Amazon has a shiny new startup accelerator to advance conversational AI

Big tech companies have been creating accelerators left and right to evangelize their brands and get developers engaged with APIs and other open-source efforts. Today, Amazon joined the crowd by announcing a new program for startups developing conversational AI.

This is Amazon’s first foray into the world of accelerator programs, though its $100 million Alexa Fund has already invested in 22 companies within the space. These investments have occurred across various company stages and verticals. More recently, Amazon created the Alexa Prize for conversational AI, tasking university students with building bots that can actually hold a conversation.

Doug Booms, VP of corp dev for Amazon (wink, wink, also in charge of Amazon M&A), explained to TechCrunch that the new accelerator wasn’t designed to be a feeder for the Alexa Fund nor to be a next step for teams competing for the Alexa Prize.

Amazon’s accelerator strategy seems rather open-ended at this point. No formal constraints have been set as to what types of startups will be welcome in the batch that could encompass teams working on connected cars, smart homes and everything in-between.

Rather than go it alone, the entire 13-week program is being run in partnership with Techstars. Amazon first approached the accelerator about a potential partnership to support conversational AI. At the start of the program, participants will receive an initial $20,000 investment from Amazon and Techstars, and be eligible for an additional investment of up to $100,000 in the form of a convertible note. Selected companies will be housed in space rented from the University of Washington. Founders will be given exposure to mentors from both groups.

Startups can begin applying for the program in January. Amazon and Techstars will be hosting joint information sessions in major cities around the world before the program begins in July. As is typical with most accelerators, a demo day will be held in October for investors to view company presentations and interact with founders.