With entrepreneurs no longer limited to developing speech recognition technology for call centers and helplines, the field has blossomed into one of the most advanced technology sectors in the industry. We ask our phones to send messages on our behalf, tell our computers to open programs, and soon we may be able to request that a robot tell us a bedtime story.
So, what do you do when you have an emerging field of technology, eager entrepreneurs, and a marketplace that is hungry for innovation? Well, if you just so happen to be an organization called Techstars, you create the Alexa Accelerator.
In partnership with Amazon’s Alexa Fund, Techstars’ accelerator program was created for entrepreneurs who are advancing voice-powered technologies. Founded by a strong belief that using our voices will drastically improve the way we interact with technology, Techstars hopes to find the most passionate and innovative companies to embark on a 13-week long intensive program in Seattle. The selection process is rigorous, but companies that are accepted into Techstars’ accelerator program have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Investing in Teams and Hard Work, Not Ideas
Techstars doesn’t invest in fairytales. Instead, they’re looking for passionate founders that have a well rounded team filled with those who have business, technical, and other relevant knowledge. In other words, an idea on its own isn’t good enough. They want to see a company that has gotten their hands dirty, and have made progress on their own.
In order to be accepted into the program, companies are expected to validate their assumptions, have a prototype or product in the works, and be able to demonstrate their hunger. Nicole Glaros, a Techstars mentor, mentions that applications should be early, concise, and really hit the nail on the head. As you can imagine, they receive a lot of applications; any way of making their life easier will only help. While this may sound intense, Matt Oppenheimer, co-founder and CEO of Remitly, very bluntly tells us that the program is a bargain.
So, what does a company have to gain from the Alexa Accelerator?
Money Talks, But Perks Yell
Techstars’ partnership with Amazon’s Alexa Fund means there’s more than just investment capital at stake. A $100,000 convertible note is offered to all companies accepted into the program, with $20,000 of it translated to 6% equity. The importance of the accelerator program is that it leverages the fund’s specialization and not only selects the best candidates to invest in, but also ensures that those very companies have the necessary training, tools, and other resources they need to succeed.
Companies receive lifetime access to back office services such as CRMs, analytical tools, project management software, and more! In addition, you’ll have access to a network of successful alumni, and 400 perks worth over $1 million. After completing the program, companies raise an average of $2 million of capital from external investors. Their proven track record speaks for itself. Companies such as ClassPass, Digital Ocean, and SendGrid owe their continual successes to their experience at Techstars.
All of this trickles down to the largest, and most beneficial part of being a part of the Techstars roster of companies: The mentorship.
It’s Not Always What You Know, It’s Who You Know
Any entrepreneur will tell you that one of the most critical parts of starting a company is mentorship. The Alexa Accelerator Program gives you access to over 3,000 mentors; all of whom are as invested in your success as you are. From what we’ve been able to track down thus far, these are a few of the growing list of dedicated mentors leading the Alexa Accelerator program; they’ll be the ones helping selected companies set themselves up for success post-program. So, here’s a little bit about each one:
Ben Straley, VP of Digital Products of Starbucks Coffee
We’ve all heard of Starbucks; a source of accessible caffeination to help keep product development going into the wee hours of the night (or morning). With a knack for showing up on all kinds of award-winning teams, Straley took his expertise to Starbucks. There, he helped grow their ever expanding digital product division. His experience includes product strategy, planning, and development for Rio SEO.
Beth Birnbaum, Independent Talent
In the past, Birnbaum served as a Senior VP of Product at GrubHub. In her 5 years with the company, she helped develop their project management, user experience, and design functions. To top it off, she even had a hand with GrubHub’s merger with Seamless, and an IPO. In case you hadn’t heard of GrubHub, Birnbaum also played an important role in Expedia’s supplier connectivity strategy while serving as their VP of Connectivity and Product Management.
