Samsung’s C-Lab: Improving Lives Through Innovative Technologies

How Samsung C-Lab offers its employees with innovative concepts, space, tools, and time they need to turn their concepts into full-fledged startups. Read the full story here.

Remember the days when you could buy a T.V., phone, or computer and keep it for the next 3 to 5 years? How things have changed since then!

These days, technology trends in consumer electronics are advancing at a head-spinning rate. The industry has become highly driven by the consumer’s desire for the next big thing, so constant innovation is an absolute must. The industry has also evolved past the typical appliances (e.g. washers, vacuums, media players) to include things like wearables, VR, AR, smart home technology, 3D printers, autonomous vehicles, drones, 5G technology, and even robots.

To stay competitive, companies have to create offerings that inspire excitement, capture the imagination, and improve people’s lives by enabling them to do things they couldn’t do before. All while remaining leaner and more agile than their competitors.

So how do the big players manage it?

Well, in the case of Samsung Electronics, their corporate incubator C-Lab is yielding some stellar results. Through its C-lab idea incubation program, Samsung is successfully investing in employee-driven innovation and developing a cutting-edge startup ecosystem.

Ready to know more? Let’s get started!

Why Samsung

No matter where you live in the world, chances are you have at least one Samsung device in your house or office. Headquartered in Suwon-si, South Korea, Samsung is a big player in consumer electronics, IT & mobile communications, and device solutions.

A big part of their business includes manufacturing lithium-ion batteries, semiconductors, image sensors, camera modules, and even displays for clients like Apple, Sony, HTC, and Nokia. They’re also currently the leading seller of smartphones in the world, beating out brands like Apple and Huawei.

With a revenue of $ 221.58 B and 309,630 employees, Samsung was also the second-largest technology company in the world in 2019.

Fully aware of the importance of innovation within its industry, Samsung made a pivotal decision in 2012 to start its very own corporate incubator program, Creative-lab or C-Lab for short.

Meet C-Lab

From its inception in 2012, C-Lab was built under the notion that creativity leads to higher productivity. In fact, much of the program was modeled after experiences that Samsung executives had during visits to Silicon Valley.

The goal is to give Samsung employees with innovative concepts the space, tools, and time they need to turn their concepts into full-fledged startups. In other words, progressive ideas and initiatives are rewarded with the funding and resources to make those ideas a reality. Even concepts that don’t fit into the core business are often green-lit for development.  

Today, C-Lab is divided into 2 parts:

C-Lab Inside

C-Lab Inside refers to Samsung’s original incubator program, built to uncover new ideas and foster a culture of innovation throughout the company. The word “Inside” in the title refers to the fact that this program is made up solely of Samsung employees.

To date, they’ve incubated over 259 projects with the help of over 1060 Samsung employees.

Some of this year’s most promising projects include SelfieType, Hyler, Becon, and SunnyFive (formerly known as Sunny Side).

C-Lab Outside

C-Lab Outside refers to C-Lab’s 2018 acceleration program built to support entrepreneurs from outside Samsung to develop their ideas. Some of the resources provided include funds, infrastructure, mentoring, consultation services, and partnerships.  

Some of this year’s most promising C-Lab Outside projects include VTouch, Smoothie, and Circulus.

Samsung ventures
Image Credit: Samsung C-Lab

How it works.

Samsung employees can submit their ideas and concepts through a company-wide intelligence platform called “MOSAIC” or simply via e-mail. New concepts are then evaluated based on how specific, innovative, and marketable they are.

The process is quite inclusive and all employees are welcome to vote for the ideas they find most promising. In essence, it’s a peer-review type of system. Finalists get to pitch their ideas to a final panel, who decide whether or not to invest.

Once a new concept or idea gets green-lit for C-Lab, employees are allowed to dedicate 100% of their time to the new project. In most cases, the allotted time to work on a new venture is about 6 to 12 months, after which the employee can return to his or her original position.  

The structure of the program is purposely different from the typical corporate hierarchy (e.g. no set positions, no fancy titles). Instead, most teams consist of a leader and his or her members – that’s it. This type of structure fosters an environment in which team members can wear many hats and contribute based on their strengths and skillsets.  

Exploration and experimentation are cornerstones of the program, and there is a collective belief that even failed projects are valuable learning opportunities. In other words, finding out what works is great, but knowing what doesn’t work and why also has value. This culture gives participants the space and flexibility to come up with ideas they normally wouldn’t have.

Every year C-Lab selects about 15-20 concepts to join their incubator program.

intrapreneur driven incubator

What makes C-Lab so successful?

The benefits of having a program like C-Lab in place are endless and full of potential. For one thing, it combines the assets of a large corporation with the agility of small lean startups, resulting in a very effective hybrid approach. It’s the best of both worlds.

The program also encourages employees to share their ideas and explore new and creative ways to innovate and disrupt. It’s a catalyst for creativity which highlights new areas of opportunity for Samsung to expand and access new markets.

What’s more, the results of C-Lab’s incubator program pretty much speak for themselves:

  • Every year, the submission of new and promising projects increases.
  • The sharing of knowledge and ideas has become a natural part of Samsung’s company culture.
  • Over 46% of C-labs projects become part of various Samsung business divisions.
  • 20% have become independent spin-offs.
  • Many of C-Lab’s startups are outside Samsung’s core business, providing various opportunities for expansion.  

According to an article by Silicon Republic, so far, C-Lab has helped 163 Samsung employees build 45 start-ups. Collectively, these startups have raised over $ 45 M – and they’re just getting started.

Hybrid innovation

What’s next?

C-lab is still expanding and finding new ways to take its startups to the next level. This year, for example, a total of 9 C-Lab projects were showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020. Aside from the honor of presenting their concepts, the teams were able to meet potential users from all over the world, discuss their ideas, and gauge how their product will be received.

Samsung for its part recently decided to back five of C-Labs projects to become spin-offs. The chosen companies include:

  • Blockbuster – a practical video editing app that enables users to add computer graphics and 3D effects to videos using their smartphones.
  • Hyler – a smart highlighter pen that digitalizes text on paper and seamlessly transfers it to mobile devices.
  • Haxby – a smart study note service that records incorrect answers from workbooks and recommends worksheets based on the learner’s ability level using an AI algorithm
  • SunnyFive – a window-shaped lighting device that produces artificial sunlight.
  • RootSensor – records daily UV exposure and can be integrated into wearable devices, smart cars, and smart buildings.

As described by Samsung VP and Head of The Creativity and Innovation Centre, Inkuk Hahn:

“Going forward, we will continue working to unlock Samsung employees’ potential for creative innovation while encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit.”

The sky is the limit for C-Lab and its newly minted spin-offs, and we can’t wait to see how they progress through their journey!


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