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The first-ever Alexa Accelerator cohort after their 2017 Demo Night in Seattle on Tuesday. (GeekWire photos/Taylor Soper)

For the past several years, I’ve watched entrepreneurs give polished pitches at Techstars Demo Day and picked my favorites. This year, with the help of some experts, there’s a lot more on the line.

GeekWire and Ubiquity Ventures are teaming up for the first-ever Ubiquity-GeekWire Award, a $2,500 prize that will go to the pitch we deem the winner at next month’s Amazon Alexa Accelerator Demo Night on Oct. 9. This is a cash prize, and a fun way to recognize and reward our winning startup — no strings attached and no equity in return.

Nine companies have spent the past three months as part of the second Alexa Accelerator cohort in Seattle. Amazon partners with Techstars to run the 3-month program, which provides an initial $20,000 in each company for 6 percent common stock, with potential for an additional $100,000 convertible note.

Sunil Nagaraj.

Participating startups incorporate Alexa, Amazon’s popular artificial intelligence voice platform. The accelerator is part of Amazon’s $200 million Alexa Fund, which launched in 2015 and is used by Amazon to invest in companies that will push the boundaries of voice-based interaction.

Sunil Nagaraj, managing partner of Bay Area-based Ubiquity Ventures, will join GeekWire and Pulse Labs CEO Abhishek Suthan — who participated in the first Alexa Accelerator cohort — to judge the pitches at Demo Night.

Nagaraj launched Ubiquity last year. The firm makes seed-stage investments in smart hardware and machine learning-fueled applications.

“Software is making its way into our living rooms, cars and nearly everywhere else,” said Nagaraj, who previously spent six years at Bessemer Venture Partners. “This prize for the top Alexa Accelerator company is meant to highlight and further accelerate the top voice application startup in the batch.”

Five of the nine startups in the first cohort raised investment after the accelerator: Novel EffectSensible ObjectPlay ImpossiblePulse Labs, and Comet. Brian Adams, a leader with Amazon’s Alexa Fund, noted that the initial fundraising efforts for the class was one of the most successful in Techstars history.

“We are incredibly excited about the possibilities for this year’s participants, all of whom represent a diverse focus of products, services, and industries, and see Alexa as key to unlocking their full potential,” Adams wrote in a blog post earlier this year.

We’ll announce the winner of the Ubiquity-GeekWire Award on GeekWire after Demo Night concludes next month.

Here are the companies in the new cohort, with descriptions from Amazon:

  • Blutag (New York): Helping consumers rapidly find products relevant to their needs and taste using simple voice commands.
  • Conservation Labs (Pittsburgh): A low-cost, easy to install smart water meter to save money and detect leaks.
  • Helix (Atlanta): Virtual assistant for use in the laboratory sciences.
  • Imageous (San Jose/Seattle): An AI solution for comfort controls and other space management features in commercial buildings, taking in user requests and making changes to their surrounding environment
  • Jargon (Seattle): Making the world smaller by removing conversational language barriers by combining the best of cutting-edge technology and human assistance.
  • Novalia (Cambridge, UK): Bluetooth platform connected to paper thin self-adhesive touch sensors which captures data through touch, allowing you to create immersive, playable experiences.
  • Presence AI (San Francisco): AI powered texting for small businesses to automate appointment management.
  • Unruly (Boston): Programmable electronic floor tiles that kids can code, jump on, and run around to play active games.
  • Voiceitt (Tel Aviv): ASR technology to serve the needs of consumers with severe speech impediments.
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