First Alexa Next Stage Startup Class Graduates From Online-Only Alexa Fund and Techstars Accelerator
The Alexa Next Stage experiment in running a distanced, virtual accelerator appears to have been a rousing success for the Alexa Fund and Techstars. The seven startups from five countries in the renamed Alexa Accelerator concluded the eight-week program with digital presentations by the founders as teased in the video above.
Alexa Next Stage is a partnership between Amazon’s Alexa Fund and Techstars. The $200 million Alexa Fund invests up to $150,000 in each company and the startups grant Techstars and the Alexa Fund participation rights in future funding rounds. During the program, the startups work closely with Techstars’ managing director and are connected to the extended Alexa and Techstars network of mentors and clients. The 27 Alexa Accelerator alumni include several notable successes already. Presence AI and Sensible Object were acquired by Groupon and Niantic respectively, while Jargon, Pulse Labs, Novel Effect, and Aspinity have all gone on to raise venture capital funding.
“Since launching the Alexa Fund over four years ago, we’ve looked for ways to keep innovating and inventing how the Alexa Fund and its programs support startups.” Alexa Fund director Paul Bernard said. “The new Alexa Next Stage program provides an opportunity to work with more companies at the post-accelerator stage, and with ones located in more cities around the world. We look forward to new integrations that show what Alexa can do for customers.”
The seven startups in the cohort, chosen from hundreds of applicants, represent as wide a range of voice technology applications as they do geography. Physical and mental healthcare, entertainment health, and improving speech recognition in different situations. The graduating class includes:
ALBA Robot (Italy): Builds voice-commanded self-guiding wheelchairs for use at hospitals and airports.
Blerp (Salt Lake City): Audio soundbite search engine for sharing on Twitch and other streaming platforms.
Blue Fever (Los Angeles): Conversational app for young women using emotion-sensitive AI to create a “judgment-free digital best friend.”
Kardome (Israel): Developing audio tech for smart speakers to perform better when it’s noisy.
Lingvist (Estonia): Voice-based virtual foreign language vocabulary teacher.
Sybel (France): Licensed character-based audio content studio.
Symbl (Seattle): Voice and text software API designer for businesses to build virtual assistants.
The Alexa Accelerator program ran for three years in Seattle, but Amazon and Techstars decided to go fully online this year and expand the scope of potential participants. The idea is to accommodate more advanced startups from more places than the earlier iteration of the program was able to handle. across the whole globe. Going fully online also happens to reduce the potential risk of long-distance travel and being physically near many people during the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, but as the decision was made last year, that’s just a coincidence of timing. Until the global health situation improves, Alexa Next Stage may prove to be a model for other accelerators and related programs. That said, the revamped program faced some pushback before it began, but earned praise from at least some of its critics.
“I was initially skeptical about the new ‘all remote’ format for this year’s Alexa Next Stage cohort,” Alexa Shopping in London director Ran Mokady said in a statement. “In practice, the format had many benefits. Companies were able to tap into the expertise of mentors from across time zones and geographies and gain a more diverse perspective. In turn, this accelerated their ability to adapt to the rapidly changing environment. I am excited by the potential of cohort participants and can’t wait to see the growing impact they will have over the coming years.”