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Microsoft Ventures launches $3.5 million contest for AI startups

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Look out, artificial intelligence startups: Microsoft Ventures has a new $3.5 million contest that opens today to try and find the best of you. Today, the tech giant’s venture arm announced Innovate.AI, a new competition that’s designed to provide a bundle of funding to some of the top companies using AI around the globe.

The competition is open to firms from North America, Europe and Israel. Each region will have its own pitch-off, where 10 finalists will pitch their businesses to judges before a single grand prize winner is named. Each regional winner will receive a $1 million investment from Microsoft Ventures, plus $500,000 in credits for the tech titan’s Azure cloud platform.

A fourth startup will win the competition’s AI For Good prize, which includes a $500,000 investment and $500,000 in Azure credits. It’s earmarked for the one company across all three regions that is judged to best leverage AI for bettering society. That’s in line with Microsoft’s overall push to try and leverage the current rise of artificial intelligence to help the world.

All of this is in line with Microsoft Ventures’s investing focus over the past couple years. The company has pursued deals with a number of AI companies, including Element.AI, Bonsai, and Crowdflower. It has a dedicated fund for investing in AI businesses, as well.

Running a competition like this means that Microsoft has the potential to see a wide variety of businesses using the new technology, and help introduce its cloud platform to companies that could end up powering the future of technology.

Microsoft is working with Madrona Venture Group, a Seattle-based VC firm, for the North American branch of the competition. Notion Ventures will be the firm’s partner in Europe, and Vertex Ventures Israel will represent that nation.

Submissions for the competition are open until the end of this calendar year on Microsoft’s website.

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