Microsoft recently announced Innovate AI, a global contest to award startups with the most brilliant problem-solving idea using artificial intelligence. The prize pool consists of $3.5 million.
To realize this vision, Microsoft will collaborate with three venture capital firms that represent North America, the European Union, and Israel. They have already joined with Madrona Venture Group in North America, London-based Notion Capital, and Vertex Ventures in Israel.
To be qualified to enter the contest, the startup must have raised less than $4 million. Companies will be allowed to enter the contest by end of 2017. Ten finalists will be shortlisted in every region, who will then be asked to pitch their idea in person. One winner from each region will receive a prize of $1 million, as well as $500,000 in credits for the Microsoft Azure cloud service. One bonus prize of $500,000 will be given to the startup that uses AI for public benefit.
The big idea, says Madrona’s S. “Soma” Somasegar, is to find the early startups that are toiling in relative obscurity and give them a leg up with money and connections they can use to make it big. “Something like American Idol,” he said.
Aside from the cash prize and the excitement around the contest, Microsoft will gain exposure to the thought processes behind different startups.
“We wanted to help Surface and identify great entrepreneurs with fantastic ideas, and we wanted to do it in a thematic way,” said Somasegar.
Microsoft and the venture capital firms will each make an investment in the winning companies. Any intellectual properties will remain with the startup.
“There are many great companies pushing the boundary of [artificial intelligence] that we can’t reach, even with our efforts,” Microsoft Ventures head Nagraj Kashyap told Business Insider. The real goal is to push AI forward as a whole. They are looking for startups that are not just good investments, but those that make AI more accessible, according to Kashyap.