Microsoft is helping startups to build, grow, and scale
2023-07-31Microsoft is helping startups to build, grow, and scale
Microsoft runs several programmes and initiatives to help customers and partners build, grow, and scale their business using Microsoft technology.
Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub
In 2022, the company launched the Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub. This is a fully digital-lead platform that allows any founder to access a range of benefits as they progress through different stages – from idea to product validation to market fit and then to the growth stage.
“We spent a lot of time understanding what the startup needed to be successful, especially when they’re just getting started,” said Lene Van der Borght, Startup Business Lead, Microsoft UK. “Based on a bunch of feedback from thousands of entrepreneurs across the world, across a wide range of backgrounds, we created Founders Hub as a programme to address the most common challenges that startups face.”
The benefits this programme brings are centred around three key areas:
1. Unlocking innovation for everyone
The platform was designed to eliminate the traditional barriers that founders face when they are getting started, such as venture capital requirements and third-party validation. Microsoft’s ambition is to make the global startup ecosystem more representative of the world at large, regardless of their background, location, progress, or passion.
“We also know that having access to a diverse network to help validate ideas, get advice and coaching is instrumental to a startup’s success,” notes Van der Borght. “This is something we aim to provide every founder through the hub.”
2. Technology benefits and those that grow with the startup
Founders consistently have shared that the startup journey is unpredictable and is filled with uncertainty.
“We want to provide flexibility for startups to work with Microsoft as they shape their business with the platform,” said Van der Borght.
Startups can build their business at their own pace with up to $150,000 of Microsoft Azure credits. As their usage of the credits increases, they can unlock additional credits overtime.
For example, if you’re a founder that’s at the very early stage and you’re developing a prototype, Microsoft could provide you with $1,000 a year. If you use those credits in a few months, you can request more from within the platform and Microsoft will move you up to the next development stage at $5,500 for another year.
Besides Azure, Microsoft also provide free access to over $100,000 in very powerful development and productivity tools. So, things like GitHub Enterprise, Visual Studio, and Microsoft 365, which includes Office and Teams. The company recently launched a benefit for LinkedIn as well around talent, strategies, recruitment, and networking with investors and customers.
Startups in the programme can also access OpenAI APIs, and the launch of Azure OpenAI Service presents even more opportunities for startups to take advantage of the OpenAI offerings under the Microsoft umbrella and build using the next generation of AI services.
3. Access to expert guidance and skilling resources
Many successful entrepreneurs have shared that access to coaching and advice is a critical factor in hitting their next milestone. So, the Founders Hub connects founders with industry veterans and subject matter experts. This includes startup friendly training, both business and technical guidance and it integrates products like Microsoft Learn, which is a learning and skilling platform, and they get access to 1:1 technical advisory as well.
ISV success programme
If you’re slightly later stage and starting to think about how you can scale your solution quickly, how you can access and acquire new customers, and ultimately how you can secure future growth, then Van der Borght really recommends checking out the ISV Success Programme.
This programme is designed to help software vendors take the next step with building or integrating their application, publishing it to Marketplaces, and growing sales through Go To Market strategies.
Similar to Founders Hub, the programme offers a generous benefits package from credits, subscriptions, skilling tools, technical advisory hours, and business enablement services.
“We typically see this resonate with Series C startups and above, and a lot of the software companies we work with have come out of Founders Hub and are now looking for ways to get their solution out in the market at scale,” said Van der Borght.
The application process
The good news is the application process is simple. All you have to do is go to startups.microsoft.com, click sign up, and then you go through a 10-minute application form.
The programme is open to all founders and startups that are engaged in the development of a software-based product or service. You can’t have gone through a Series D or later funding round. If that’s the case, the ISV success programme is probably a better fit. Your startup also needs to be privately-held and not have been previously enrolled in one of Microsoft’s programmes.
From you submitting your application, the typical turnaround time is usually five to seven business days to find out if you’ve been accepted or not.
All round success
“We have just over 2,000 UK startups on the programme and there are a few companies that have had a fantastic journey that we’ve been super privileged to have been a part of,” said Van der Borght. “The companies range across a wide variety of fields, including fintech, climate tech, accessibility solutions, sustainability, and health. You name it – we’ve got everything.”
Live Tech Games, for example, is pioneering a new wave in mobile entertainment. They take familiar games like Rock, Paper, Scissors, and they put them into an app that provides a live gaming experience.
Microsoft’s programmes and Azure helped provide them a platform for their app that could scale up and down flexibly in line with their business needs.
meVitae is another example. Riham, the Founder, created the startup to use AI to help organisations eliminate bias in the recruitment process.
It helps companies build a more inclusive and diverse workforce. They’ve extended the reach of their solution to over 4,000,000 shoppers by being on the Microsoft Commercial Marketplace. They were also the first ever winner of the Microsoft Partner Pledge Impact Award – an accolade that shows their commitment to the programme and creating a solution for good.
Lastly, there’s Treeconomy. They are a climate tech startup that generates financial value from ecosystem services and natural capital. They joined the Founders Hub around two years ago. They then joined Microsoft’s AI for Sustainability programme last year to help accelerate the builder of their solutions. So, they really took advantage of the programme’s benefits, like the technical support that was given.
Overcoming challenging times, together
“To say it’s been a tough climate for [startups] would be an understatement,” said Van der Borght.
In 2022, many startups expected to be focused squarely on post-pandemic growth and most are now eyeing the threat of recession, managing the impact of persistent inflation, as well as dealing with political unrest, crises in supply chain, energy sourcing, funding challenges, digital skills, and more.
“These challenges are hitting early-stage businesses from lots of different directions,” notes Van der Borght. “They’re having to make really hard decisions, some almost treading the line between growth and survival of their business.
“Although it’s been tough, I am optimistic because technology works horizontally across every aspect of the economy. So, whilst the recession’s ongoing, I think the underlying sentiment of innovation continues to be dominant.
“However, technological advancements are accelerating so much faster than our ability to adapt, creating this skills gap, which is a longstanding problem for all UK businesses.”
Microsoft is committed to help address this challenge. It recently pledged to help 1.5 million people build tech careers and its Digital Skills Hub offers free information and assets for business leaders and employees on how to close the UK skills gap.
“There’s also a huge problem when it comes to funding and supporting diverse and underrepresented minority founders,” notes Van der Borght.
The State of European Tech report by Atomico in January highlighted that 87% of all VC funding in Europe is still raised by men-only funding teams. The proportion of funding raised by women-only teams has dropped from 3% to 1% since 2018.
“To help this, we want everyone to have the ability to access the resources and the support they need to succeed,” said Van der Borght.
Microsoft recently announced its collaboration with Impact-X Venture Studio to accelerate underrepresented tech startups to help solve some of these problems. The initiative will make tools and funding available and aim to rebalance the investment for underrepresented groups.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Startups Magazine. Click here to subscribe