What’s Microsoft for startups?
Microsoft for Startups is a $500 million project that helps early-stage companies developing cloud-based software solutions to get their companies off the ground.
The program provides funding, offers marketing and technology advice, and simplifies sales processes. In essence, it’s an accelerator, which is a program offering intensive guidance and support to a startup for a set period. Usually, it’s for three months.
The purpose of an accelerator is to supercharge your early-stage company’s growth so that it can reach its full potential sooner rather than later. Accelerators often help a startup move quickly through its evolutionary stages, minimizing the risks it faces on its journey to becoming a viable company.
All this is a dramatic change from the Microsoft of years ago that was seen as out of the loop with the entrepreneurial community. The program doesn’t only benefit startups - by hanging out with founders, Microsoft benefits from a healthy infusion of entrepreneurial energy which helps it remain on the leading edge of innovation.
To answer the question posed by this article, yes, Microsoft for Startups really can work. Read on to learn more about the difference between a startup and an accelerator, what the benefits of Microsoft for Startups are, and the five steps in the application process.
What’s the difference between an accelerator and an incubator?
Accelerators provide early-stage companies that already have a minimum viable product (MVP) with the education, resources, and mentorship they need to compress years of growth into a few short months.
There are now over 7,000 accelerators worldwide, with over 200 in the US alone. The most famous of them all is Y Combinator, which helped to launch over 2,000 companies.
Incubators, on the other hand, typically start earlier in the process by helping founders refine their business idea so they can build their company from the ground up.
Does Microsoft for Startups really work?
Microsoft for Startups has taken the startup ecosystem by storm. It has launched dozens of companies in a few short years, creating tens of millions of dollars in value.
Zach Weisfield started Microsoft for Startups as a way of helping to create successful startup experiences. He spent 27 years both as a startup founder and investor in early-stage companies.
After spending considerable time listening to startup owners, he pitched an idea to his Microsoft bosses. The idea was to start an accelerator to help struggling early-stage companies capitalize on the talent for innovation that the corporate behemoth is famous around the world for.
The first Microsoft Accelerator opened in Tel Aviv, Israel. There are now Microsoft Accelerators in Bangalore, Beijing, Berlin, London, Seattle, and Shanghai.
Over 650 companies are alumni of the program, raising approximately $3 billion in venture capital cash. Advisors hold CEO dilemma sessions at each accelerator. Founders can discuss problems all startups struggle with, including what to do if co-founders aren't carrying their weight or how to hire your first sales professionals.
Tania Yuki, CEO of Sharablee, had this to say: “Going through Microsoft Accelerator opened doors to the Microsoft organization as well as many others because of being a channel partner, and it shed light on the focus for innovation and fast iteration that is the hallmark of many of the Microsoft teams.”
Microsoft for Startups helps startups in every stage. For example, Microsoft Reactor is a physical space where founders, developers, and investors can come together to interact, learn, and share. Microsoft ScaleUp offers Series A startups a chance to hone their entrepreneurial infrastructure. Microsoft Ventures is Microsoft’s venture capital investment team which funds the startups lucky enough to be part of the program.
There are hundreds of successful graduates of the program who couldn’t have been happier with the results they achieved. It’s safe to say that Microsoft for Startups can really work and has the potential to significantly boost the chances of your startup succeeding.
What are the benefits of Microsoft for Startups?
Working with Microsoft for Startups can provide you with the crucial connections you’ll need to get your company off the ground. These connections will help you learn from past startups' mistakes, teach you how to pitch your idea, and instruct you in the fine art of fund-raising cycles.
Microsoft for Startups gives you access to seasoned entrepreneurs, one of whom might become a trusted mentor. These individuals can help you finetune your product, hone your business model, and hook you up with investors hungry for a new business opportunity.
You'll get connected with subject-matter experts in your field who will likely be happy to help you achieve superb product/market fit and develop a killer go-to-market plan. Creative problem solvers within your industry will point out the flaws in your idea so you can strive to make it better.
