Inside MSVA #2: Meet the cohorts

Last Thursday night we were back in Whitechapel, for another networking session at Microsoft Ventures’ offices, featuring a keynote speech from Zack Weisfeld, Head of the Microsoft’s Global Accelerator Program, and a Q&A with 4 more of the founders whose companies have made it onto the current program.

Inside MSVA, as the series is called, is a fascinating event. Since running its first program in London just over a year ago, Microsoft Ventures has become one of the best known accelerators in Tech City, gaining column inches, sponsoring events, and, of course, organising events such as this.

We at Hipsters, Hackers & Hustlers love running events for Microsoft; they are always great hosts and their profile, the kind of people that they want to attract, is similar to ours, although for different reasons. Once again the place was packed with enthusiastic entrepreneurial types, founders and wannabe founders, techies and a coding genius or two, no doubt (when will someone invent the genius detector app, please!). The obligatory beer and pizza did its usual job of helping to break the ice and keep energy levels high.

But first the audience gathered in the lecture theatre, where they were greeted by representatives of Microsoft’s accelerator programs from Berlin, China, Paris, India and Israel. After Diane Perlman, UK Start-up lead for MSVA, had reminded us all of Microsoft’s 78% success rate of accelerator alumni going on to receive funding, average figure $1.5m, with 15 exits, and compared the MSVA experience to doing handbrake turns in a rally car with a trusted co-pilot (moral, we all need expert guidance if we want to take risks in life), it was time to hear from Zack, and the companies themselves.

Zack spoke briefly about the MSVA’s “3 Pillars” philosophy; namely Bizspark, the free tools and tech every accelerator company is given access to, the Global Microsoft community that companies become a part of, and the Worldwide Accelerator Footprint, featuring over 230 ex-alumni with unique responsibilities, and a unique bond, having undergone the intensive 14 week program, which Zack describes as “a 14 week, mini entrepreneurship MBA”.

Next we heard from 4 companies from MSVA’s current cohort, during a lively Q&A session hosted by Zack and with questions coming from the audience. I’ll give you a very brief summary:

Art GuruArt Guru: Marco, the Italian founder of Art Guru, has developed a set of audio guides which you can download and use in galleries, museums, or on the streets of a foreign city while you or your family are on holiday. Marco says the program has helped him to listen to his customers, discover flows and trends in his business that he was unaware of, and, having survived the dreaded “ripping apart” session, where your business is subjected to a hostile interrogation from MS gurus, all in the name of progress of course, and survived nearly being banned from the National Gallery for conducting too many impromptu interviews with visitors, he is going great guns. “Some of the things I have learned here, I just wish I had known 5 months ago!” says Marco, “although sometimes, when it is getting too intense, I just have to go and buy myself a beer”.

Tckty BoomTCKTYBOOM: Anna Marsh at TCKTYBOOM and her team are developing games for a specific demographic; women between the ages of 35-55, as research shows them to be the biggest target market in gaming! Anna and her team are all mothers, and she was quick to praise MSVA’s flexibility, allowing the team to SKYPE into meetings and work their schedules around the demands of raising young children. From a business perspective, the accelerator program has helped a team of self-confessed “geeks” be more forceful in their approach to market research, and more aggressive in their approach to sales, helping to turn rave reviews into company profits.

Space LoungesSpace Lounges: This Company features the incredible story of a 17 year old, James, who quit school to join the accelerator program. It was fascinating to hear from James, who displayed remarkable maturity when discussing his company, which hopes to build next generation coffee lounges in the UK’s high streets as town centre retail fights back post-recession. James praised the alumni network, and says facing down criticism has been one of the tougher challenges he has faced.

TriggerTrapTriggertrap: Have at Triggertrap is facing a different problem to the others. He has an established business which is on a downward spiral. He knows he can turn it around as he still has faith in his product, but he needed the wake-up call that MSVA has provided. Triggertrap helps you take better photos via a series of tips, apps, and accessories. “We were on the wrong track”, says Have, “Microsoft have got us reshaping our business, instead of chasing our tails”.

Zack also provided a snappy, 4 point answer to one audience member’s question about “what MS really get out of the program”.

  1. Every month there’s a billion dollar company founded somewhere in the world, we want to make sure we’re there when it happens
  2. We’re building long term trust and relationships
  3. We want to find the early adopters who can help us develop our technology
  4. Microsoft is no longer just a software company; it’s a services company, now, too, and its adapting accordingly

There you have it, all that, (plus did I mention the free beer and pizza), in just under 3 hours. Efficient, effective, super helpful. If anyone in Whitechapel worked harder or learned more on Thursday night, I’ll be round their offices Monday morning with a vesting schedule and a couple of copies of my NDA. MSVA truly is The Apprentice, with brains!

Seriously, we can’t wait for the next one, we’ll be there, come and chat to us, and hear from more amazing companies, mentors, and guest speakers.


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