Microsoft Ventures Launches AI Startup Competition

The software giant's investment arm and other participating venture capitalists will pour a total of $3.5 million into the winning artificial intelligence startups.

Startup Launchpad

Microsoft Ventures, the software giant's venture fund for early-stage startups, is looking for four artificial intelligence (AI) startups across North America, Europe and Israel to share a total of $3.5 million in funding. To find them, the company is running a competition called Innovate.AI.

"Through this global competition, we are asking startups creating or leveraging transformative AI technologies to apply for a chance to win $1 million from Microsoft Ventures and participating venture capital partners and $500,000 in Azure credits," wrote Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of Business Development at Microsoft, in a blog. One finalist will be awarded a $500,000 dollars in VC funding and another $1 million worth of Azure cloud computing credits.

Other participating VCs include the Madrona Venture Group; Notion Capital and Vertex Ventures Israel. Microsoft is accepting submissions until Dec. 31.

It's not the first time Microsoft has courted AI innovators, noted Johnson. "Since launching Microsoft Ventures last year, we've invested in more than 40 remarkable startups including AI innovators like Agolo, Bonsai, Crowdflower and Livongo," she said.

In June, Microsoft Ventures contributed to Element AI's $102 million Series A round of funding. Data Collective led the investment with additional backing from technology heavyweights Intel Capital, Nvidia and Tencent. Element AI is a Montreal-based startup and incubator working on producing commercial-grade AI systems.

Also in June, Microsoft was among the companies that helped raise $15 million for CognitiveScale, an Austin, Texas startup that specializes in AI software for financial services, commerce and health care companies. Again, Intel Capital participated in the investment, along with Norwest Venture Partners, the Westly Group and USAA.

Naturally, Microsoft isn't the only technology giant investing in AI startups.

On Oct. 10, Petuum, a machine learning software infrastructure company, announced it had raised $93 million in a Series B round led by a subsidiary of SoftBank, the Japanese Internet and telecommunications company. To date, the Pittsburgh-based startup has raised $108 million.

On Sept. 19, Salesforce announced the formation of its $50 million AI Innovation Fund. Highspot, Squirro and TalkIQ were the first startups to receive funding. The cloud CRM leader also invested in AI startup studio All Turtles.

Google, meanwhile, is engaging the community with the Google Developers Launchpad Studio, an initiative that provides technical and product support to AI and machine learning startups, along with a chance to score some funding.

In an July 26 announcement, Roy Glasberg, global lead at Google Developers Launchpad, said that besides providing access to AI tools and experts, the program also offers startups the opportunity to connect "with some of the best AI and ML engineers, product managers, industry leaders and VCs from Google, Silicon Valley, and other international locations."

San Francisco was chosen as the site for Google Developers Launchpad Studio's global headquarters, but the company's outreach will include events across the globe.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...