Merchant Innovation

Will.i.am Jumps Into Voice-Activated Voice Assistants

Pop-star, entertainer and all-around renaissance man will.i.am has found his new passion — corporate computing and voice assistants.

Okay, so it doesn’t quite have the same ring as the average Black Eyed Peas song, but it surely has attracted investor interest. I.am+ — the tech startup founded by will.i.am — has secured $117 million in venture funding to ease its entry into the corporate computing market with a voice assistant for customer service called Omega.

Founded in 2012, i.am+ was initially focused on consumer electronics — think headphones. But now i.am+ and its 300 employees are thinking about artificial intelligence — and attracting some interesting backers. In March, the firm raised an $89 million investment from a group including Salesforce Ventures.

“I wanted to create something that allows us to do many things,” said will.i.am, founder and chief executive of the company, in a telephone interview with Reuters. “There’s so much you can do with a voice platform.”

Celebrity entrepreneurs are somewhat common — Jessica Alba, Ashton Kutcher and Joe Montana have made their way into the tech sector, though enterprise investments are unusual. Generally, famous people tend to leverage that fame through consumer-facing products.

I.am+’s first enterprise customer is Deutsche Telekom AG, the German telecommunications giant that parents T-Mobile. Since July, the company has been using Omega to power an AI customer support chatbot and will be expanding to a voice chat system for phones as well.

Plus, will.i.am said customer support is just the start of Omega. The goal is to build out a bigger AI-powered product base.

“One of those things is handling hundreds of thousands of customers’ inquiries about their data plans simultaneously,” will.i.am said. “If it can do that, your imagination’s the limit.”

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