This article is brought to you in association with Microsoft Ventures in India
Microsoft Ventures is a global initiative to help entrepreneurs build great companies. The objective is to work with startups at every stage of maturity to provide the tools, resources, and expertise they need to succeed. The initiative is broad-based, and includes a community program, accelerator, and a seed fund. Microsoft’s approach helps startups scale their business, bring innovative services to market and reach new customers.
The Accelerator Program of Microsoft Ventures in India is focused on enabling top entrepreneurs to launch their companies through an immersive 4-month program. They host 2 batches a year and each batch is taken through a rigorous bootcamp during which startups gain access to business mentors, technical and design experts, office space and resources to quickly scale their businesses. Microsoft and industry mentors provide startups with hands-on expertise in key areas —namely technology architecture, user experience/design, product roadmap, business model development and connections with early adopters.
Over the last three batches, 34 startups have graduated, and 82% of them have received average funding of $215k. The summer Batch of 2014, the last Batch at the Accelerator Program, had 17 startups. The applications for Batch 5 of the highly competitive Accelerator Program of Microsoft Ventures are pouring in large numbers. The last date for applying to the Batch 5 is June 10, 2014.
We interacted with Ravi Narayan, Director of Microsoft Ventures in India, who is responsible for the Accelerator Program in Bangalore, to gain further insights in the Accelerator Program. Ravi joined Microsoft recently from Mentor Partners, a Seed Fund based in Bangalore. Ravi has been an entrepreneur, mentor and investor for most of his career. He is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, and an MBA from the University of Southern California.
Edited excerpts of conversation with Ravi:
Insights from the 4 batches of accelerated startups and Microsoft Ventures’ key competencies
From our experience with the last 4 batches of startups at the Accelerator Program of Microsoft Ventures in India, we are getting more and more discernment of our own capabilities and also the capabilities of our partners. We reach out to VCs, other accelerators, incubators and ecosystem players to see which are the promising startups that will potentially reach their inflection point quickly.
We have taken in companies for acceleration that are very early stage, but primarily we are looking at companies that have some traction. Most of the companies coming to us have some form of customer validation, though not necessarily paying customers. We get companies that have a product in the market and that have achieved some technology validation. These are important elements to us that we can use as a springboard for the acceleration program.
We bring in these companies and partner with them to see what is working for them and what is not, and pour in resources to focus on the things that are important for their growth. This helps them accelerate a lot faster.
We don’t focus on a particular segment or sector. Our core competency is technology. We would definitely like to bring companies that we have the best ability to support and grow.
When choosing for the Accelerator Program, we look at startups’ needs and our abilities to help. Two biggest ways in which we have supported our Accelerator Program startups are in terms of technology enablement and customer access. Microsoft already has a very strong hold in both these areas. Because of Microsoft’s customer access throughout the world, we have the ability to utilize these access channels for startups for their market validation and also enhance their ability to gain further traction.
A lot of our partners refer startups to us. Our partners work with these startups when they are in their very early stages and get them to some level of maturity. If these startups are really ready to accelerate very fast and get on the global stage, we utilize our network to help them.
To ease the process for the startups joining the Accelerator Program of Microsoft Ventures at Bangalore, very active boarding and lodging support is provided. We take away all the logistics issues startups may face while shifting to a new city and and let them focus on what they are really here for.
Startups that Microsoft Ventures in India is excitedly looking forward to work with
Two sectors that are beginning to emerge in India are mobility and cloud. The kinds of application appearing in the mobility sector are phenomenal. The smartphone market is growing at an unexpected rate. India was considered a market that doesn’t have the capacity to buy smartphones but the predictions that Indian market will pick up slowly have all been proven wrong by the remarkable growth of smartphone usage in India. We see this as an opportunity not just to deliver different sets of services through mobile but also as a chance for us to innovate beyond what has already been done in other geographies.
The ability of startups, in the mobility sector, to host their applications on the cloud opens up a very large market. It gives them an opportunity to be global from day one. Our ability to deliver diverse kind of services to the global markets opens up because of cloud hosting.
We are also beginning to see early successes in the analytics sector in India, which is now attracting other markets to look at interesting analytics startups and data scientists from India.
Startups from nooks and corners of India are building products that are addressing global markets
We are quite fascinated by the kind of problems some startups are trying to solve. There is one startup from Bhopal, which has built an appointment application for the global markets. They are able to tap into half a million businesses across the globe while sitting in the middle of India, and this is amazing.
Very interesting startups are emerging from places that one would not expect – these are not the usual cities, the startup hubs or the metros but from the nooks and corners of India.
What makes the Accelerator Program at Microsoft Ventures different from other accelerators?
Other accelerators in the country are doing some very good work built around their core competencies. Accelerators at academic institutes bring in a lot of academic expertise, while other accelerators bring in their own sets of expertise.
Microsoft Ventures has taken a much broader approach and that’s very interesting for me. We don’t look at a particular space or particular problem area per se. We focus more on providing technology enablement to large problems that need to be solved. There are startups that are solving big problems with technology playing a huge role in their business models. We are very interested in working with such startups and supporting them in all ways possible.
We are currently going through applications for Batch 5 and there are some companies in the clean tech, education and healthcare space. On the surface they may look like they are not very technology enabled but the underpinnings of them are very technologically strong. At all the Microsoft Ventures offices globally, we are looking at enabling such companies to go to a global scale. We can help bring a broader and a global reach for startups.
The applications for the Batch 5 of the Accelerator Program are open till June 10 2014. Apply now!