USA – Microsoft has closed on its approximately US$16 billion acquisition of speech recognition company Nuance after surmounting regulatory hurdles, Economic Times reports.

The deal, announced last year, allows Microsoft Corp. to gain a stronger foothold in hospitals and the health care industry by utilizing Nuance’s widely used medical dictation and transcription tools.

The acquisition is Microsoft’s second-largest, following the US$26 billion purchase of LinkedIn in 2016.

Nuance’s artificial intelligence technology helped power Apple’s Siri digital voice assistant upon its release on iPhones more than a decade ago.

Since then, the Burlington, Massachusetts-based company has shifted its focus to physicians and other niche applications for its Dragon line of voice recognition tools.

Although Nuance is best known for its work in the healthcare vertical, it also has a presence in a number of the other top verticals targeted by Microsoft, including financial services, retail and telecommunications.

Microsoft plans to use Nuance’s technology to build out more “vertically optimized AI” solutions.

Microsoft announced its acquisition of the company in April 2021, but faced a setback in December when British antitrust regulators announced an investigation into whether it would result in a “substantial lessening of competition” in the U.K. market.

Accordingly, the British agency announced that the transaction had been approved. The CMA said in a statement that it found no evidence that when combined that the two companies would have an adverse impact on competition in the healthcare transcription market where Nuance has primarily operated.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has found that the anticipated acquisition by Microsoft Corporation of Nuance Communications, Inc. does not give rise to a realistic prospect of a substantial lessening of Competition.

The merger was separately cleared later in December by regulators in the European Union, which Britain left in 2020.

According to the EU’s top antitrust authority, Microsoft and Nuance “offer very different products” and will face fierce competition in their respective markets.

Microsoft kept shopping this year, announcing in January that it would spend nearly US$70 billion to acquire video game maker Activision Blizzard.

Mark Benjamin will continue to serve as CEO of Nuance and report to Scott Guthrie, the head of Microsoft’s cloud computing and AI division.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has announced new initiatives to help 10,000 African startups grow faster.

The initiatives will be managed by Microsoft’s newly formed Africa Transformation Office (ATO), and will see the company accelerate its investment in Africa’s startup ecosystem over the next five years.

The ATO will now make Microsoft’s recently launched global Founders Hub available to African startups.

The Hub is a self-service hub that connects startups to a variety of resources, such as mentors, skilling content, tools like Microsoft Azure and GitHub, and go-to-market and business support.

The Hub offers startups the opportunity to sell to Microsoft’s corporate and enterprise customers. Microsoft will also help startups with geo-expansion activities, which will allow them to scale up by selling in new countries or regions.

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