Mentors can also provide you with the emotional support you’ll need to make your entrepreneurial journey a little less arduous.
Microsoft Marketplace functions as the intermediary between startups and the companies startups are selling to. This can be a great solution because startups can use it to streamline the sales process, and don’t need to vet first-time vendors or establish new relationships from scratch.
Some additional benefits of the program, depending on eligibility, may include:
- Two years of free Azure cloud access ($120,000 value)
- Visual Studio Enterprise cloud subscription
- Office 365 Business Premium
- Dynamics 365 for Customer Engagement and Talent
- Enterprise-grade Azure support
- NDA roadmap briefings
- 1:1 consultations
- Architectural design sessions
- Customized six-month go-to-market plan
- Dedicated marketplace onboarding support desk
- Marketplace listing optimization
- Sales enablement
- Dedicated success manager
- Bi-directional lead sharing with sales teams
The Azure cloud access is a particularly robust benefit because it makes it easier for startups to enter the market and reduces their upfront investment.
The Microsoft for Startups application process
The first step is to go to the official Microsoft for Startups website and apply.
It’s often exceedingly difficult to get accepted by an accelerator, with only 1 to 3% of startups making the final cut. If you want to buck the trend, you will usually need to be exceptionally clear and concise about the immense value your company offers the world and why you're so excited about your idea.
Remember, passion is contagious. Don’t merely list product features when filling out your application. Instead, aim to state more compelling benefits.
Describe how your team’s background and skills led you to a unique market insight on which to build a successful business, and why your team is the right one to grow and scale the enterprise. Applications that are too wordy or are stuffed to the gills with the latest buzzwords will likely get rejected.
Accelerators such as Microsoft for Startups usually offer seed money in exchange for equity in your company. This funding can be as much as $120,000, so it can be a wise move to make sure you do whatever you need to do to obtain this cash.
Follow the program
Microsoft for Startup participation gives you access to mentorship opportunities, workshops, and seminars. This will help you sharpen your entrepreneurial skills to a razor-sharp edge.
Take advantage of networking opportunities
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to network with peers and potential investors as a member of Microsoft for Startups. Fellow alumni might even become the most invaluable members of your network. So, make sure you build a robust network of connections that will serve you well once you’re done with the program.
Make a splash on demo day
The Microsoft for Startups program ends with an official graduation ceremony where you’ll pitch your business idea to investors. Put together 15 to 20 pitch deck slides that’ll knock the socks off potential backers.
How hard is it to get accepted into Microsoft for Startups?
Because of a rigorous application process, it can be a little challenging to get accepted into the program.
However, it can be well worth the effort because if they accept you, you could potentially accomplish in three months what might take other companies years.
To get accepted, you must have more than a vague idea—you'll need either an actual product or, at the very least, a prototype. Your startup must also:
- Offer an innovative solution that helps customers make a digital shift
- Have existed for less than 5 years
- Have less than $10M in total annual revenue
- Be in a Seed or Series A stage
- Have no more than $20M in funding
How to tell if Microsoft for Startups is right for you
Accelerators such as Microsoft for Startups aren’t suitable for every founder. It can be helpful to talk to other entrepreneurs who went through the program you’re considering to help you make a final decision.
An accelerator might be good for you if you:
- Are free to relocate for three to six months
- Can afford to spend 100% of our time working on your startup
- Are okay with a small seed round
- Have the ability to flourish in a high-pressure environment
- Have more than one founder on your startup team
Before joining an accelerator, ensure it’s a good fit for your company. Does it have investors that will be a good match? What percentage of graduates go on to receive sizable funding rounds?
Accelerate your startup with the right talent
If you’re thinking about joining Microsoft for Startups, a great place to start is by reaching out to Hunt Club.
We can help you hire a team that’ll not only increase your chances of getting accepted into the program but that also helps catapult your startup to the next evolutionary stage of its journey.
We’re a full-cycle recruiter - this means we can take over every aspect of the hiring process for you, including:
- Searching talent networks for qualified candidates
Reach out to Hunt Club to get started today!