Amazon Alexa Accelerator Begins in Seattle With Nine Startups

Amazon and Techstars announced the nine companies selected for the Amazon Alexa Accelerator, which began its initial 13-week program in Seattle Monday.

Why it matters: Seattle is already a hub of artificial intelligence research and commercialization activity at technology giants including Microsoft and Amazon, and research institutions such as the University of Washington and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. The voice-focused accelerator program should further boost both the reputation and capabilities of Seattle’s startup ecosystem when it comes to these technologies. “The program is built around the belief that voice will fundamentally improve the way people interact with technology,” writes Rodrigo Prudencio, who runs the Alexa Accelerator for Amazon Corporate Development. (Note, however, that only two of the nine startups in the initial class are based here.)

Techstars’ big day: Amazon tapped Techstars to run its Alexa Accelerator. Techstars, with a global accelerator network now including 30 programs, began 11 accelerators Monday welcoming 114 new companies to its portfolio. One of those kicking off this week is the Techstars Mobility program in Detroit, which, with its third cohort, features a couple of Seattle connections in the person of Ian Sefferman, relocating to the Motor City to be the Techstars Mobility entrepreneur-in-residence; and in startup company Seeva, founded by Seattle daughter-and-father team Diane and Jere Lansinger to make technology that cleans vehicles’ sensors.

The 2017 Alexa Accelerator startups:

  • Aspinity (Morgantown, WV): Analog signal processing circuits to improve efficiency of IoT data capture and analytics.
  • Botnik Studios (New York City): “We have a computer algorithm telling us to do things and we have an alligator that can climb structures and we have a robot that we have taught to do something called deep steering and we have no idea what we are going to do and I think that we can do that,” according to its website. According to a Chicago magazine story Monday, former ClickHole head writer Jamie Brew, “along with Bob Mankoff, previously the cartoon editor of the New Yorker, founded the tech company Botnik, which has a predictive text feature that (they hope) can make Alexa funnier.”
  • Novel Effect (Seattle): Voice-activated technology to add music and sound effects to stories read aloud.
  • Play Impossible (Seattle): Combining digital and physical play for new interactive outdoor ball games.
  • Semantica Labs (Israel / New York City): Human-machine collaboration to improve efficiency of customer support, sales, and IT help desks.
  • Sensible Object (London): Games that combine connected smart home devices for socialization and entertainment.
  • Tinitell (Stockholm, Sweden): Wearable mobile phone geared for kids with limited calling, watch, and GPS tracking features.
  • Twine (Boulder, CO): Connected hardware to integrate physical meetings into Slack.
  • uTuneIn / MSZ, Inc. (New York City): Voice and chat app validation with real users.

Coming up: The companies will present themselves to investors and the public in Seattle on Oct. 17.

Executive change: Meanwhile, there’s a big executive change happening at the top of Amazon’s Alexa business. As GeekWire reports, Mike George, the vice president in charge of Alexa and Echo, has retired. Tom Taylor replaces him as senior vice president of Amazon Alexa. Taylor was previously the senior vice president of Amazon Seller Services, including payment, fulfillment, and shipping.

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