By Salvador Rodriguez
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - I.am+, the tech startup founded by pop star and entrepreneur will.i.am, has raised $117 million in venture funding, the company told Reuters on Monday as it announced its entry into the corporate computing market with a voice assistant for customer service.
The company, founded in 2012, initially focused on consumer electronics devices such as headphones. The new artificial intelligence product, similar to Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa, marks a sharp departure for the firm, which now employs about 300 people.
Its most recent funding round, an $89 million investment by a group including Salesforce Ventures, closed in March but had not been previously announced.
Will.i.am, who rose to prominence as a member of The Black Eyed Peas, said the corporate market offered the company an opportunity to quickly deploy and develop its assistant, called Omega.
“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.”
Though many celebrities and athletes including Jessica Alba, Ashton Kutcher and Joe Montana have made their way into the tech sector through investments and their own startups, most have tended to focus on consumer technology.
I.am+’s first enterprise customer is Deutsche Telekom AG <DTEGn.DE>, the German telecommunications giant and parent company of T-Mobile. Since July, the company has been using Omega to power an AI customer support chatbot and it plans to add a voice phone system soon, i.am+ said.
Will.i.am said customer support is just the start of Omega. The plan is to use the technology to build several more enterprise voice AI products.
“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.”
(Reporting by Salvador Rodriguez; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Tom Brown)