Google today announced the first cohort in its Google for Startups Accelerator: Voice AI, a 10-week program designed to pair startups with experts to help tackle product development, machine learning, and other technical challenges. The 12 companies selected will gain access to resources across Google’s programs and products, Google says, as well as to its people and technology.

The pandemic appears to have supercharged voice app usage, which was already on an upswing. According to a study by NPR and Edison Research, the percentage of voice-enabled device owners who use commands at least once a day rose between the beginning of 2020 and the start of April. Just over a third of smart speaker owners say they listen to more music, entertainment, and news from their devices than they did before, and owners report requesting an average of 10.8 tasks per week from their assistant this year compared with 9.4 different tasks in 2019.

“The program kicks … will focus on product design, technical infrastructure, customer acquisition, and leadership development – granting our founders access to an expansive network of mentors, senior executives, and industry leaders,” Google head of startup developer ecosystem Jason Scott and head of Assistant investments Saurabh Sharma wrote in a blog post.  “We are incredibly excited to support this group of entrepreneurs over the next three months, connecting them with the best of our people, products, and programming to advance their companies and solutions.”

Among the startups selected for Voice AI are Babbly, a Toronto, Canada-based platform that provides parents insights on their child’s speech and language skills and recommends activities that promote development. Another is Bespoken, a company headquartered in Seattle that’s developing automated testing, training, and monitoring for voice applications and devices.

Here’s the list of the other recipients:

  • ConversationHealth, which enables conversational agents for patients and healthcare professionals in clinical trials, medical affairs, and commercial lines of business.
  • Nēdl, which hosts a live call-in radio station that transcribes, amplifies, and monetizes the audio creator’s words.
  • Oto.AI, which is building an acoustic engine capable of delivering non-semantic insights (e.g., intonation, emotions, laughter) from voice streams in real-time, on a small compute footprint.
  • Piffle, a voice gaming platform that aims to nurture professional wellness through conversational gameplay.
  • Powow AI, a software-as-a-service that uses AI to transcribe and analyze meetings.
  • Simbi, which combines learners’ narrations with the text of a story to create an engaging audiovisual book that learners worldwide can read along to.
  • Talkatoo, a dictation software explicitly designed for veterinary and medical professionals.
  • Tinychef, a voice-first “Culinary AI” platform that helps users in the kitchen with to grocery planning, grocery shopping, and cooking their meals with interactive experiences on smart speakers.
  • Voicify, which is developing a platform that allows brands and large enterprises to easily design, build, and deploy voice apps, chatbots, and other conversational experiences across voice assistants, chatbots, and social media platforms.
  • Vowel, which aims to bring the productivity and communication platforms into a single, integrated meeting tool.

Voice AI, which is in many ways Google’s answer to Amazon’s Alexa Accelerator and $200 million Alexa Fund, kicks off on March 15. All 12 companies will showcase their work on May 20 at 12:30 p.m. Eastern during a livestreamed demo day.

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