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avaA fast-growing Bellingham startup has landed $16 million in venture capital from Kennet Partners and named former NexTag president Mark Bradley as CEO. is the maker of an “automated virtual assistant”  — an online tool used by thousands of automobile dealers, insurance agents and other sales professionals to better track sales leads.

Mark Bradley

“Kennet reviewed many bootstrapped, founder-led companies over the past year and were quite impressed with what AVA’s founder, Ben Brigham, and his team have accomplished,” said Kennet’s Eric Filipek. “Our significant investment demonstrates our confidence in how machine learning is changing lead management.”

Bradley is an industry vet who will bring a Silicon Valley edge to the Bellingham startup. (The press release now says the company has operations in both Bellingham and San Francisco).

NexTag, a comparison shopping engine, sold to private equity firm Providence Equity in 2007 for about $830 million.

That was the same year that AVA was founded by Brigham, starting with a service for those in the auto industry. The company, which uses artificial intelligence to interpret customer responses, is currently expanding the offering into other verticals.  The service emails back and forth with customers, handing off the lead to a sales professional at the appropriate moment. The tool even schedules phone appointments between the salesperson and customer,

The company notes that the service is is like “having hundreds of sales people working around the clock, doing the leg work before turning readied and reignited leads over to the sales team.”

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