Taking the fast track

The Microsoft Ventures Accelerator program has helped more than 100 selective startups.

Microsoft accelerator program 370 (photo credit: Niv Elis)
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 community.
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.
“We had 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.
Financing and 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 there.
“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.
“What I saw over here was how to promote a dream,” he said.