in Menlo Park, which Sohn oversees.

"We must reach out to global hotspots," Sohn told the press at Monday's event, adding that while Korea used to be the only hub of innovation, more than half of Samsung's employees are now located outside of its home base. "This is an exciting opportunity for us to engage with entrepreneurs and innovators and empower them to leverage Samsung's technology and global brand presence to bring our collective visions to market," Sohn said in a release issued the same day.

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Samsung, the world's largest cell phone manufacturer, has been on a winning streak of late. Its Galaxy line of smartphones are a huge hit both in and out of the United States, and it's managed to successfully taunt Apple with a series of viral ads, including this most recent commercial, which ran during the Super Bowl. But Sohn isn't the only Silicon Valley insider who is -- was -- a user of not one but several Apple devices. When Sohn asked the roomful of tech media at this week's event if anyone uses a Samsung phone, no one raised their hand.

Sohn should be commended, not shunned, for openly talking about a problem Samsung is trying to address. Apple's products are sticky, and getting consumers in iPhone-land -- a.k.a. the Bay Area -- to make the switch isn't easy. Why should Samsung care about its market share in Silicon Valley if it's killing it in the rest of the world? Obviously, this region is important when it comes to tech influencers and innovators. Just ask Samsung--the company must be expanding its footprint here for a reason.

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About This Author
Michal Lev-Ram
Michal Lev-Ram
Writer, Fortune

Based in Silicon Valley, Michal Lev-Ram covers enterprise and mobile technologies for FORTUNE. Prior to joining FORTUNE, she wrote for CNNMoney, Fast Company, Popular Science and other business and technology publications. She was also a staff writer at Business 2.0 and holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University.

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