SKT-backed AI chip firm Sapeon in $1B merger

In addition to the Sapeon deal, SK Telecom is also taking a $10 million stake in Perplexity.

Robert Clark, Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

June 13, 2024

2 Min Read
Close-up of chip
(Source: Unsplash)

South Korean AI chip startups Sapeon and Rebellions will merge to form a company worth at least $1 billion – one of two SK Telecom AI deals in just two days.

The combination of Sapeon, 62.5% owned by SKT, and Rebellions, which has KT as an investor, will create South Korea's biggest AI chip firm, worth approximately 1,380 billion Korean won (US$1 billion).

Rebellions was valued at KRW880 billion ($640 million) in its most recent funding round in January. Sapeon is valued at KRW500 billion ($360 million).

In a joint statement, SKT and Rebellions said they view "the next two to three years as a 'golden time' for Korea to secure a strong foothold in the global AI semiconductor market."

They said they would expedite due diligence and shareholder approval and expect to launch the newly merged company within a year.

Rebellions CFO Shin Sungkyue told Bloomberg the merger would not alter the company's plans for an IPO, although the timetable may change. The company has had early discussions with potential advisers over a possible listing in the second half of 2025.

Rebellions CEO Park Sung-hyun is expected to take the top job at the merged entity.

AI assistant

Sapeon, a spinoff from SKT's R&D unit, designed South Korea's first AI data center semiconductor chip in 2020. Its business scope also includes autonomous driving, edge and high-performance AI.

Rebellions achieved prominence in April last year when its Atom chip outperformed rivals including Nvidia and Qualcomm in the benchmark MLPerf test for large language models (LLMs) and AI vision.

Rebellions was founded in 2020 by CEO Park, an ex-SpaceX employee, and CTO Oh Jin-wook, who previously designed AI chips for IBM. Besides KT, its shareholders include South Korean Internet giant Kakao and the Korea Development Bank.

In the other deal, announced Thursday, SKT said it would invest $10 million in US AI search firm Perplexity.

It follows an announcement during MWC in February to bring Perplexity's AI search to SK Telecom users, which SKT said would strengthen its AI assistant services.

SKT also took a $100 million stake in Silicon Valley AI firm Anthropic last August. It says it is working with the company to build multilingual LLMs for telcos.

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About the Author(s)

Robert Clark

Contributing Editor, Special to Light Reading

Robert Clark is an independent technology editor and researcher based in Hong Kong. In addition to contributing to Light Reading, he also has his own blog,  Electric Speech (http://www.electricspeech.com). 

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