OpenAI’s $100M startup fund will make ‘big early bets’ with Microsoft as partner

OpenAI is launching a $100 million startup fund, which it calls the OpenAI Startup Fund, through which it and its partners will invest in early-stage AI companies tackling major problems (and productivity). Among those partners and investors in the fund is Microsoft, at whose Build conference OpenAI founder Sam Altman announced the news.

In a prerecorded video, Altman explained that “this is not a typical corporate venture fund. We plan to make big early bets on a relatively small number of companies, probably not more than 10.”

It’s not clear exactly how the $100 million will be divided or disbursed, or on what timeline, or whether this is part of a longer program. But it seems to be a limited fund, not just the 2021 round.

Altman did say that they will be looking for companies that are taking on serious issues, like healthcare, climate change and education, where AI-powered applications or approaches could “benefit all of humanity,” in keeping with OpenAI’s mission statement. But it would also consider productivity improvements as well, presumably like the GPT-3-powered natural language coding Microsoft showed off yesterday.

“We know it’s you, the developers, who can use powerful tools like GPT-3 to create ambitious applications that will leave a positive mark on the world,” said Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott in the company’s stream. “Microsoft is thrilled to be able to support this fund.”

Companies selected for funding will receive early access to new OpenAI systems and Azure resources from Microsoft, which hopefully would allow them to spring fully formed and ready to scale from the program. OpenAI would not elaborate on the equity agreement, expectations for startups, other partners or any further details. It’s entirely possible that the $100 million figure is the only thing they’ve actually settled on.

The minimal application process suggests they expect a large number of submissions, but if you want to throw your company into the mix, start prepping your elevator pitch. Part of the application is a one-minute video (take note that “demos, music and effects are not necessary”) that the selection team (the makeup of which OpenAI did not detail) will no doubt watch if a company makes it through the first round of winnowing. Hope you haven’t dismantled that Zoom background just yet.