SAN FRANCISCO—High tech incubators have been around a long time, but Salesforce.com has added a few significant wrinkles that seem well-suited to its goal of expanding its Customer Relationship Management ecosystem.
Salesforce hosted a kind of open house for the 14 startups that just moved into the incubator space earlier this week. The incubator is housed in an existing Salesforce facility where Heroku (its cloud Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), SalesforeIQ and Steelbricks teams are also based.
A couple of unique aspects of the incubator include the fact that the participants don't pay anything to use the facility and Salesforce isn't getting a financial stake in any of the companies. Independent incubators typically charge for services either for a set fee or for a stake in the companies that operate there.
Also, unlike what is typically an open-ended arrangement, the Salesforce incubator is a limited-time engagement. Salesforce selects the participants from a group of applicants who are offered a five-month engagement at the facility and services.
"The initial group is focused on Software-as-a-Service companies and the next group in April, 2017 will be more about [artificial intelligence], although two of the companies here now also do AI," Julia Barrett, global program director for Salesforce startups, told eWEEK.
Barrett notes that Salesforce already offers extensive supports for startups and Salesforce app developers online and she expects graduates of the incubator program will stay involved and become mentors to new participants. In fact Salesforce has been organizing successive classes of incubators for years.
Several incubator participants told eWEEK they liked the 5 month engagement terms because they think it will keep them focused and motivated. The offerings range from companies still at a prototype stage to those with established Fortune 500 customers.
One ambitious startup called Nova says it uses AI to help Salesforce customers create a personalized email to prospective clients in as little as 20 seconds.
"You tell the program who you want to contact and we look at things like the social feeds and public records of the person to find out their interests. It's a data driven process that takes 20 seconds instead of 20 minutes," said Nova CEO Will Dinkel.
While Nova already has customers, another startup, Quarrio, is at the prototype stage and hopes to have a pre-release beta test version of its service available for select customers to try by the end of this year. Quarrio gives Salesforce users easier access to things such as customer information via the phone.
"Imagine you're driving to a client meeting and being able to just use your phone to ask, 'Tell me what happened at the last meeting.' Or 'Are there any outstanding support issues with this client?' And the system responds to you in English," KG Charles Harris, CEO of Quarrio told eWeek. He said Quarrio is also intelligent enough to answer follow-on questions without having to start a whole new query.
The other companies are a mix of Software-as-a-Service vendors and two system integrators. CodeScience aims to help independent software vendors (ISVs) develop and add artificial intelligence and natural language processing to their applications. The other system integrator, Keste, works on helping companies implement the Salesforce Lightning interface and Communities services to help them connect with their customers in new ways.
Another incubator participant, Wootric, offers a feedback platform designed to let companies better evaluate and improve customer experience with their products. "The customer experience is the last competitive battleground and we offer a way for you to get constant feedback," Deepa Subramanian, CEO and cofounder of Wootric, told eWEEK.
Wootric says it already has customers in over 75 countries. It plans to use its time in the incubator to focus on salesforce integration and echoing comments by others at the event, to learn from the other incubator participants.
A blog post announcing the incubator includes descriptions and links to all 14 incubator participants.
The incubator's startup lineup is consistent with what Salesforce described in June when it announced formation of the incubator and opened up the application process with an expectation the facility would be up and running by the end of 2016.
In addition to the incubator, Salesforce Ventures, the company's investment group, has invested in over 150 enterprise cloud startups in 14 countries.