The Alexa Fund and the new Alexa Accelerator
By Rodrigo Prudencio, The Alexa Fund
Just over 18 months ago, we set out to build Amazon’s first dedicated corporate venture capital fund with the same mindset of any new Amazon experiment: Work Hard, Have Fun, Make History. And we’re doing just that. The Alexa Fund, with an initial $100MM investment commitment, has already made 23 investments in companies committed to building delightful experiences using voice as a primary interface.
The Alexa Fund is named after the voice technology that powers Amazon products like the Echo, Amazon Tap, and Echo Dot, as well as Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets. Alexa’s voice capabilities are purposefully built so developers can use the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) to create new voice experiences for Amazon’s devices, or Alexa Voice Service (AVS) when they want to embed Alexa into a third-party device.
In building the portfolio, we’ve applied investment criteria that reflect best practices from the venture capital community. We favor great teams with a passion for building world-class products and companies that are differentiated against their competitors. We work with VCs, angels, and other forms of institutional capital as co-investors, leveraging their network and company-building expertise.
The stage of company is also a consideration, but we’ve shown interest in backing small and early-stage companies as well as more mature companies. Defined Crowd, for example, is an investment in a small team using crowdsourcing to build voice services such as transcription, annotation, and lexicons on behalf of large enterprises around the world. Ecobee, on the other hand, is a well-established builder of advanced thermostats capable of networking together to provide system-wide energy savings. Regardless of stage, we back up our dollars with support from the Alexa organization to help portfolio companies solve technical challenges and develop effective go-to-market strategies.
It’s an honor to work alongside promising entrepreneurs who are innovating in ways Amazon may never have imagined. But as we say at Amazon, it’s still Day 1 and we have much more to do to expand Alexa’s presence and capabilities.
That’s why we created our latest initiative, the Alexa Accelerator, powered by Techstars. The Alexa Accelerator will accept about 10 companies to participate in a 13-week startup course running from July to September 2017. We will seek out companies tackling hard problems in a variety of domains—consumer, productivity, enterprise, entertainment, health and wellness, travel—that are interested in making an Alexa integration a priority. We’ll also look for companies that are building enabling technology such as natural language understanding (NLU) and better hardware designs that can extend or add to Alexa’s capabilities.
The Alexa Accelerator is just one more way in which Amazon is working closely with startups and investors. We hope we’ll see many of our existing VC friends and meet new ones when we reveal a group of new companies at the Alexa Accelerator demo day in October.
Rodrigo is a member of the Alexa Fund, the Amazon team investing in startups to support the Alexa environment. Prior to Amazon, Rodrigo founded Shuddle and led energy-related IT investments for Nth Power.
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