Empowering Startups To Do More

Steven Guggenheimer, Corporate Vice President and Chief Evangelist, Microsoft Developer Experience and Evangelism

Zack Weisfeld, General Manager of Microsoft, Ventures Global Accelerators

As we head into the new cohorts for our Microsoft Ventures Accelerators around the world, it’s a good time to reflect on our journey in this space.

The concept of accelerators came to life with the realization that startups need more than funding in order to grow. As it turns out, having a strong support network, mentorship, technical resources and an advice from someone who’s been there before is a catalyst for success. Microsoft’s ability to combine software development knowledge and corporate resources along with the desire to have a more direct interaction with the community, led us to become an active player in the accelerator space – with our own accelerators and by partnering with 3rd party accelerators.

When we started the program 3 years ago, we decided to test our hypothesis before scaling it further, so the first accelerator was opened in Israel, the Startup Nation. Today we have some of the most vibrant accelerators around the world including Berlin, London, Paris, Seattle, Bangalore, Beijing and Tel Aviv. Our accelerator program is tailor-made to suit the needs of each startup because the success of our program is a reflection on the success of our startups. With 80% of our graduates raising follow-on funding at an average funding of $2.6M, 16 exits and 1 IPO to date, we believe we are making a difference and helping startups do more.

This contribution to the ecosystem resonates with the recognition of excellence 3 of our accelerators received recently.  Our Bangalore accelerator was recognized by the Economic Times as the top program of the year in the incubator/accelerator category; our Beijing accelerator was picked by China Venture Group as the top incubator in the country; and our Israeli accelerator won the Geektime award and was named the top accelerator in Israel.

In addition to running our own programs, we are also partnering with other accelerators across the globe by sharing the knowledge and learnings we’ve assembled over the years. Just recently, Hanan Lavy, the director of the Israeli accelerator, conducted a workshop on customer development for twelve startup companies working out of 1871 in Chicago. Neta Haiby-Weiss, our Global CTO in Residence, traveled to Estonia last fall to share her knowledge and insights with B2B startups at the leading accelerator in Central Eastern Europe, Startup Wise Guys. In the Valley, our engineers will be working side-by-side with YCombinator startups next week during “Microsoft Day”.

But it’s not just about startups. We also care deeply about student entrepreneurs. At last year’s Imagine Cup, the winning team in the Innovation category was awarded a month-long experience in one of our accelerator locations. Team Estimeet from New Zealand is currently in London, building their company and learning from other startups in the network. These are just a few ways we support the success of startups and entrepreneurs together.

We are always looking to work with teams building the next great company. No matter where they are located in the world, we have the ability to help startups grow their business and compete in global markets. Our focus isn’t about getting a return on investment, or even about adoption of our technology. Our startup programs are tech agnostic, though we have amazing tools and services that are tailored for startups.

Here are a few examples from our 338 graduates on how the program is benefiting their journey:

One of the companies that recently graduated from our Seattle Accelerator, Playtabase, started with helping a family member who was working through a medical issue. They were looking for a way to bring gesture controls to the things around them to help make their world more accessible and that is when they developed Reemo. They started with a simple concept of creating a tool to help interact with all of the technology that surrounds us, from lighting and home security to entertainment and climate control. During the program, our engineers actively worked on their back-end on Azure platform and the industrial design team provided critical feedback that accelerated their path to market. 

        

London-based Irish startup Von Bismark is a Kinect-backed virtual shopping mall helping apparel retailers bring their digital inventory into smaller retail spaces. The solution not only allows businesses to reach new customers at scale but let’s busy shoppers try on and purchase inventory on the fly. They’re launching The Mall on Xbox One in May, which will allow all Xbox One users at home to purchase clothing through their app. Starting this summer, travelers waiting for their flights at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 will be able to interact, try on and purchase clothing from high-end street brands through their technology. The partnership between Von Bismark and Heathrow was the result of leveraging our existing connections with the airport. With over 80 million travelers expected to pass through Heathrow annually, that’s scale!

Another example is the story of Boaz Hecht and Itay Braun, two entrepreneurs that started working with us through our BizSpark program looking for technology resources for their company. They are co-founders of SkyGiraffe, a SaaS platform that helps businesses deploy enterprise-grade mobile applications on any device immediately and without the need for writing code. Later on they were accepted into our Microsoft Ventures Accelerator Tel Aviv program where they found the support to scale their business through introductions to Fortune 500s.

Asked about what value Microsoft brought them, Boaz shared “Microsoft for us as a business, they bring us customers. And that’s the #1 goal as a startup because that’ the most difficult to get.”

        

Another Israeli startup from our very first batch, AppsFlyer, a mobile apps measurement platform, recently raised $20 million in their latest round of investments. In China, more than 90% of graduates from our Beijing program have already obtained a new round of financing, with a total valuation of over $1.6 billion. The stories go on.

We see running startup programs to help entrepreneurs grow and scale as an important role to play as a global corporation and a tech company. We want to see startups thrive and help entrepreneurial ecosystems grow everywhere.

We believe startups matter. Innovation will come from people who are trying to do more and we want to be there with them, supporting them in every step of the way.