Chris DeVore, Managing Director of Techstars Seattle & Executive Managing Director, Alexa Accelerator
In his past, DeVore served as a valuable part of the project team at AT&T and even launched Patagonia’s eCommerce business. As a chair member of the City of Seattle’s Economic Development Commission and member of the Policy Leadership Group for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Chris holds a wealth of knowledge about taking a product and turning it into a business. Currently he is an an angel investor who has invested in many of the Techstars alumni companies.
David Cohen, Founder & Co-CEO of Techstars
A real do-it-yourself type, Cohen has founded a handful of companies including PinPoint Technologies, earFeeder, and of course, Techstars. He has invested in startups – including Uber and SendGrid – that have helped grow his investment portfolio to over $80B. His entire career has been situated around growing technology companies and he has experienced many successes and lessons learned along the way. Check out his blog for advice on starting your own company, simple case studies, and more!
Nicole Glaros, Chief Innovation Officer of Techstars
As an active entrepreneur and mentor, Glaros practices what she preaches. She got her start as an entrepreneur after planning and charging her neighbors for a theatre performance in the fourth grade. Since then, she’s worked with incubators which help young tech companies grow into investable businesses. She’s invested in over 90 startups through Techstars and has shared her story and wealth of knowledge at SXSW, TEDx, and more! In addition, Glaros has been a mentor and investor for over 15 years.
Cody Simms, Executive Director of Techstars
With Simms at the helm, Techstars’ US-based locations boast 150+ new investments a year across their 15 locations. Simms launched the Disney Accelerator that is also powered by Techstars in Los Angeles. With an intensive project management career that has involved the likes of New York Times, Sprint, and NBC, his focus on growth and expansion has helped Techstars grow an incredibly successful investment portfolio.
Ian Bernstein, CTO & Founder of Sphero
As a lover of all things electronic and robotic, Bernstein is an entrepreneur driven by making cool stuff. He’s a self-described dangerous designer of mechanics in CAD, programming firmware, and more! Give him a challenge and he’ll get it done; he’s a mentor that isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. To add, he also has first-hand experience going through a TechStars accelerator program. He’ll be a valuable source of engineering, mechanics, best practices as a founder.
Josh Elman, Partner of Greylock Partners
With an investment portfolio that specializes in new consumer products and services, Elman has helped companies grow to 100+ million users. He’s helped launch Facebook Connect, acted as a product lead for growth and relevance at Twitter, and established models for LinkedIn Jobs. He is a seasoned veteran in project development, design, and engineering. Companies he has worked with have gone on to be acquired by major companies such as Samsung.
David Waxman, Managing Partner of TenOneTen Ventures
Tech entrepreneurship has been Waxman’s bread and butter since graduating MIT’s Media Lab. He was a co-founder of Firefly, which became Microsoft Passport after being acquired by the computing giant in 1998. As an active mentor, speaker, and investor, David helps new entrepreneurs find their way in the software technology sector.
Jody Holtzman, Senior Vice President of Market Innovation at AARP
A social entrepreneur at heart, Holtzman specializes in giving companies a competitive advantage through strategy. Such as, through organizational change, team building, and competitive intelligence. He finds emerging markets and helps companies grow, making him an interesting and perfect addition to the mentorship program. He will help you gain some perspective on how your company should be structured internally and externally in order for it to succeed.
Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group & Co-Founder of Techstars
Feld has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur since the late 80s. He has started a handful of venture capital firms and is actively involved with nonprofit organizations that involve technology and business development. Check out his blog about startups and the tech community here.
Can you feel it? The speech technology sector is about to undergo some major innovation. The deadline to apply for this round is April 23rd, 2017. So, you’d better get on it!
Before we go, make sure to keep your eye out for Part 2 of our roundup; we’ll be diving into the companies that are selected for the program and their vision for the future. In the meantime, Globalme has a plethora of experience doing localization, data collection, and testing for speech related technologies. If you’re interested in learning about how we help get those technologies Ready for People, check out our in-car speech system case study.