Samsung's next big thing - born in the USA?

The leading smartphone maker is opening startup accelerators as it seeks to gain an edge over the competition

Palo Alto's Varsity Theater on June 14, 2013

Palo Alto's Varsity Theater on June 14, 2013

Could Samsung's "next big thing" come from the heart of the Big Apple or Silicon Valley?

The smartphone and consumer electronics maker is close to launching an incubator space for startups that are developing software and services for phones, tablet computers and televisions.

Based on Palo Alto's University Avenue and in New York's Chelsea neighborhood, the Samsung Accelerator is on the verge of opening its doors, and the company is already looking for its first round of early stage companies.

"We're looking for bright ideas to build the next next big thing," says a sign that went up this week outside the accelerator's space in Palo Alto.

"We will bring together the people, power and resources to leverage the world's largest device ecosystem and launch product on a massive scale," the sign says. "And we're just getting started. Want to join us? You bring the product vision, we'll bring the rest."

The initial focus of Samsung's investment will be on startups working on communications and productivity software and services, but that could expand later.

Startup accelerators typically provide investment, office space, technical support and other resources in return for a slice of the company and some rights to its product or service.

For Samsung, the company stands to gain unique access to software and services that could help differentiate it from competitors making Android smartphones. The Android phone market is dominated by companies that spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on hardware development but comparatively less money on exclusive software.

The company hasn't said much about the accelerator, and on Friday it declined to offer any more details on its plans.

A posting on the @samsungaccel Twitter account said "a sizable number" of applications have been received so far. It also posted a picture from inside the Palo Alto accelerator showing several desks and chairs apparently waiting for occupants.

In Palo Alto, the accelerator will be housed in the historic Varsity Theater, a well-known landmark on the city's leafy University Avenue not far from where companies such as Facebook, Pinterest and Hewlett-Packard got their starts.

The building served as a theater from 1927 until 1994, when it became a Borders bookstore. It's been vacant since Borders went out of business in September 2011 but still carries the bookstore's name. The Samsung Accelerator will be housed on the second floor, and a project is under way to convert the first floor to restaurant space.

The Silicon Valley office is due to open on July 11. A starting date for the New York office is not known.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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