Although Microsoft has been putting on its ThinkNext event in Israel for six years already, the event has come to symbolize its recently articulated strategic vision: moving from a software company to a device and services company.
“Think of ThinkNext as a combination of TED and Tech- Crunch destruct,” Zack Weisfeld, head of Microsoft Ventures EMEA, told The Jerusalem Post.
“It’s not the usual startup pitch contest.”
Indeed, the event brings together specially selected startups, leaders in the tech community and venture-capital firms, set to the backdrop of keynote speakers discussing cutting- edge technology issues.
This year’s event, which took place Monday at the Tel Aviv Port, featured companies such as StoreDot, which invented a 30-second charging phone battery using “nanodots” derived from bio-organic material; and BioCatch, which uses biometric analysis to detects criminal online behavior.
The event included the first international demonstration of Microsoft’s new personal digital assistant Cortana, its answer to Apple’s Siri.
But why does Microsoft invest so much in events like ThinkNext and accelerators and entrenching itself in the tech ecosystem? As its business moves more toward services, such as cloud computing and big-data analysis, it is planting the seeds for a new generation of customers.
Israel contains one of three Microsoft R&D centers around the world, the other two being in China and India, and is also home to one of six official accelerators. It also has 103 innovation centers that work with early-stage entrepreneurs and has graduated some 85,000 startups through its BizSpark accelerator model.
Microsoft picks the top entrepreneurs in each ecosystem and works very closely with them, Weisfeld said.
Many of the startups that make their way through Microsoft’s ecosystem “come out with a very strong affinity to Microsoft, and some of them pick up and use its technologies.”
“We look at them as big companies starting small,” he said. “Our enterprise companies are not adopting at the rate that these startups are.”
In other words, Microsoft’s strategy is to help startups that will continue to use its services as they grow into major companies.