Q&A with Radhika Malik, senior investment manager, Samsung Catalyst Fund

Chris Chu, vice-president and managing director of Samsung Catalyst Fund, a corporate venturing vehicle for South Korea-headquartered electronics manufacturer Samsung Electronics, said of Radhika Malik, a senior investment manager at the unit: “Radhika has been instrumental to Samsung Catalyst Fund’s investment activities in next-generation artificial intelligence (AI), datacentre and computing technologies.

“She has contributed immensely in shaping Samsung Catalyst Fund’s investment theses through her innate deep knowledge of technology, combined with her keen business instinct.

“Radhika also commands the respect of company executives, internally and externally, by her leadership and steadfastness in getting tasks accomplished. The team looks forward to building upon Radhika’s continued success in the corporate venture capital (CVC) world.”

1. First, just give us a quick overview of who you work for, what you do, and how long you have been doing it for.

I am an investor at Samsung Catalyst Fund, a $500m evergreen CVC vehicle for Samsung Electronics. Our fund invests broadly across infrastructure (hardware and software – cloud, data centre, edge, 5G) as well as applications that leverage that infrastructure in digital health, automotive, robotics and fintech. I first spent a summer with the team in 2017 and then joined full-time in 2018.

2. What attracted you to CVC?

Prior to joining Samsung, I worked in product and engineering at a couple of different early stage startups, one of which was a company funded by Samsung and other CVCs. There, I saw up-close the value strategic investors could bring to a startup, in addition to the capital.

Being at a CVC for a global technology leader like Samsung, you are really at the cutting edge of both technology and business. You have the privilege of not only working with entrepreneurs building future technology, but also get exposure to leadership at Samsung thinking about innovation at a global scale. Our team acts as the bridge between the best startups across the world and Samsung’s platform; in the process, we hopefully add value to a young startup, while also helping influence Samsung’s strategy and innovation.

And, not to forget, the nature of the job is really fun, too! As a CVC for a tech company, we inherently focus a lot on the technology and product of any startup we speak to (in addition to the business and financial metrics), which as you can imagine, is always really enjoyable for a former product builder.

3. What have been your greatest successes at your unit?

I come from a technical background, with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree focusing on AI and machine learning (ML), and hence that is what I have naturally focused on. I have helped lead a lot of our fund’s work in AI and ML, particularly around the infrastructure side.

One of the first investments I worked on, SambaNova Systems, is emerging as a top innovator in the AI hardware space, building new chips to make these technologies run with much better performance, and hence enable many new applications.

Last year, I worked closely with an entrepreneur in residence (EiR) to help incubate a new company building optics for much faster data movement across chips. Our fund co-led the seed round and helped build a syndicate to get the company off the ground. I get to observe on the board and it is extremely gratifying to see the company grow from just an idea that our EiR had and witness the great progress they have made.

These days, I am trying to leverage my software engineering background to help our team think about software infrastructure around AI and ML, along with new software workloads in the cloud that will impact the future of the underlying infrastructure.

4. What have been your biggest challenges?

Given the scale at which Samsung operates, during the investment process, we need to build conviction that a startup can really have a large scale impact. While a large venture capital exit is great and we have to show good returns on our capital, our success comes not just from pure returns but the strategic value we add to the parent company through means such as increased IQ, direct collaborations, and exposure to new markets and disruptive technologies.

5. What is your main professional ambition for the future?

I love working in VC and want to continue to build my career in investing, hopefully building a strong track record returning capital to our fund, while adding value to every startup I work with.

6. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?

What works well with CVCs is how open most CVCs are to collaboration and working with one another. One challenge for our industry is that CVCs come in a lot of flavours, all operating very differently in terms of their strategic goals, investment process and value-add to startups. I think we should all emphasize transparency with entrepreneurs, throughout the journey: beginning with the first call, through the entire investment process and continuing post-investment. As best as possible, we should work to align incentives with the startups we invest in, and strive to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship (we like to call it the “1+1 = 3”!).

7. What are some of your corporate parent’s technology needs and corporate strategy amid the pandemic, as well as your CVC unit’s pain points?

Through the last few months, we have all seen the rapid acceleration of some key trends including digital transformation and adoption of cloud across a variety of industries including healthcare, education, financial services, manufacturing, which have allowed the world to improvise in this environment. These trends have favoured the core infrastructure enablers like Samsung. As a company and as a CVC unit, we are following those trends closely and investing in companies enabling these trends.

However, issues the world has seen in 2020 including the pandemic, social unrest, environmental concerns, an uncertain economic environment have been unprecedented. We have to be very cognizant of the macro environment. We are privileged our CVC unit continues to be able to make investments and we work to ensure that the investments we make have the potential to be truly impactful.

8. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?

Prior to CVC, I was in the world of startups, building products. I was an early employee at Panorama Education, a Boston-based startup building data and analytics tools for K-12 educators across the US. During that time, I also helped lead the Boston chapter of Women Who Code, a global non-profit to help women excel in technology careers. Our team held regular events and helped build a strong community in Boston, where the chapter grew to 100s of engineers, all of whom joined in to share experiences being a woman in tech and support each other professionally and personally.