Microsoft accelerator program 370.
(photo credit: Niv Elis)
After two years of self-financed “bootstrap” funding for the startup Cell
Mining, which uses crowd-sourcing information to optimize cellular networks,
founder Greg Snipper, 52, tried something new and enrolled in the Microsoft
Ventures Accelerator program.
At the end of four months, Snipper’s
company acquired an investment of $2.5 million, the first of the 10 graduate
companies to do so. “It says quite a lot because we improved our performance and
marketing,” he said, presenting his company during a showcase at the culmination
of the program.
An initiative of Microsoft, the Accelerator program began
a year and a half ago to provide companies on the cutting edge of innovation, mentorship, business development and connections to a global
Starting from the Microsoft technology park in Herzliya, the
program is now global with branches in Bangalore, Beijing and Berlin. A pilot
program has started in London, and two other programs are being developed in
Moscow and Paris.
According to Zack Weisfeld, the senior director for
European Microsoft Ventures, very few other program achieves such results.
119 startups going through the program,” he said, “out of which seven have been
acquired already by different companies around the world, 25 percent have raised
more than $2 million, and on average, 84 percent of the startups that graduated
from our program raise funding. The average is about $1 million [in Israel.]”
According to Microsoft Accelerator director Hanan Lavy, the program began as a way
for Microsoft to become “part of the conversation” with the startups community and eco-system.
“As part of being a player, we get all these startups to look at
Microsoft as a favorable company to work with,” he said. “We learn from them
about issues of our services… we can see how the real world is working with our
products, so we get all this feedback into our R&D product team to make our
services even better.”
On Tuesday, at Tel Aviv’s Gesher Theater, the most
recent graduating companies included: KitLocate, which developed software to
help companies manage their location-based services smartly, with one of their
biggest selling points combatting battery drain; and ConferPlace, which is the
first platform to put the conference experience online, enabling users to take
part in any event in the world without leaving their desk.
access to mentors and experts is a large draw for entrepreneurs, many of whom
come with years of experience in the professional world but seek more meaningful
and productive connections.
“We had our doubts at the beginning,” said
Jonathon Mor, 30, of Metal Compass, whose mobile-gaming technology interfaces
with innovation of new gaming products. “We weren’t sure if it would be useful
for the company because we already started to sell this product in many places.
We thought that maybe our company was too mature to go into the Accelerator, but
I think that any startup can benefit.”
Hundreds of companies apply for
about a dozen spaces. Ventures are vetted on three factors: vision, opportunity
for investment and the people involved.
“Founders that know everything,
they don’t really need us,” Lavy said, adding that “coachability” is an
important factor in determining who will be accepted.
For vision, Lavy
said they are looking for ventures that have identified a “pain” in the market,
devising a solution to an inefficiency that targets a lot of people or organizations worldwide.
“We want to get companies that have a big vision so they can grow
into a $1 billion company,” he said.
For Cell Mining, Snipper struggled
in marketing his company to investors, even though he knew the technology was
“It’s a very engineering software,” he said. “We didn’t give too
much attention to how we look – not our website, not our graphics, not our
interface of the software. It says quite a lot because we improved our
performance. We got good responses from the market and are now participating in
two POCs [proof of concept] in Europe and Asia.”
The benefits of the
Accelerator program, Snipper said, were the funding and mentorship, helping Cell
Mining take their idea and build it up to the international market.
I saw over here was how to promote a dream,” he said.