Alexa Startups has announced the first cohort for its Black Founders Build with Alexa Program. Seven North American startups founded by Black entrepreneurs were selected based on their ability to innovate with Alexa and build the next generation of voice, artificial intelligence (AI), and ambient experiences.
The selected startups are MYAVANA, One Stop Wellness Inc., Kiddie Kredit, DOSS Group Inc., Seam Social Labs, moment.ai, and PayTalk. During the four-month program, the companies plan to integrate Alexa with devices and solutions that reach a wide range of industries, from real estate and financial education to safe driving and haircare.
“On my journey, I learned that my diverse background is my superpower, because differences from the established norms lead to change and innovation.”
To assist each startup with this effort, Alexa Startups Solution Architect and Business Development teams will provide individualized technology support. The startup founders will also have access to increased visibility through networking events, panel discussions, and demo showcases. Plus, each startup will have an opportunity to receive up to a $100,000 investment from the Alexa Fund.
The program is the latest in a series of Amazon-sponsored initiatives to boost and support Black talent and entrepreneurship. Earlier this year, award-winning actress Keke Palmer partnered with Amazon to highlight small businesses owned by Black women selling on Amazon. Amazon employees have also mentored students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and a new career development program provides free technical skills training for Amazon employees.
The founders of the startups selected for the 2022 Black Founders Build with Alexa Program spoke with us about the inspiration behind their startups, the challenges they overcame, and their advice for other Black entrepreneurs. Read on to learn more.
How inspiration strikes with Alexa
Bobby Bryant is the founder and CEO of DOSS Group Inc., a real estate technology company that is developing a smart assistant to improve customer experiences across the real estate industry. DOSS Group Inc. plans to make its user experience more natural and intuitive by integrating Alexa into its service, which Bryant said he was motivated to build because of the rapid technological advances in recent years.
“Over the last decade, I have been amazed by how quickly experts in academia and the industry have furthered state-of-the-art in conversational AI. These developments inspired me to create a domain-specific intelligent assistant for the real estate industry,” Bryant said.
One thing real estate agents look for in customers, however, is healthy credit. Evan Leaphart, founder and CEO of Leaping Harts Inc., believes financial education starts early. His startup created an activity management tool, Kiddie Kredit, that aims to prepare children for a life of healthy credit habits and help parents effectively teach those habits to their kids. Kiddie Kredit plans to launch an Alexa experience for children and parents focused on responsibility tasks, like chores.
“I wanted to build a service that teaches kids about finances. Studies show that money habits are formed as early as seven years old, and teaching children financial literacy when they are young is critical,” Leaphart said.
Megan Gray’s company, moment.ai, uses biometrics and physiological data to increase driver safety. The company plans to use the Alexa Voice Service across its offerings to maximize customers’ productivity while helping them keep their eyes on the road.
“After being diagnosed with epilepsy, I was told that I could not drive. My diagnosis made me determined to create an inclusive driving-focused AI solution for those who tend to be forgotten in our society,” said Gray, founder and CEO of moment.ai.
Overcoming startup challenges
MYAVANA is a technology company that uses artificial intelligence to recommend ideal haircare products based on customers’ individual hair types. The company plans to launch an Alexa Routine that will guide customers through haircare steps after considering personal characteristics and external variables, such as the weather.
Despite its incredible technology, MYAVANA has taken a measured business approach, said Founder and CEO Candace Mitchell Harris.
“I would point to the need of balancing short-term goals and long-term vision at the same time,” said Harris. “You must consider what you need to achieve in this quarter and this fiscal year to meet milestones and maintain the company's growth, while also envisioning what to plan out for the long term.”
Forward and diverse thinking is a central component of Romy Antoine’s company, One Stop Wellness Inc. The business offers a health literacy product that organizations can employ to help their employees identify chronic health risks and build healthy habits. One Stop Wellness Inc. plans to use Alexa to improve physician-patient interactions and health equity.
“The biggest challenge as a founder of a technology company has been raising funding, especially as a Black founder without connections to venture capital firms,” Antoine said. “On my journey, I learned that my diverse background is my superpower, because differences from the established norms lead to change and innovation.”
Long-term vision for startups working with Alexa
PayTalk is developing AI-powered technology to make transactional ecommerce easier and more secure. The company plans to integrate Alexa into seven core offerings, including parking, ticketing, and bill payments. Founder and CEO Neji Tawo has big plans for his company, and he said integrating with Alexa can help PayTalk reach those goals.
“I want PayTalk to become the global leader in conversational commerce. I truly believe that the younger generation is more apt to use voice assistants in their day-to-day activities,” Tawo said.
Input from people and communities is central to effectively building for the future. Tiasia O’Brien, founder and CEO of Seam Social Labs, said her company supports public sector communications, customer experience, and planning teams to gather input with minimal friction. Seam Social Labs plans to build an Alexa integration that will reduce the workload of community interviews and assist with focus group data for analysis.
“We work with researchers and designers globally using our products to codesign a more equitable future. Only 20 percent of data collected is qualitative, and I believe that is a result of limited tools to analyze unstructured data. We aim to build the technology that will move that 20 percent to 50 percent of all data acquired being qualitative,” O’Brien said.
Welcome to the Alexa family
The seven startups participating in the inaugural Black Founders Build with Alexa Program have a common thread: They share Amazon’s desire to invent on behalf of customers.
Alexa Startups is thrilled to welcome these companies and to work with their founders to build products and services that will help them—and Alexa—make customers’ lives more healthy, productive, and equitable.
“I’m incredibly honored for our team to work with these startups on Alexa innovations and support these talented founders with advancing their companies and creating amazing new customer experiences,” said Liz Myers, head of business development for Alexa Startups. “It’s no secret that entrepreneurs of color are underrepresented in the tech industry, and we hope that initiatives like these will lead to more diverse perspectives, new ideas, and the development of products and services across voice, AI, and ambient computing that will better enrich the lives of all customers.”
Learn more about Alexa Startups.