26 – 100 in alphabetical order: Paul Bernard, director of worldwide corporate development, Amazon Alexa Fund

The Amazon Alexa Fund is US-listed retailer Amazon’s first venture capital fund, started in 2016. It is dedicated to finding and supporting startups that work with voice technology.

Paul Bernard, who leads the fund, said in an interview with Global Corporate Venturing in April 2019: “Our goal is to identify startups creating new experiences with Alexa or advancing the state of the art in voice technology, and to give them the resources they need to grow their business.

“We have invested in more than [70] companies across a range of segments from smart home and wearable technology, to education, entertainment, and health and wellness, as well as technologies like microphones and processors that unlock new use cases for Alexa.”

The Alexa Fund provides up to $200m in VC funding, focusing on voice technology innovation that is compatible with Alexa voice recognition systems. The team believes human voice-enabled devices will boost the way users interact with technology.

In addition to funding, the fund supports entrepreneurs to transform their innovative ideas into products and services.

Most recently, the Alexa Fund invested in driver entertainment provider DriveTime in September 2019. The company’s mobile app provides interactive audio entertainment for drivers and passengers. It offers voice-based games, the newest of which is a tie-in with television quiz show Jeopardy.

Bernard said at the time: “Gaming and entertainment are among customers’ favourite use cases for Alexa, and we think those categories will only grow in popularity as Alexa is integrated into more vehicles.

“Drivetime stands out for its focus on voice-first games in the car, and we are excited to work with them to broaden the Alexa Auto experience and help customers make the most of their time behind the wheel.”

Bernard believes the success of Alexa is its hardware and software-infused ubiquity. Becoming ubiquitous means that Alexa needs to find a role in every area of life. The variety of startups the fund has backed is remarkable and moves the fund well beyond the smart home niche in which most consumers who have an Echo or other Alexa-enabled hardware would place it.

“The smart home continues to be a place where we see significant potential, and we are increasingly looking at products that make Alexa more useful on the go. Vesper microphones and Syntiant processors are good examples, as is the new Parkwhiz skill for Alexa, which enables you to find and book parking spots with your voice. We are also excited about services that put Alexa at the centre of family life through products,” Bernard said.

“Part of the benefit of our approach is that we can work with a range of companies and technologies across the spectrum on the so-called hype curve. I would rather take a risk with an entrepreneur than look back and wish I had leaned in.”

The Alexa Fund is one way Amazon is supporting adoption through a greater range of services and products. “We obviously cannot invest in every compelling startup that embraces voice technology,” Bernard said. “But we do try to identify some of the most compelling ones, support them to bring their vision to Alexa, and, in so doing, help them build a great company. If we keep doing this, it can only help move us toward the vision we have for Alexa to be a ubiquitous service that makes daily life easier and more convenient for customers.”

GCV Powerlist 2020 PDF