Amazon is Looking for British Voice Tech Startups to Improve Alexa
Amazon wants to find and fund early-stage voice tech startups in the United Kingdom. The company is working with VGC Partners, a venture capital firm based in London, to discover young British voice tech startups and bring them into the newly launched British Alexa Incubator Program.
Amazon has been interested in cultivating startups that use or can improve its Alexa voice assistant for some time. Bringing that hunt to the UK just adds to the pool of potential entrepreneurs. The company has a base for working on Alexa from its base in Cambridge, with hundreds of staff. The new search encompasses the whole of the country, however. The companies Amazon picks for its new Alexa Incubator Program will get one-on-one mentorship sessions and advanced training in how to program and design for Alexa. The incubator program doesn’t include any direct investment, although it does open doors for potential funding via the Alexa Fund. For financial support, Amazon chose to work with VGC Partners. VGC already funds several tech startups but has just finished raising £1 million for a new seed fund for young startups. The chosen startups will have a shot at up to £150,000 (about $187,000) as a seed investment from VGC.
“As a growth capital investment firm, we want to support new companies built around the voice economy, and this is an excellent opportunity to help British voice start-ups take their business to a level where they can raise follow-on capital from VGC Partners, other venture capital investors or corporate companies,” VGC Partners founder Parminder Basran said in a statement.
Amazon recently started selling the Echo Auto device in the UK, integrating Alexa into people’s cars, but that’s just been one of a recent spate of voice technology news in the country. The biggest impact is probably is the BBC rolling out its own voice assistant, Beeb, for people to try out at home. And this month, British Spotify listeners could take part in voice-activated ads for cosmetics from Nars. As more people own and use voice assistants in the UK, it’s almost certain that the voice tech startup ecosystem will evolve in turn. Amazon naturally wants to have a headstart on innovations and new tech that these startups pioneer. The incubator program and arrangement with VGC mean the company can pick startups whose future it wants to be part of without having to spend its own cash until the startup is a little older and proven its viability, as is the case in the revamped Next Stage Accelerator program.
“We’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible in artificial intelligence, machine learning and speech science,” Amazon Alexa Europe general manager Eric King said of the program. “I’m excited to bring the Alexa Incubator Programme to the UK to support European start-ups create new and compelling use cases for voice technology.”