Investment in startups that create bots is on the rise, and it’s not just from angels or venture capitalist firms. Tech giants like Amazon, Twilio, Slack, and Cisco are looking for promising projects to support.
Together these companies want to invest more than $450 million in bots, personal assistants, and other innovative tech.
The Slack Fund is an $80 million investment fund supported by Slack and venture capital firms like Accel, The Social Capital Partnership, and Andreessen Horowitz.
Thus far, the fund has supported 14 companies, among them Konsus, a company whose bot lets you hire freelancers in Slack, and Wade and Wendy, whose bot helps automate recruitment.
As of last month, when new investments were announced, Slack had invested less than $2 million of its $80 million fund, while VCs have invested more than $30 million.
To build its bot ecosystem, Cisco in March created the Cisco Spark Innovation Fund, a $150 million program to support bot creation, as well as other good ideas that connect Cisco’s hardware, software, and messaging app Spark.
“Bots are a key area, but it’s really just one modality in which people get work done. We’re opening up the entirety of the Spark platform, everything from the way WebEx does meeting scheduling to video experiences,” said Jose de Castro, CTO of APIs and Integrations at Cisco.
“The goal is to make the video stream available to developers so that you can do things like object recognition, semantic analysis, emotion detection in a meeting or on a call with…customers.”
Cisco declined to state the number of investments made or amount of money invested.
Ahead of the first-ever Watson Developer Conference to take place in San Francisco this November, IBM has created two bot competitions. Prizes are still being determined, but cash will be awarded to winners.
One bot competition involves creating a bot for the conference, the other is about making bots that speak to each other. Why?
“It’s really meant to be a fun way to get hands-on with the technology,” said IBM developer evangelist Zachary Walchuk. “We spend a lot of time showing how our technology can work to solve real problems, but sometimes it’s nice to let people play without worrying about failure.”
When IBM invested $1 billion in 2014 to create the Watson Group, $100 million was set aside to “to fund the ecosystem” of entrepreneurs building applications with Watson.
The $50 million TwilioFund invests in companies that utilize the Twilio platform, like Sonar, which helps businesses communicate with customers via SMS, WeChat, Facebook Messenger, and other chat platforms.
TwilioFund partners include Bessemer Venture Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Redpoint Ventures and accelerators like 500 Startups and Tech Stars.
Nonprofits and charitable organizations can receive $500 in funding and a 25 percent discount on purchases when they use Twilio.org.
Nearly 350 startups applied to be part of Botcamp, perhaps the first accelerator for bot-creating startups.
Botcamp was created by Betaworks partners Matt Hartmann and Peter Rojas. The inaugural bot startups in the 10-week accelerator are offered a $200,000 SAFE note at a 25 percent discount and up to $100,000 in Amazon Web Service credit. They also receive investments from Betaworks and The Chernin Group.
Betaworks has invested in more than 100 companies, including Kickstarter, Medium, Venmo, and Product Hunt.