Amid a boom in AI accelerators, a UC Berkeley-focused outfit, House Fund, swings open its doors

Companies at the forefront of AI would naturally like to stay at the forefront, so it’s no surprise they want to stay close to smaller startups that are putting some of their newest advancements to work.

Last month, Neo, a startup accelerator founded by Silicon Valley investor Ali Partovi, said that OpenAI and Microsoft have offered to provide free software and advice to companies in a new track focused on artificial intelligence.

Now, another Bay Area outfit, House Fund, which invests in startups with ties to UC Berkeley, says it is launching an AI accelerator and that OpenAI, Microsoft and Databricks are similarly offering participating startups free and early access to tech from their companies. The outfits are also offering mentorship, as is Google’s Gradient Ventures.

We talked with House Fund founder Jeremy Fiance over the weekend to get a bit more color about the program, which will replace a broader accelerator program that House Fund has run. Alumni from the previous program include additive manufacturing software company, Dyndrite, and managed app development platform Crowdbotics, which has raised more than $60 million so far.

House Fund’s new AI accelerator program will run for two months, kicking off in early July and ending in early September. Around six companies will be accepted, and the early application deadline is April 13, with the final application deadline being June 1. As for the time commitment involved across those two months, every startup could have a different experience, says Fiance. “We’re there when you need us, and we’re good at staying out of the way.”

There will be a retreat to help kick off the program where founders can get to know one another. Candidates who are accepted will also have access to some of UC Berkeley’s AI professors, including Michael Jordan, Ion Stoica, and Trevor Darrell. Founders can opt in for dinners and events in collaboration with these various constituents.

As for some of the financials, every startup that goes through the program will receive a $1 million investment on a $10 million post-money SAFE note. Importantly, as with the House Fund’s venture dollars, its AI accelerator is seeking startups that have at least one Berkeley-affiliated founder on the co-founding team. That can include alumni, faculty, PhDs, postdocs, staff, students, dropouts and other affiliates.

There is no demo day. Instead, Fiance says founders will receive “directed, personal introductions” to the VCs who are the best fit for their startups.

Given the buzz over AI, the new program could supercharge House Fund, which is already growing fast. Fiance launched it in 2016 with just $6 million and the firm now manages $300 million in assets on behalf of Berkeley Endowment Management Company and the University of California, among others.

At the same time, the competition is fierce and growing fiercer by the day.

Though OpenAI has offered to partner with House Fund, for example, the San Francisco-based company announced its own accelerator back in November. Called Converge, the cohort was to be made up of 10 or so founders who would receive $1 million each and admission to five weeks of office hours, workshops and other events, and would be funded by the OpenAI Startup Fund.

Y Combinator, the biggest accelerator in the world, is also oozing with AI startups right now. All of them are part of a winter class that will be talking directly with investors this week via demo days that will happen this week from April 5 to April 6.