Korean conglomerate invests in Horizon Robotics

Following an increase in outbound investment from Korea, SK Hynix has targetted a sector that it knows well: the semiconductor industry.

Chinese artificial intelligence unicorn Horizon Robotics has closed its Series B fundraising from South Korean conglomerate SK Hynix and several unnamed Chinese car manufacturers. 

SK Hynix, the world’s second largest dynamic random-access memory manufacturer, led the $600 million investment together with its parent company SK Group. It is a strategic investment for SK Hynix that it hopes will create a synergy to build 5G, smart cities and autonomous driving technology in China.

Existing investors also participated in the round, including Hillhouse Capital, Morningside Venture Capital, V Fund Management and Linear Venture. China Oceanwide, CMBC Capital, CLSA’s Fund, and Oceanpine Capital joined the round as new investors.

The investment boosts the valuation of Horizon Robotics to $3 billion.

South Korea’s outbound investment continues to increase. Outbound investment more than doubled from $756 million in Q4 2017 to $1.53 billion in Q4 2018, according to Bloomberg. Unsurprisingly the semiconductor industry, South Korea’s traditional strength, is always top on the list.

“There is a trend of outbound investment among South Korean investors,” said Spencer Park, counsel at law firm Dechert. “Technology, along with infrastructure and renewable energy are the sectors that draw the interest.”

South Korea is quite capital-sufficient, Park said. This, combined with a low-interest rate domestically (Bank of Korea slightly increased the interest rate to 1.75% at the end of last year) has created a strong desire among Korean investors for better returns overseas.

Some Korea-based private equity firms may allocate up to 40% of their fund commitment for outbound investments, according to Park. Most of the investments are in Asian countries so as to avoid instability in the European and US markets. “Korean investors generally want less risk in terms of their investment style,” Park said. “And they just want a reasonable return better than their interest rate.”

Such thinking has made a perfect deal in the Horizon Robotics investment. As the leading Chinese AI startup, Horizon has designed its own chips for internet-of-things and autonomous driving, and has already started to supply its products to car manufacturers. Proven to have a good track record, it is ideal for a Korean conglomerate to expand and create synergy in the investment.

Horizon Robotics closed its more than $100 million Series A funding in December 2017, with investors including Intel, Harvest Fund Management, Wu Capital and others. Previously it has also raised investment since 2015 from big firms such as Hillhouse, Sequoia, Morningside, GSR Ventures, Zhen Fund and Sinovation Ventures. On top of that, it also raised funding from Russian investor Yuri Milner in 2016.

Horizon Robotics expects its sales to multiply this year with millions of chips shipped out. That is the kind of good news that every investor would like to hear.


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