While not known yet if Amazon will end up locating its second headquarters in the Boston area, there’s one thing that’s certain: the Seattle tech giant sees the region as an important resource for talent, as well as potential acquisitions and investments.
On Tuesday night, multiple news outlets reported that Amazon plans to lease an 18-story building in Boston’s Seaport District that will have a capacity for 2,000 or more employees. The lease also includes an option for up to 4,000 employees by 2025. In return, Amazon and its developer, WS Development, are seeking up to $10 million in city property tax breaks for adding 4,000 jobs in that time frame, The Boston Globe reported. The company had previously announced plans to open an office in Fort Point for 900 employees.
Amazon already has 1,200 employees in the Boston area between its Kendall Square office in Cambridge and WeWork’s Back Bay location, Boston Business Journal reported. But that’s less than half of the roughly 3,000 people Amazon employs total in Massachusetts, which also includes the company’s fulfillment centers in Stoughton and Fall Rivers, according to a source close to Amazon’s operations. The corporate employees in Boston and Cambridge work on Audible, Alexa and Amazon Web Services, among other things.
Beyond Amazon’s core operations, the company also has a presence here through four acquisitions that were made over the course of 20 years. The venture capital arm for Amazon’s Alexa voice service, the Alexa fund, has made two investments in Boston.
Jeff Bezos, the company’s CEO and founder, is no stranger to the Boston area. According to a Boston Business Journal story from last fall, Bezos has built social ties in Boston, including with those in the robotics sector. Through Bezos Expeditions, the man was an early investor in Rethink Robotics. He also reportedly invested in iRobot before it went public.
Here’s a look at Amazon’s acquisition and investment activities in Boston:
Blink was an Andover-based home security startup that began in 2009 as a computer chip maker called Immedia Semiconductor. After making failed attempts to sell its chip to video conferencing vendors and laptop makers, Immedia decided to use its proprietary chip to make the Blink security camera, which is wireless and can last on a single pair of AA batteries for two years. According to a Reuters story, Blink’s early traction and its proprietary hardware led Amazon to acquire the company for $90 million in December 2017. Blink had raised about $20 million in funding from investors, including Flybridge Capital Partners and Comcast Ventures.
Kiva Systems became known as Amazon Robotics after the Seattle company acquired the North Reading-based robotics startup for $775 million in March 2012. The company makes an automated order-fulfillment system that uses package-carrying robots in distribution centers. Following its acquisition, Amazon eventually became the sole user of Kiva’s robots, effectively cutting off its other ecommerce customers and creating a new market for robotics startups in the warehouse and logistics space. Founded in 2002, Kiva had raised more than $33 million in capital, mostly from Bain Capital Ventures.
Founded in 1996, PlanetAll provided a web-based address book, calendar and reminder service in the early days of the World Wide Web. The Cambridge-based company’s technology was appealing enough for Amazon to acquire PlanetAll and a Sunnyvale, Calif.,-based company called Junglee Corp. in 1998 for a deal that was worth $280 million at the time. Information on how much funding PlanetAll had raised is not available, but the company’s investors included Lycos, Puma Technology and CMG Ventures.
Sqrrl was a Cambridge-based cybersecurity startup that was founded in 2012 by a group of ex-National Security Agency workers and other former federal employees. The company’s software can detect, investigate and visualize advanced security threats in large sets of data. That made the company a good fit for Amazon Web Services, which acquired Sqrrl in December 2017 for an undisclosed amount. The company had raised a total of roughly $28.5 million from investors, including Accomplice, Matrix Partners and Rally Ventures. As of June 2017, the company had approximately 50 employees.
Dragon Innovation was a Boston-based hardware consulting firm that had raised capital from the Amazon Alexa Fund, Flybridge Capital Partners and other investors before it was acquired by one of the company’s partners, Avnet, in August 2017. Dragon has acted as a consultant for some well-known hardware companies, including MarketBot and Pebble, Xconomy reported. One of the company’s co-founders was Scott Miller, who was previously an executive at iRobot and is a partner at hardware-focused venture capital firm Bolt.
Vesper is a Boston startup with roots at the University of Michigan, where co-founders Bobby Littrell and Karl Grosh developed a tiny microphone that is both dirt- and water-resistant, as well as low-power. The result is a microphone that is ripe for use in the growing number of voice-enabled devices entering the market, especially products that may end up in harsher environments. The company raised a $15 million Series A round in December 2016 from investors, including the Amazon Alexa Fund, local venture capital firms Accomplice and Hyperplane, and Miraenano Tech. As BostInno reported in February, the company is in talks with multiple strategic and financial investors for its next round.