Amazon announces Alexa Accelerator to boost conversational commerce startups
Amazon has announced a new offshoot program of its $100 million Alexa Fund called the Alexa Accelerator, aimed at helping entrepreneurs and developers targeting speech technology advances and voice application innovation in significant Alexa market segments such as connected home, wearables and hearables, enterprise, communications, connected car, and health and wellness.
The program, supported by startup accelerator Techstars, will begin accepting applications from prospective participants next month; after a review process, about 10 to 12 finalists will be selected to come to Amazon's native Seattle in July 2017 to start an intensive 13-week program, during which time they’ll be matched with mentors from Amazon and Techstars to develop their technologies and business models. The program concludes with the Alexa Accelerator, powered by Techstars Demo Day, allowing participants to showcase their products and meet with investors.
The Alexa Fund has already invested in 22 companies at various stages of evolution and in different vertical markets. In another fund-related move, Amazon created the Alexa Prize to award to students for developing bots that advance conversational artificial intelligence applications.
Amazon is following the now well-established technology sector notion that building a massive ecosystem for your groundbreaking innovation is way better than doing everything yourself. And Amazon is not messing around when it comes to building that ecosystem: Just yesterday, the e-commerce giant announced it was offering the core technology behind Alexa to the developer community to further artificial intelligence and conversational commerce.
While that announcement came from the Amazon Web Services cloud unit, the Alexa Accelerator is coming from a different source — the company's huge Alexa-related investment fund. The two programs have at least a few common goals in mind, including making Amazon the clear leader in AI and conversational commerce — though both of these things already are arguably true.
It sure is nice of Amazon to help a lot of startups and entrepreneurs get their big ideas off the ground, but with the connection between the Alexa Accelerator and the Alexa Fund, don't be surprised if some of the stars to emerge from the accelerator program end up getting acquired by Amazon.
Aside from Amazon's ambitions, this program looks like another feather in the cap of Techstars, which ran a very similar accelerator program for Target. In fact, one of the startups to successfully graduate from Target's program, AddStructure, was tapped by Target to develop an Alexa-like solution for the retailer. Maybe Amazon felt it had to start helping the inventors of the next generation of Alexas before another company usurped its title as the great enabler of conversational commerce.