The Alexa Accelerator, a new program Amazon is running in partnership with Techstars, kicked off its first class on Monday.
Nine startups from across the globe will spend the next three months in Seattle at the new Amazon Alexa Accelerator, which will support early-stage companies that are working on B2C and B2B technologies related to Amazon’s popular artificial intelligence and machine learning-powered voice platform.
The companies range from Tinitell, a Swedish-based startup that makes mobile phones for children, to Aspinity, a West Virginia-based startup building ultra-low power processors for IoT devices. Companies from 54 countries applied to the program after Amazon and Techstars went on a 10-city tour.
The accelerator is part of Amazon’s $100 million Alexa Fund, which launched in 2015 and is used by Amazon to invest in companies that will push the boundaries of voice-based interaction.
Alexa powers Amazon’s Echo smart devices, and can be integrated into other third-party devices. Both the Alexa virtual assistant and Echo devices are two of the company’s most successful products. Amazon is battling other tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple in the competitive voice assistant market, though it has a big lead as the first mover. A recent forecast from eMarketer estimates that Amazon will have a 71 percent market share of all voice-enabled speakers in the U.S. this year.
“We’re excited to work with the Alexa Accelerator companies from around the world who are enthusiastic about the ability to transform customer and business experiences through voice-powered interactions,” Rodrigo Prudencio, who helps manage the Alexa Fund, wrote in a blog post.
Amazon and Techstars, which also runs a separate Seattle accelerator program, will invest an initial $20,000 in each participating company for 6 percent common stock, with potential for an additional $100,000 convertible note.
Simply Measured president and co-founder Aviel Ginzburg will serve as the first-ever managing director of the Alexa Accelerator program; he’ll work with Techstars Seattle Program Manager Jaren Schwartz and Techstars Seattle Managing Director Chris Devore.
“I’ve always been fascinated by how humans interact with machines, it’s what got me into tech in the first place,” Ginzburg told GeekWire in March. “In the same way that we now often bifurcate what we prefer to do on our phones vs. on our laptops and desktops, voice will open new opportunities and change our everyday behaviors.”
There’s an impressive list of mentors helping with the inaugural class, including Ben Straley, a consumer marketing leader at Amazon, Brad Feld, managing director at Foundry Group; Julie Sandler, managing director at Pioneer Square Labs; and Techstars founder David Cohen.
The accelerator is housed inside the University of Washington’s Startup Hall and builds off the university’s effort to increase innovation in and around its Seattle campus. Startup Hall, part of the UW’s CoMotion Labs program, also houses the Techstars Seattle office and the Founder’s Co-op venture capital firm, along with office space for local startups.
It also adds to a robust machine learning/AI ecosystem in Seattle, where other companies like Microsoft, Paul Allen-backed AI2, and many startups are building related technologies, along with plenty of research being done at the UW.
Alexa’s proliferation across both Echo devices and third-party products, meanwhile, can be partially attributed to Amazon’s decision to open the digital brain up to developers and device manufacturers in 2015. Alexa Voice Service lets manufacturers integrate Alexa into their products. The Alexa Skills Kit encourages third-party developers to build skills for Alexa. Developers who want to add to Alexa’s abilities can write code that works with Alexa in the cloud, letting the smart assistant do the heavy lifting of understanding and deciphering spoken command.
Alexa’s skill count passed 15,000 in the U.S. at the end of June.
Here are the nine startups in the accelerator, which wraps up with a Demo Day on October 17.
- Aspinity: Ultra-low power processors for IoT devices.
- Botnik Studios: Digital tools for self-expression.
- Novel Effect: Powering voice interactive entertainment.
- Play Impossible: An active gaming system that brings digital action outdoors.
- Semantica: Humans and AI working side by side.
- Sensible Object: Merging physical and digital and harnessing the power of devices already in the connected home to power face-to- face social interaction and entertainment.
- Tinitell: Your kid’s first mobile phone.
- Twine: Bridging the gap between conference room functions and team collaboration tools.
- MSZ, Inc.: User-centered interaction testing for voice apps, with actionable insights and analytics from target audiences.