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'Alexa, how can I get funding for my student venture?'

Deadline is Jan. 3 to apply and be eligible for Amazon Alexa Venture Challenge, focused on voice technology innovations

an Amazon Alexa device

The Amazon Alexa Venture Challenge is an opportunity for ASU students and faculty to use voice-enabled technologies, such as Alexa, to compete for up to $50,000 in seed funding to support their startup ventures and a complimentary Alexa-enabled device.

December 26, 2019

Have an idea for a product or solution that uses voice technology to change the world? 

Amazon and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University have partnered to fund ideas that will innovate voice technology capabilities.

The Amazon Alexa Venture Challenge, which is part of ASU’s Startup Funding Network and is organized by Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Fulton Schools, allows student startups to compete for a chance at up to $50,000 in seed grant funding by building solutions that incorporate the Amazon Alexa virtual assistant.

Voice technology, which allows people to speak to their products and receive audio feedback, is becoming a larger component of many emerging technologies and creating an entirely new interface for interaction between people and the technology they use. Consumers can use voice technology to make to-do lists, play music, ask about the weather and even control the lights in their house.

“At ASU we practice the craft of futures thinking, which challenges our innovators to see the world through the lens of what’s coming next,” said Brent Sebold, director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Fulton Schools and an Amazon Alexa Innovation Fellow. “Clearly, voice technology user interfaces will become even more ubiquitous in the coming years. Similarly, ambient computing, which will untether humans from keyboards and other tactile interfaces, will create unbelievable opportunities for those who are bold enough to experiment with voice technologies, such as Alexa, today.” 

Sebold added, “I implore all of our affiliated innovators to just start.”

To compete in the Amazon Alexa Venture Challenge, innovators are encouraged to apply for the ASU Venture Devils program.  

Participants will receive professional Venture Mentorship and support through the process of developing and implementing their startup concepts. 

After applying, founders are expected to pitch their ideas during the biannual Pitch Playoff and Demo Day events. During the Pitch Playoffs, which will be held this coming March, volunteer panels will determine which startups are worthy of competing for seed grant funding.

During the spring Demo Day event, an Amazon Alexa Venture Challenge judging panel will determine which startups incorporating voice technologies should receive up to $50,000 in seed funding. 

Past ventures have applied voice technology to a variety of fields, including education, workplace training and health care.

Ramona Ramadas, who started a venture called New Trails Navigators, received funding from the Venture Devils program during spring 2019 while she was a student at ASU.

New Trails Navigators connects at-risk individuals to peer health navigators who help guide them toward sustainable health and wellness. The venture aims to connect health care to the community to improve the overall health of communities.

“Our plan is to use voice tech as a way to reach vulnerable members of the community,” said Ramadas, who studied health care innovation at ASU. “Often these individuals need daily coaching to improve their lives.”

Ramadas received guidance and feedback as a finalist within the Amazon Alexa Venture Challenge during the spring 2019 Demo Day event. Now, she is using New Trails Navigators to make a difference to the community.

Another innovative startup called Tech Guru, founded by Kyle Sun, takes education to the workplace, particularly the service industry. 

Sun and his team observed a lack of training for service employees, resulting in unsatisfied workers and consumers as well as income loss. The team aimed to use voice technology in an educational approach to develop a way to better train employees.

“Voice technology was fundamental to our solution for an on-the-job training manual reference for working employees,” said Sun, who studied computer science in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, one of the six Fulton Schools. “The hands-free nature of the product allows for optimal efficiency when it comes to the retrieval of static information from simple queries, as opposed to the traditional lookup method in a physical manual.”

Although the venture did not take off, the journey of conceptualizing a startup and making it happen was a meaningful learning opportunity for the team.

“It was a satisfying and challenging experience,” Sun said. “While it may not have immediately blossomed into a multimillion-dollar startup or product, the knowledge acquired will always be relevant such that when I do come up with a golden idea that I have the passion and drive to implement, I will know the steps I need to take to make it a reality.”

The deadline to apply for the Venture Devils Spring A session and be eligible for the Amazon Alexa Venture Challenge funding is Jan. 3, 2020. 

Written by student Karishma Albal

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