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Innovative startups working towards the progress of Artificial Intelligence (AI), here’s your chance to shine and get your innovation noticed to the entire world. Microsoft Ventures has joined hands with venture capital firms, Notion Capital, Vertex Ventures Israel, and Madrona Venture Group to unveil a global competition which aims to scout for emerging startups working in the field of AI and its future.

Called Innovate.AI, the competition winners will get awarded $3.5M in venture funding and $2M in Azure credits in total by Microsoft Ventures and its collaborative partners.

For the uninitiated, Microsoft Ventures is the corporate venture arm of software giant Microsoft, which partners with visionary entrepreneurs looking to drive digital transformation.

Startups interested in taking a shot at winning have to head to Microsoft Ventures’ website to submit their entries. In total, there are four prizes to be won. $1M in venture funding and $500K in Azure credits will be bestowed upon one AI startup per region — North America, Europe and Israel. Up to 10 finalists will qualify from each region for a chance to pitch their innovation in person. The competition will award a fourth prize called AI for Good to startup that best leverages the power of Artificial Intelligence for the betterment of the society. This particular prize will see the winner walking away with $500K in funding $500K in Azure credits.

Microsoft’s fascination with AI isn’t something new. In February this year, Microsoft launched yet another AI chatbot on its personal Facebook page called Microsoft’s Ruuh. Being pitched as a desi AI, Ruuh has personal interests in “chatting, Bollywood, music, humor, travel and browsing internet.”

Prior to Ruuh, Microsoft had launched Tay.ai and Zo.ai in March and December last year, respectively. Tay.ai, built by the Microsoft Research and Bing teams together, aimed at 18- to 24-year-olds. The AI chatbot was taken offline shortly after its launch, following its exploitation by some Twitter users that caused it to start spouting offensive and racist comments.

The tech giant followed Tay with Zo, a Kik messenger bot. During Zo’s launch, Microsoft especially specified that the AI chatbot has all the safeguards in place to avoid the same awkward turn of events that happened in the case of Tay.ai. Some other chatbot efforts by the giant include Rinna and Xiaoice in Japan and China, respectively.

According to industry observers, Microsoft’s combined AI and Research Group, which came into existence last year, is most likely the group behind a lot of the AI chatbot work that the tech giant is currently doing.

Then in March, when Microsoft announced the names of the 14 startups that it had selected for its tenth accelerator batch, people noticed an interesting pattern. Artificial intelligence, business-to-business (B2B) and machine learning was probably the selection criteria for the chosen ones as all of the 14 selected startups had at least one of these elements as a core part of their product offerings.

Making AI more accessible and valuable to everyone all over the world is considered as one of the core principles of software giant Microsoft. The company wants to focus its attention on startups working towards the progress of the emerging technology as it believes by doing so they’re helping bring to life AI’s transformative potential — maximizing efficiency, keeping us secure and helping to solve some of biggest challenges that we face as a society right now.

“At Microsoft, the future is rooted in the advancement of AI technologies,” said Nagraj Kashyap, corporate vice president, global head of Microsoft Ventures in a statement to the Press. Talking about the competition, he said “We’re excited to launch this competition with a strong group of venture capitalists that recognises the importance of leveraging these technologies to amplify human ingenuity and power innovation in AI forward.”

Commenting on why his firm decided to join in the Innovate.AI team, Emanuel Timor, general partner with Vertex Ventures Israel said, “We believe that AI has the power to transform and disrupt every aspect of our life.” Explaining further he said, “We see great opportunities for entrepreneurs to create new products, provide unique AI innovations and become market leaders. Vertex Ventures Israel looks forward to working together with Microsoft Ventures in supporting the AI ecosystem and the exceptionally talented teams in Israel and abroad.”

Startups seeking to enter the competition will have to ensure that they have raised less than $4M in combined equity funding and/or loans at day of application, and they must have a product, service or platform that utilises or intends to utilise AI techniques, as defined by relevant scientific research.

The applications for the competition will be accepted till the end of the year i.e. Dec. 31, 2017. AI Startups across three regions: Europe (EU), Israel, and North America (Canada, Mexico and U.S.) are eligible to apply to the competition.

[Image: Educator India]

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