Sherpa, a Spanish-language AI-based personal assistant, raises $6.5M

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We’ve seen a big rise in apps and bots, and a lot of them have something in common besides being based on artificial intelligence and machine learning: many of them are written first (or only) for English-speaking users. Now one of the more interesting personal assistant apps created first for Spanish speakers is announcing funding: Sherpa, a personal assistant app based out of Spain, has raised $6.5 million in a Series A round.

Xabi Uribe- Etxebarria, the founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that the funding will be used to continue building out more functionality in the app, as well as on more hires and to expand the reach of the app as it gears up for a much bigger Series B and eventual expansion to other languages like English and Portuguese. (There is already an early version written in English, he said, which has yet to be opened up to the public.)

Sherpa is filling an interesting niche in the market that most English speakers might not even realise exists: many of the interesting evolutions in AI and natural language processing have been focused on English applications, leaving large swathes of the non-English speaking world without the same kinds of services. Uribe- Etxebarria notes that while some apps do have Spanish versions they are basic.

“Google Now, for instance, has Spanish but in a limited version, and I’ve always said Siri is not competitive with what we are trying to do,” he said. “We are trying to provide services like news, movie and TV show listings, and sports results that users might like and based on their preferences. We want to know the weather and tell you what to wear.” 

Spanish, of course, is not a niche language: one legacy of the fact that Spain was the most powerful country in the world hundreds of years ago, is that Spanish is the second-most common language in the world, with 427 million people speaking it, and Spanish the lingua franca in some 31 countries.

Spain itself has a strong engineering culture in its tech ecosystem, and interestingly Sherpa is not the only Spain language processing startup to come out of it. In 2013, Intel acquired a Spanish natural language startup called Indisys. The company was primarily in the business of selling its tech to enterprises for their online customer assistance operations, and its default assistant was called “Maya.”

Today, Sherpa only offers its app in Spain. It’s still ad-free and free to use while Sherpa looks for more users — but someday don’t be surprised to see among suggestions of places to eat, a possible ad for a specific restaurant.

The plan is to expand in the very near future to Latin America, which Sherpa plans to do by way of a partnership with Samsung that will see the handset giant preload the personal assistant on to all of Samsung’s smartphones in markets where Spanish is the main language.

Uribe- Etxebarria told me that the agreement with Samsung, which was signed last year and is so far only active in Spain, does not entail investment or any commercial agreement.

Investors in this round included Alma Mundi Innvierte Fund, FCRE, and unnamed private investors.