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4 Start-ups on life inside the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator program

Microsoft venturesSome say it’s tough at the top, some say lonely. Others think it’s the only place to be. Two weeks ago the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator Program hosted an evening at their busy Whitechapel offices that offered attendees a chance to get up close and personal with 4 of the companies currently completing the 12 week programme, to find out more about how Microsoft work, and what they can bring to the process of building a sustainable business in the blink of an eyelid. The mantra at MSVA is “Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about”; if that sounds like you, and you want access to some of the best mentors in the business, an intensive program of learning, and a chance to pitch to some top VCs, read about 4 companies who are currently living the dream:

appy parkingAppyparking: if Appyparking gets its strategy right it will surely become a must have. To the best of our knowledge nobody has cornered what seems like an obvious market, judging by the plethora of frustrated London motorists one sees on a daily basis, grappling with parking restrictions and desperately trying to find parking spaces in the city’s busy streets. Founder Dan says his ambition is to make driving “like a walk in the park”. The team have built an awesome website with video content and plenty of detail about their offering, which includes where you can park, advice on best parking options, alerts for event days or bank holidays and even driveways people will make available for you at a price! Covering nearly every borough in London, the founders have thoroughly done their homework. Dan admits MSVA was “scary at first”, but he is relishing every minute of the experience.

one diaryOne Diary: A clever app that co-ordinates all of your different online calendars e.g. Google, MS Outlook, iCloud, Exchange, allowing you to manage each more effectively, or block book items. A very challenging design build, due to the complex API that must be created to cover the different system demands, One Diary must feel like a real win for founder Adam Bird and his team. The USP of the software is the elimination of the work / life calendar conflict, an example of which would be the ability to create shared events by email. Now that we no longer live in a world defined by the 9-5, OneDiary looks set to come into its own. Dan had experience of building companies before he joined the accelerator, but is another to have been blown away by what Microsoft has had to offer. He values the programs diversity and on Thursday night was prepared to go as far as describing the program as a “magical experience”!

samSAM Labs is the “Internet of Everything for Everyone”? To be fair, that sounds wildly ambitious, but it was interesting to note guest speaker Rahul Sood, a highly successful entrepreneur in his own right, telling the assembled audience that founder Joachim Horn was being far too modest. SAM Labs allows you to create powerful modules for your home; anything from a talking fridge that tells you when the milk has run out, to electrical toys for your kids, using simple coding that you can learn as you go. It’s intuitive, secure and fun, the website tells us, and there can be no doubt that if the team can successfully prove concept, this is an absolute game changer of a product. If Joachim occasionally gave the impression of being more comfortable behind a computer than in front of an audience, he was still a charismatic presence, veering between being the most on-message guy in the room, to the most controversial. An impressive achievement, but nowhere near as exciting as the potential impact of his product.

woojuSpeaking to founder Calum Leslie after the panel discussion, he seemed like a remarkably experienced guy for someone who graduated from Edinburgh University with a law degree just under a year ago, and that stems from all the hard work he has put in. Wooju was described to me by Crybb founder Victoria Albrecht as “the next Snapchat”. The idea is to pose questions to your friends via photo sharing, asking for their advice: “Should I get my hair cut?”, “which dress should I buy?”, “which bar do I go to?” that kind of thing. Falling into the simple yet highly effective category, Wooju has still been very carefully thought through, with a range of sensible features and edits, such as a 72 word question limit, social media sharing buttons and tutorial for new users. At its core, though, Wooju simply sounds like a good laugh. Think Yo! But with longevitiy. Calum has more than a whiff of the serial entrepreneur about him.

Thanks to all 4 panellists for giving up their time and energies. It was a hugely enjoyable evening hosted by Diane Perlman and Andy McCartney of Microsoft Ventures, and run by Robert Fenton, founder of Hipsters, Hackers and Hustlers, the networking and events brand.


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