Betaworks’ next startup camp is focused on audio

Startup studio Betaworks is putting out a call for audio-focused startups.

Specifically, it’s announcing Audiocamp, the latest in its “camp” programs, where it backs a handful of early-stage startups, all working in a specific area. (The last one was focused on synthetic media.)

“When we make these calls for a camp around a theme, what we’re trying to do is see everything that’s out there in a short period of time,” said Danika Laszuk, the head of Betaworks Camp. “We use that to help us understand what are the more innovative things, and where are 57 companies trying to build essentially the same thing?”

The startups, meanwhile, get a “pre-seed” investment from Betaworks, as well as three months to work out of the firm’s office in New York City, where they can learn from and collaborate with each other.

Why focus on audio now? Laszuk said the firm has been interested in this area for a long time — it was an early investor in podcasting startups Gimlet and Anchor, which Spotify acquired earlier this year. The current interest in audio isn’t just driven by the podcast boom, but also the opportunities around smart speakers and what Lazsuk said will be “the next wave of innovation,” building “audio-first” services for people who are wearing AirPods and other wireless headphones all the time.

She acknowledged that this “always-in” behavior isn’t necessarily a good thing, since it can lead people to become increasingly oblivious to the world around them, but she said that’s been an ongoing worry since the first iPod (and maybe even before that).

“I’m not sure we will single-handedly break people of that addiction, but there’s so much more awareness around that, and maybe I could have this more thoughtful, context-aware, mobile-appropriate experience,” she said.

And that’s just one of the categories that Betaworks said it’s looking at for Audiocamp. The others are: Social audio experiences, synthetic/generative audio and music, audio utilities, natural language tools for audio, content discovery and monetization, augmented reality for audio and voice-first applications for smart speakers.

As a podcaster myself, I was particularly interested in Laszuk’s thoughts on discovery and monetization. On the discovery side, she predicted we’ll see AI-powered tools that “help us all find the gems in the long tail.”

As for monetization, she noted that some companies have already had success with subscriptions and listener-supported models. So while she isn’t sure what comes next, she’s “really interested in things that are not ad-based — or if they are ad-based, they’re more innovative and thoughtful than just new ad networks.”

The first application deadline is October 15. Interested startups can read more in Laszuk’s blog post and apply here.