Google launches startup investment program to bolster its digital assistant ecosystem

Pulse Labs’ co-founders, from left to right: Abhishek Suthan, Akansha Mehta, Dylan Zwick. Seattle startup Pulse Labs is one of four companies to participate in Google’s new Google Assistant investment program. (Pulse Labs Photo)

Google has kicked off a new investment program to back early-stage startups building capabilities and devices using the tech giant’s digital assistant, and a Seattle company is among the first batch of investments.

Pulse Labs, a Seattle startup that provides a testing platform for developers to connect with users, is one of four companies to participate in the Google Assistant investment program so far. As part of the program, Google joined a $2.5 million investment round for Pulse Labs in January. Ironically, that round also included participation from Google’s main voice assistant rival Amazon through the $100 million Alexa Fund and Bezos Expeditions (Jeff Bezos’ investment arm).

The Google Home and Google Home Mini. (Google Photo)

In addition to investment, the program includes advice from Google engineers, product managers, and design experts as well as promotion from Google’s marketing teams. Startups will gain access to the Google Cloud Platform and partnership programs to get first crack at new features and tools.

Pulse Labs connects voice developers with appropriate users who can test their apps, offering a way to assess how real people interact with their technology. It provides data to clients that show, for example, which prompts work and which don’t. The seven-person company was part of the inaugural Alexa Accelerator, a Seattle-based program that Amazon runs in partnership with Techstars to support startups developing technologies related to its voice platform.

Joining Pulse Labs in the inaugural batch of investments from Google are:

  • GoMoment: Creator of a voice-based digital hotel concierge named Ivy. Used at hotels like Caesars Palace, Treasure Island and Hard Rock, Ivy can answer basic questions while forwarding more complicated asks to human staff.
  • Edwin: An artificial intelligence-powered tutor for people taking English as a foreign language tests.
  • BotSociety: A platform to quickly design and build chatbots and voice assistant apps.

In a blog post about the investment program, Google said it is an extension of the company’s push to foster an open ecosystem and build more capabilities for the Google Assistant.

A similar approach helped Amazon grab the early lead in the competitive voice assistant market. Amazon opened Alexa up to developers and device manufacturers in 2015 and has steadily added new ways to build Alexa into products and apps.

Amazon launched its digital assistant-oriented Alexa Fund in 2015. The $100 million fund is meant to push the boundaries of voice-based interaction. The tech giant had invested in more than 30 startups as part of the fund as of February.