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Last week I had a chat with the Director of Emerging Business Teams at Microsoft, Sam Rosenbalm, about how Microsoft is working on a global level to improve the startup ecosystem. Sam Rosenbalm is responsible for the Bizspark and other startup programs globally. Many people know that Microsoft has engulfed upon an ambitious journey with its Bizspark program. The program is aimed to be nothing less than a global startup program to create a community of startups that reap the benefits of Microsoft products.

The program has been immensely successful and I have to say, after talking to Sam Rosenbalm about it – I am impressed. There are now around 30 000 startups enlisted in the program from over a 100 countries. Microsoft is working hard with many different stake holders in the startup ecosystem to move things forward. Sam Rosenbalm rightly said that there aren’t many organisations that are able to give startups useful cross border possibilities, be that partnerships, financing and so on. Microsoft is definitely one of these organisations making these possibilities available to startups.

Informing startups
Bizspark was set up around one year ago. They initially positioned the program so that they offered startups low cost software and possibilities to use the Microsoft programs easily. Anyone could apply that fit the criteria of being less than 3 years old, developing software, making less than 1 million dollars annually and privately owned.

Sam Rosenbalm told me the first part of the program was on educating startups about the possibilities of the program. Now that they have reached critical mass, Microsoft wants to create a fully functioning community that is able to learn from each other and reap the benefits of the community itself.

Giving the community tools
The first step Microsoft will do with its 30 000 strong startup community, along with its network partners is to give them possibilities to connect. Microsoft will do this with the help of a new service that will be launched later this spring called Microsoft Bizspark Exhchange. Many startups have told Microsoft that they want better possibilities to connect with investors, a clear result of the tight financial market.

One of the most interesting features of the Bizspark Exchange -service is that it enables startups to create investment profiles. These investment profiles contain most of the information investors need to determine if the startup in question interests them and if they should contact the company. Investment profiles are only visible to investors and thus other startups cannot view them.

What this eventually means, is that Microsoft is taking head on other investment services such as Angelsoft that also compete for the gatekeeper position between investors and startups. However, to Microsoft’s (and all the startups’) advantage their model is the best deal for startups – it’s included in the membership of the Bizspark program and does not require extra investments.

Is Microsoft diversifying its business model in the area of startups?
I did my best to ask Sam Rosenbalm if Microsoft is diversifying its business models regarding startups. He told me that while it may seem so, Microsoft is still very much in the business of selling software and hardware and this holds true for startups as well. What Microsoft wants to do and accomplish with its Bizspark Exchange is simply to create more possibilities for startups to succeed by using Microsoft products.

While many might think that “I knew there was a hidden agenda”, I’d have to disagree. All companies are in the business of creating a profit for their owners – Microsoft is no different in this regard. However, you should look at this objectively and I’m sure you’ll see a lot of good in what Microsoft is doing. They’re putting in a lot of value for the startups to leverage their network and products in a manner where the investment is paid for later, if and only if you succeed.

Sam Rosenbalm explained that to put all this in other words, Microsoft is playing the good corporate citizen with its Bizspark program. It’s an immense investment from the company that might make them a return on it in 10 years time.

To sum it up, there aren’t a lot of other companies helping startups this much – globally and creating immense possibilities for success. I think all of us should seriously look into participating with programs such as these. Once other corporations realise there’s a lot of potential in the startup ecosystem, they too will join and in the end – it’s the startups and entrepreneurs behind them that will win.

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