Qualcomm and Techstars Establish Accelerator for Robotics Startups

As the global market tops out for advanced smartphone processors, radios, and other wireless chips, Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM is staking a claim in robotics.

Under a partnership with Boulder, CO-based Techstars announced today, the wireless technology giant plans to host a four-month robotics accelerator for 10 startups at its San Diego headquarters next year. The new Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator, powered by Techstars, is intended to accelerate the development of next-generation robots and intelligent machines.

Qualcomm says it has committed over $1 million in aggregate funding to startups admitted to the program. A Qualcomm spokesman says the company has not yet named a managing director for the accelerator, which will be run with assistance and insights from Techstars.

Asked if Qualcomm technology will be used as a criterion for admitting companies to the accelerator, the spokesman responds in an e-mail: “The program is open to anyone and everyone in the robotics space regardless of the technology they use. The only criteria [are] that the companies have great teams with strong, thoughtful ideas, and the ability to execute. They also need to be focused on building the next generation of robotics and smart machines.”

Along with Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator, Techstars has emerged as one of the nation’s most successful programs for mentoring and investing in seed-stage tech startups. The accelerator was founded in 2006 by software entrepreneur David Cohen, who remains Techstars CEO, and Brad Feld, who is a managing director of the Boulder-based venture firm Foundry Group.

After enrolling its first 10 startups in Boulder in 2007, Techstars established its three-month accelerator programs in eight cities, including Boston, New York, Seattle, and Austin, TX. For startups admitted to its accelerators, Techstars provides $118,000 in seed funding, mentoring provided by experienced entrepreneurs, and access to Techstars’ network of mentors, alumni, and corporate partners for an ownership stake amounting to 7 to 10 percent of each company.

In late 2011, Techstars established its first corporate accelerator with Microsoft, and now operates specialized tech accelerators in conjunction with Disney, Nike, Barclays, Kaplan, Sprint, and R/GA.

With the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator, Techstars is now overseeing seven corporate accelerators.

Techstars CEO David Cohen

Techstars CEO David Cohen

In the statement released today, Cohen is quoted as saying, “Robotics is a hugely untapped frontier that is quickly becoming a focus for Techstars given recent tech advances that let machines be prototyped faster and easier than ever before.”

For Qualcomm, the program aligns with its current strategy to develop new markets for its wireless chipsets by developing “smarter” and more efficient robotics platforms around its flagship Snapdragon processor and related technologies. For example, Qualcomm recently demonstrated how robots can use its brain-inspired Zeroth processor and machine vision technology to “learn” how to sort different objects and place them into bins marked with different patterns.

“The scale and pace of smartphone technology development is having a growing impact on many other technology sectors, and robotics is no exception,” said Matt Grob, CTO of Qualcomm Technologies (CTI), according to the statement released today.

Applications for the robotics accelerator will be accepted until February 22, 2015, and the program will begin next May and conclude in September with a Demo Day, where each team will have the opportunity to present their work to investors, industry leaders, and others.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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