Weeks after becoming a finalist in the LaunchKC grants competition, Lawrence-based startup Mycroft is riding a hot streak with the closing of its angel investment round.
Mycroft — which developed an open-source, artificial intelligence device similar to Amazon Echo — recently raised $335,000 from Kansas City’s Northland Angel Investor Network and Star Power Partners.
An affiliate organization of the Clay County Economic Development Council, the Northland Angel Investor Network launched in 2015 to invest in promising startups in the Kansas City area. Star Power Partners is a fund backed by such investors as Draper Associates, the Foundry Group, Iron Gate Capital, Landscape Capital, Right Side Capital, Silicon Valley Bank and Walt Winshall.
Mycroft co-founder Joshua Montgomery said that he’s thrilled to have local investors on his team. And now with capital in tow, Montgomery said that he and Mycroft’s dozen employees are ready to execute.
“The exciting part for us is having the capital we need to go out and develop and succeed,” he said. “The biggest limiting factor for the success of a business is capital access. You can have the best idea and the best team and best execution but if you can’t access capital it’s next to impossible to succeed in most modern technology businesses.”
Montgomery said that he and his co-founder and wife, Kris Adair, plan to use the funds to fuel development of the Mycroft platform. The funding also will help the firm fulfill shipments to backers of its Indiegogo campaign for its first device, the Holmes I. That campaign raised more than $175,000 in funds, making it one of Kansas’ most successful crowdfunding efforts ever.
A device that’s as big as a conventional alarm clock, Mycroft taps natural language processing technology to enable its everyday use in a consumer’s home. Natural language processing incorporates computer science, artificial intelligence and computational linguistics to understand human language as it is spoken. Similar to Apple’s Siri, a Mycroft device learns and adapts to a user’s voice and accounts for imprecisions in speech.
Once a user connects her Mycroft to the internet, she can verbally command the device to do a variety of tasks, such as turn on lights, lock doors, make coffee or engage other Internet-of-Things tech. If a user has a question — such as what’s the forecast in Kansas City today? — Mycroft translates the speech and sends it to at least two artificial intelligence platforms and scours the internet for the best answer.
That natural language processing capability paired with an open-source and open-hardware approach to development is what makes Mycroft powerful. Users around the world are able to develop software or hardware add-ons to Mycroft, which released its source code to allow techies to modify, fix and re-distribute the platform. Developers are now attaching the Mycroft platform to anything from robots to refrigerators.
While he’s thankful for the support Kansas City has offered Mycroft, Montgomery said that raising funds in the area was a challenge. A graduate of the 2016 Sprint Accelerator program, Montgomery said that while it was a gauntlet, fundraising in Kansas City afforded him the chance to make valuable connections.
“It’s very challenging raising money in the Midwest,” he said. “We ended up taking money from as far away as Greece in this round. But we’ve been really privileged to meet a lot of local angels who are really supportive of the Kansas City community so that’s been great. And we’ve had some great guys giving us advice. ”
Mycroft will be moving to Kansas City if it claims a win at the LaunchKC competition during Techweek Kansas City, Montgomery said. The grants contest will distribute $500,000 via 10, $50,000 non-dilutive grants during a live presentation Friday in Union Station.
To learn more about Mycroft, check out the video below.