Amazon's Alexa Fund Makes Its First Investment in a Prefab Homebuilder, Hoping to Make Alexa the Voice of Smart, Futuristic Homes

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Amazon's Alexa Fund Makes Its First Investment in a Prefab Homebuilder, Hoping to Make Alexa the Voice of Smart, Futuristic Homes 09.26.2018 20:39

Fortune.com 

By KEVIN KELLEHER 

September 25, 2018

Amazon has its fingers in many markets, and now we can add homebuilding to the list. On Tuesday, the ecommerce giant made its first-ever investment in a homebuilder through its Alexa Fund.

Amazon’s Alexa Fund, a $100 million fund investing in voice-activated technologies, was a marquee investor in a $6.7 million Series A funding round for Plant Prefab, a maker of prefabricated homes. Obvious Ventures, a VC firm founded by Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, also participated in the round.

Plant Prefab manufactures single and multifamily homes using sustainable materials. The company pitches itself as a low-cost homebuilding alternative in markets with housing shortages like the Bay Area. To date, the company has installed 26 housing units in California and Utah, including homes in cities affected by the 2017 Napa-area wildfires.

Amazon’s interest is not so much building new homes—as much as it would like to have more homes to ship its merchandise to—but smart homes. The Alexa Fund’s investment in Plant Prefab may be a way to get Amazon’s voice-activated gadgets into homes while they are being designed, rather than added in piecemeal as many Alexa users have done.

Last week, Amazon hosted an event that showcased its ambitions to make its Alexa voice technology a centerpiece of the smart home. In addition to redesigned Echo Dot, Amazon unveiled an Alexa-powered wall clock, an Alexa-powered in-car device, as well as smart plugs and a smart microwave.

Paul Bernard, director of the Alexa Fund, said in a statement that Plant Prefab caught Amazon’s attention because it makes “connected homes more accessible to customers and developers.” Alexa now powers 20,000 voice-activated, smart-home devices made by 3,500 different companies, he said.

By investing in homebuilders, Amazon has an opportunity to include Alexa in the very construction of smart homes. Home shoppers might soon tour a new house that’s advertised as “powered by Alexa.” Depending on whether you can’t wait for a fully-fledged smart home or dread the privacy concerns that the idea conjures up, that might or might not be a welcome feature.


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