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Paul Allen’s artificial intelligence experts are aiming to generate a new wave of AI startups in Seattle.

The Microsoft co-founder’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) announced Tuesday it is expanding its incubator for AI companies to let in outside startups for the first time, following a pair of successful spinouts this year. Companies accepted into the program will get up to $250,000 in seed money, six months of free office space, help with sales and marketing and access to 70 AI researchers and PhD holders on staff.

Jacob Colker, entrepreneur in residence at Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. (AI2 Photo)

“The real superpower, the real amazing thing we bring to the table is this incredible group of people,” said Jacob Colker, entrepreneur in residence at AI2. “Some of the leading AI minds available on the planet are in this facility and the companies will be collaborating with those folks to push the bar in technology.”

AI2 is actively recruiting AI startups for the incubator, Colker said, with a goal of getting a class in place by the end of the year or sooner. AI2 is looking for strong entrepreneurs, and they can be first-timers, with a tech background and an AI idea they want to bring to fruition. Colker said academics are also encouraged to get involved.

AI2 plans to bring in several more entrepreneurs in residence to help startups hone their business models. Colker helped set up local co-working space Impact Hub Seattle, is a lecturer on entrepreneurship at the University of Washington’s Foster MBA Program, former CMO at Lighter Capital and ran several Seattle and San Francisco area startups in his career.

While the Allen Institute will take on startups in any realm of AI, Colker pointed out that AI2’s specialities lie in machine learning, computer vision and natural language processing.

The idea to beef up the incubator program came after a good run of success for AI2’s first two spinouts. Kitt.ai, the Seattle artificial intelligence startup that’s developing a conversational language engine and a “hotword” detection platform, was acquired by Chinese search giant Baidu in July. Xnor.ai, which focuses on making AI technology work on smartphones and IoT devices, raised a $2.6 million seed round in February.

Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence CEO Oren Etzioni.

“We were two-for-two with great success,” Colker said of the two spinouts. “That was really encouraging, and building on that we really want to double down and do a lot more and take it to the next level.”

Artificial intelligence has become a focal point of startups and tech giants alike. Microsoft last year formed a new 5,000-person engineering and research group focused on AI and made the concept part of its corporate vision statement. At Amazon, where the AI-powered Echo speakers are leading the voice search market, the concept may become the fourth pillar of its business. Microsoft and Amazon last year joined up with fellow tech giants Facebook, DeepMind/Google, IBM and eventually Apple to advance public understanding of AI technologies, formulate best practices and ensure that AI ultimately benefits people and society.

“Nearly everywhere you look in society, there is the potential for AI to help. The key is to think beyond the next step to make the most impact,” said Oren Etzioni, CEO of AI2. “The AI2 Incubator is another effort to invest in our mission to contribute to humanity. We look forward to welcoming a new class of researchers to Seattle.”

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