The new Betaworks “camp” aims to fund early-stage transformative AI startups

by Ana Lopez

As a sign that the AI ​​segment is still alive and kicking in its early stages, Betaworks, the startup studio and VC firm, is launching a new program that will reward about ten companies working on AI with $500,000 in funding.

Scheduled from mid-June to mid-September, Betaworks program — the ninth of its kind — offers startups access to benefits including a business-building curriculum and accelerated computing power from companies like Hugging Face and Stability AI. That’s in addition to one-on-one mentorship time, events and activities plus “collaboration opportunities” with other Betaworks cohort ventures.

The program isn’t really an accelerator; Betaworks describes it as a “camp.” Instead of writing a small check to companies in different categories, the company looks at the “evolution” of technology and bets on a cohort that creates or defines a new category.

“This is the biggest change in technology in my life,” John Borthwick, CEO of Betaworks, told in an email interview. “We’ve been building, accelerating and investing in and around machine learning for the last decade, and in the last 12 months everything has changed – the launch of generative visual models such as [OpenAI’s] DALL-E 2 last year, the open and affordable access to these models with the availability of stability and GPT. AI has the potential to impact every industry, and every part of how we live, work, play and even die.”

With the new “camp,” also endorsed by Mozilla Ventures and Greycroft, Betaworks is specifically looking for companies that create AI tools that “improve the way people behave, create, play, work, and think.” For example, Borthwick says these could be startups thinking about UIs that focus on the context of interactions over time, or enterprises exploring the infrastructure needed to enable human collaboration alongside AI tools.

“The AI ​​stack isn’t fully defined yet,” said Borthwick. “As in the early days of the Internet, extraordinary companies will be built, providing infrastructure and basic tools, and there will also be middleware and applications that will become embedded in our lives and augment virtually everything we do.”

When asked about the legal challenges facing some AI technologies, particularly generative AI, and how this could affect the startups Betaworks plans to fund, Borthwick didn’t shy away from answering. He expects royalty, intellectual ownership issues in terms of ownership and attribution models will arise in the coming years finally to not negatively impact space startups – or their business models.

“Some of the laws and frameworks we have today will apply and others will have to be made,” added Borthwick. “This is like the beginning of the internet, where, for example, a ‘right to be forgotten’ rule hadn’t been considered because the technology didn’t call for it.”

That may be optimistic. But Betaworks has not let potential legal headwinds around AI get in the way before.

The company is funding Stability AI, which is currently embroiled in a legal battle over whether the company infringed the rights of millions of artists by developing its text-to-image tools using web-scraped, copyrighted images . Stock image provider Getty Images has also taken Stability AI to court Reportedly using images from its site without permission.

Suffice it to say, Betaworks has a taste for risk – and expects the reward to apparently be worth it.

“AI cleaves open the possibility space around any problem”, Borthwick said. “That was one of the great lessons of it [DeepMind’s] Alpha Go for us – the technology found solutions no one had ever considered before, and that was on a simple game board.

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