IBM takes stakes in in WayBlazer, Sellpoints to advance Watson-powered apps in online travel and shopping

IBM on Wednesday said it had invested in WayBlazer and Sellpoints to advance the online travel and shopping apps powered by Watson, without disclosing any financial details. 

The stake acquisition is a part of IBM's $100-million commitment to drive new innovations and business solutions that build on Watson, a cognitive system enabling a new partnership between people and computers.

The investments follow the company's recent investments in Modernizing Medicine and Pathway Genomics.

WayBlazer, a travel search and discovery company, is applying the power of cognitive computing to redefine how consumers plan, personalize and purchase travel. WayBlazer's Discovery Engine uses Watson technology to absorb massive amounts of data, while linking places, offers, and preferences, with social, cultural and economic data for recommendations tailored to each consumer.

The company is led by industry visionary Terry Jones who founded Travelocity and was founding chairman of Kayak.  The IBM investment is part of a $5-million Series A funding round for WayBlazer.

Sellpoints, a provider of e-commerce and customer engagement solutions, has introduced Natural Selection, a new app powered by IBM Watson that helps users to better understand individual shopper preferences and intent.

Instead of complicated questions or surveys, the app allows consumers to ask questions in natural language, quickly returning a set of relevant and personalized offers in just two taps or clicks.

For example, when a shopper searches for a product, such as ''My second grader needs help learning math basics,'' the app returns product results sorted by relevance, increasing conversion rates for the retailer.

To this end, Sellpoints is developing a new shopping experience with Nicole Miller which will allow consumers to leverage Watson to discover collections that are suitable for their needs.  IBM's investment is part of a $7.5 million Series C funding round for Sellpoints.

''IBM is committed to helping our partners accelerate the development and delivery of Watson enabled apps into market where we see endless opportunities for cognitive computing to transform entire industries,'' said Stephen Gold, vice president, IBM Watson.  ''WayBlazer and Sellpoints are terrific examples of how cognitive computing technology can be used to help organizations redefine customer engagement and drive much deeper, meaningful and relevant consumer experiences.''

On average, consumers explore 20 or more websites to research destinations, flights, hotels, and activities, while weighing personal preferences and insights from social networks, online review sites and more.

Using the cognitive power of IBM Watson, WayBlazer is developing intelligent discovery solutions that deliver contextual, personalized advice and insights for consumers across all phases of travel, from inspiration to transaction – transforming the way travelers seek advice with a trusted travel discovery experience that can be individualized for every user, every time.

''This is yet another exciting milestone in our journey with Watson to transform the way travelers seek advice,'' said Felix Laboy, CEO of WayBlazer. ''We're honoured that IBM and our other investors are committed to helping us grow our catalog of offerings and customer base in an effort to further establish WayBlazer as the industry's most robust online travel advisor.

The online shopping experience can be just as, if not more, time consuming as booking an international trip. By using the power of Watson's cognitive computing capabilities, Sellpoints' Natural Selection app empowers consumers to find relevant products in two simple clicks, eliminating nearly 60 percent of the clicks in traditional product selectors.

''From our first involvement in the Watson Ecosystem last year, to this new investment milestone, there's a bright future ahead for us to redefine the online shopping experience,'' said Brian O'Keefe, CEO, Sellpoints. ''With the natural language and cognitive computing capabilities of Watson, we're able to deliver a more personalized, relevant and enjoyable experience, and drive a much deeper level of engagement with customers.''

IBM continues to advance and invest in Watson as a core technology and open cloud development platform and has welcomed more than 270 new commercial partners to the Watson Ecosystem.

The company delivers this innovation through the Watson Zone on Bluemix, a digital innovation hub that enables developers to tap into Watson services and rapidly build, deploy and manage apps across any combination of public, private and hybrid cloud.  Tens of thousands of developers, entrepreneurs, data hobbyists, students and others have already built thousands of apps, generating up to 3B monthly API requests.

To encourage innovation, IBM is pursuing direct investments in organizations that are developing new cognitive apps and services powered by Watson.

IBM's previous investments include Modernizing Medicine, a provider of specialty-specific electronic medical records (EMR) systems, Pathway Genomics, a clinical laboratory that offers genetic testing services, and Welltok, an industry leader in health optimization solutions.