Techstars Alexa

Techstars Alexa


Midgame was accepted into The Alexa Accelerator, a program co-run by the Techstars startup accelerator and the Alexa Fund, a $200M fund for Amazon to invest in voice tech companies. We’re two weeks in and over the next few months, we’ll build and launch a voice assistant for gamers, alongside nine other companies who are also part of the program.

The announcement went live on VentureBeat last week as well as the Amazon Day One corporate blog.

The other companies in the program include include an AI-powered service that helps students learn, a health product that checks up on patients between visits, and a tool for quickly taking notes when listening to podcasts. They’ve collected an impressive group out of the hundreds of applicants and many of the founders are on their second or third company.

The program is run out of a coworking space near the University of Washington campus so I’ve temporarily relocated to Seattle through the fall. If you’re in the area, I’d love to say hi.

Long-time readers know I went through Y Combinator in Summer of 2011, when there were only 63 companies and Paul Graham still ran the program. It’s obviously changed a lot since then. I’m interested to see how Techstars compares. One difference that’s widely stated is that Techstars is more structured and has more of a “curriculum” compared to YC. A conference vs Burning Man if you will.

For instance, Techstars does something early on called “Mentor Madness”. Two weeks of back-to-back meetings where we sit down with 50+ people, founders, venture capitalists, engineering leaders, BD folks, lawyers, and more to rapidly pitch our idea and get a wide range of perspectives.

As one Techstars founder put it:

One of the great innovations of Techstars Accelerators is the aptly named Mentor Madness. It’s a grueling and emotional exercise that presses everyone to the limit. The politest description I can offer is that it feels a bit like having Christmas and a root canal at the same time. You’re excited about unwrapping presents, but horrified about a stranger digging holes in your head 😀

I was skeptical of the approach at first but it’s a great way to rapidly iterate on your pitch to see what points stick and learn about companies and people in your space. I also expect we’ll have some new thoughts after next week is over and we can really digest all the feedback.

Mostly though I came out of the meetings feeling like we’re headed in a good direction and while we have lots of work to do, if we keep digging, we’re bound to hit something really interesting.

That said, we’re looking for people who play a very popular indie game called Stardew Valley to test our first voice assistant. If you or someone you know plays, we’d love share what we’re working on:

If you want really help out, drop that link into your company’s #gaming or #games Slack channel if there is one and you could help us get the word out.