Today we are excited to announce up to an additional $100 million in venture capital for the Alexa Fund targeted at international investment opportunities. We are inspired by the novel ways entrepreneurs we have invested in through the Alexa Fund are creating delightful customer experiences on Alexa, and by the level of interest in our investing programs shown by entrepreneurs from around the world. We think now is the right time to expand our efforts with a dedicated focus on international opportunities.
This new global focus will allow us to support a next wave of companies and entrepreneurs. And we know they’re out there. The Alexa Prize, our university challenge to build a conversing socialbot, received applications from 22 countries. And the recently completed Alexa Accelerator drew applications from more than 50 countries outside the US. We’re convinced that we’re at the opening stages of global advancement from companies committed to innovation on voice-based interactions. To date, we have made investments in seven companies that are based outside the US.
As we take this new step forward, we wanted to look back on the progress we’ve made.
We launched the Alexa Fund in 2015 to invest in companies fueling voice innovation. The Alexa Fund is Amazon’s first and only dedicated venture capital program, which shows how important we think voice is to the future of technology. To date, we’ve invested in more than 30 companies across a variety of areas including smart home, wearables, automotive, mobile computing, safety, developer tools, core speech science and hardware components. We invested in more companies this year than any previous year.
The goals of the Alexa Fund are to fuel voice innovation by supporting entrepreneurs that have amazing voice-powered experiences and visions. That’s why, in addition to our direct investments in companies, we also created early stage startup and academia-focused programs. We recently completed the inaugural Alexa Accelerator to support nine early stage companies in an intensive three-month program to help them develop their business models and technologies. And we launched the Alexa Fund Fellowship which supports leading universities in the area of speech and AI with resources to create Alexa-focused projects and help students build and prototype voice-interactions into their hands-on classwork. The program includes four universities: CMU, USC, Waterloo and Johns Hopkins. We hope to see students who participate in this curriculum become successful entrepreneurs with companies that we can one day evaluate for investment.
The Alexa Fund gives portfolio companies access to a dedicated Amazon team to help each portfolio company develop and succeed on its path to Alexa integration. Across our portfolio, Alexa Fund companies have worked with hundreds of subject matter experts across Alexa Skills Kit and the Alexa Voice Service within Amazon to create new skills, beta test new services, and enable Alexa on new devices. The annual Alexa Fund CEO Summit provides exclusive access to curated updates from Alexa leadership, new Alexa programs, and emerging Amazon services. Dozens of Amazonians served as mentors to companies in the Alexa Accelerator. And in addition to Alexa support, we help our portfolio companies work with the relevant stakeholders in Amazon teams like AWS, Retail (Launchpad), Amazon Media Group, and others.
A key goal of our facilitation of these engagements is to accelerate integrations that feed the Alexa flywheel, and ultimately create new delightful customer experiences. And it’s working. For example, portfolio company hardware products have received an average of 4 stars in customer reviews on Amazon.com.
A few examples of the great work across our portfolio:
- ecobee, a maker of smart thermostats, was instrumental in testing the initial Alexa Smart Home Skill API, making it easier for more smart home products to work easily with Alexa. The company has since launched ecobee4, a new smart thermostat with built-in Alexa voice control.
- Ring, a company developing smart home security products which work to make neighborhoods safer, like the Ring Video Doorbell, developed a new Alexa skill that allows customers to use voice to view camera feeds directly from the Echo Show and Fire TV.
- Vesper, which makes durable low-power microphones, was recently chosen to have their microphones included in AVS development kits from Synaptics – this will bring their microphones into the hands of device manufacturers who are building products with Alexa inside.
- TrackR, a company with an item tracking system, leveraged the Alexa Skills Kit to develop a new skill for customers to provide voice-enabled location services on mobile devices. By integrating with Alexa, TrackR is helping to make lost phones a thing of the past for customers.
And we recognize that for startups and the entrepreneurs who work hard to build their companies, success sometimes comes in the form of selling their company. This year two of our companies announced acquisitions:
- KITT.AI, a natural language startup offering conversational understanding and wake word detection.
- Dragon Innovation, selling manufacturing success to the new generation of hardware companies through a combination of software and human expertise.
As we evaluate additional investments in the US and other countries, we remain committed to Amazon’s mission to start with the customer and work backward. We will continue to provide companies with early access to SDKs, APIs, hands-on development support for hardware or software, enhanced marketing support, and participation in Amazon startup programs.
The Alexa possibilities continue to be endless, and there is a lot of excitement in the industry regarding the potential of Alexa for products, services, and ideas that create delightful customer experiences, including:
- Making daily life easier through the introduction of a voice interface on smart home devices, or that enhance daily activities such as connected play.
- Extending Alexa outside the home and into cars, wearables, mobile devices, and more.
- Enabling technologies involving the application of new science or deep technology that has the potential to advance the performance of or enable new use cases for voice interaction, such as durable microphones, speech and NLU, robotics, and advanced micro-processor technologies.
- Providing peace of mind; everything from a baby monitor to aging in place, or home security.
While the Alexa Fund is still young, we believe the companies we invest in are a key component to bringing delight to customers everywhere, and an indicator of what’s still to come. After all, it’s still Day 1.